Week 1 SoCon FCS Football Game Breakdowns

George Hammond

Week 1 SoCon Game Breakdowns

MARS HILL AT WESTERN CAROLINA (8 p.m. Thursday at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field at Cullowhee, NC)

Host Western Carolina (1-10, 0-8) looks for a new era as former Appalachian State assistant coach Mark Speir makes his debut as Catamounts’ head coach.  Speir, who got his start in coaching at WCU, has his work cut out for him as Western Carolina allowed at least 40 points in eight of 11 games last year. Western Carolina holds a 13-5-1 series edge over Division II Mars Hill and has won 13 consecutive games in the series. Last year, the Catamounts won 52-31. Mars Hill (8-3, 6-1) is coming off its best season in program history as it advanced to the second round of the Division II playoffs. Gone, however, is Harlon Hill Trophy winner Jonas Randolph. Still, Mars Hill is picked second in the South Atlantic Conference coaches preseason poll.

Projected score: Western Carolina 34, Mars Hill 17


#7 APPALACHIAN STATE AT EAST CAROLINA (Noon Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at Greenville, NC)

These two Carolina rivals meet for the first time since 2009 when East Carolina prevailed 29-24 in Greenville.  Appalachian State (8-4, 6-2) leads the series 19-11. Not only is Saturday the opener for both teams, it marks the five-year anniversary of App State’s shocking 34-32 victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor that you might have heard about.  Although the Mountaineers are 39-12 overall in the last four years, it seems like a long time ago since that win in Michigan and their three consecutive FCS titles (2005-07).  App State was bounced from the 2011 playoffs by Maine 34-12, and Coach Jerry Moore’s team is determined to regain some of its FCS swagger. Even though talented quarterback Jamal Jackson returns, this is obviously a tough opener against the Conference USA foe. ECU’s (5-7, 4-4) five-year consecutive bowl streak came to an end last year, but the Pirates are optimistic if they can find a replacement for quarterback Dominique Davis. At this point, Rio Johnson is that guy. Johnson, a junior, is the only returning player who took a snap last season for the Pirates.

Projected score: Appalachian State 21, East Carolina 24


FURMAN AT SAMFORD (4:30 p.m. Saturday at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, AL)

In 2011, Samford (6-5, 4-4) jumped out to a 16-0 advantage and held on to win 26-21 in Greenville, SC. But Furman (5-3, 6-5) leads the series 8-6. This key Southern Conference matchup figures to be competitive again. The Paladins are picked to finish fifth in the SoCon by league coaches while Samford is tabbed as sixth. The Bulldogs are loaded with receiving talent, but they need to find a replacement at quarterback for four-year starter Dustin Taliaferro.

Projected score: Samford 24, Furman 23


CHARLESTON SOUTHERN AT THE CITADEL (6 p.m. Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium)

This is the first meeting between the two since 2007 when The Citadel (4-7, 2-6) prevailed 35-14 and leads the series 4-1. For Charleston Southern, there’s no place to go but up as it was winless in 2011 (0-11, 0-6).  The Bulldogs are hoping for luck to be on their side this season after dropping five games by 10 points or fewer in 2011. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are looking to snap a 12-game

losing streak that dates back to the 2010 season finale. The Citadel is picked to finished eighth in the SoCon coaches poll while Charleston Southern was picked for seventh in the Big South.

Projected score: The Citadel 34, Charleston Southern 17


CHATTANOOGA AT SOUTH FLORIDA ( 7 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL)  

There’s no hurricane to worry about so the Southern Conference Mocs (5-6, 3-5) should be good to go against the Big East Bulls (5-7, 1-6) in this first-ever matchup. Although their records might not indicate such, both of these clubs were a little better than those sub-.500 marks might reveal. For instance, Chattanooga suffered five losses last year by a combined 12 points. It lost three games by an identical 28-27 score. Chattanooga is picked to finish fourth in the SoCon this year, but they’re young — 13 starters on the current two-deep depth chart are sophomores or freshmen. Meanwhile, South Florida, under third-year coach Skip Holtz, is picked to finish second in the Big East. The Bulls return 17 starters and are 15-0 against FCS opposition.

Projected score: Tenn.-Chattanooga 16, South Florida 31


ELON AT NORTH CAROLINA, 12:30 p.m. at Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC

This is the first meeting between the two schools that are situated less than 40 miles away from each other. Elon (5-6, 3-5) is under the direction of second-year head coach Jason Swepson while the Tar Heels, 7-5 a year ago, will see their third new head coach in three seasons. Larry Fedora, who guided Southern Miss to a 12-2 mark last year, takes over the program in Chapel Hill. This contest features two outstanding quarterbacks. UNC junior Bryn Renner set a single-season mark for touchdown passes last year while Phoenix quarterback Thomas Wilson and all-American receiver Aaron Mellette give Elon a dynamic tandem as well.

Projected score: Elon 17, North Carolina 34


JACKSONVILLE AT #3 GEORGIA SOUTHERN (6 p.m. Saturday at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesville, GA)

The bad news for perennial FCS power Georgia Southern (11-3, 7-1) is that quarterback Jaybo Shaw is gone. The good news? The Bulldogs have eight starters returning on each side of the ball as they figure to make another run at an FCS national crown. Last year, Georgia Southern made it to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion North Dakota State 35-7. The Bulldogs were picked to win the Southern Conference crown by league coaches. Jacksonville (6-2, 7-4), meanwhile, is coming off a fine year, too. It returns eight defensive starters but must replace just about the entire offense. Freshman Kade Bell or sophomore Trevios Folston will get the nod at quarterback.

Projected score: Georgia Southern 28, Jacksonville 7


#14 WOFFORD AT GARDNER-WEBB (6 p.m. Saturday at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, NC)

Wofford (6-2, 8-4) holds a 15-6-0 edge in the all-time series with Gardner-Webb (2-4, 4-7), including five wins in a row. Gardner-Webb’s last win in the series came 25 seasons ago, a 36-3 win on November 21, 1987 in Spangler Stadium. Wofford took a 52-17 win over Gardner-Webb in the two teams’ last meeting five seasons ago in Spartanburg. Preseason all-Big South back Kenny Little became the first Gardner-Webb player to rush for 1,000 yards last year since 2000, and another big season is expected as Gardner-Webb returns six players with starting experience on the offensive line. Big South coaches picked Gardner-Webb to finish fifth this year. Wofford (1,550 students) lost to Northern Iowa 28-21 in the FCS playoffs last year, and has established itself as a Southern Conference power, making the FCS playoffs in four of the last five seasons. The Terriers are led by SoCon preseason offensive player of the year, senior fullback Eric Breitenstein.

Projected score: Wofford 31, Gardner-Webb 10


See All FCS Games of the Week Breakdowns