SoCon Week 1 FCS Football Game Breakdowns

George Hammond


Week 1 Southern Conference Breakdowns

The season begins Thursday night for two SoCon teams, but the two contests that might generate the most interest are the final two on the weekend’s schedule: Wofford at Baylor (7:30 p.m. Saturday) and Appalachian State at Montana (9 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3). It’s a year of change in the conference as Georgia Southern and Appalachian State transition to FBS status, meaning they are not eligible for the league title or for the FCS playoffs. Their games, however, do count in the league standings. Here are this week’s contests (all times are Eastern):


Western Carolina at Middle Tennessee, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

Mark Speir begins his second season at Western Carolina with a difficult opener. The Catamounts went 1-10 last year and are trying to rebuild the program with 13 returning starters – six on offense. WCU’s top rusher from last year, Darius Ramsey, returns. WCU’s defensive front is anchored by four seniors, led by defensive end Brian Johnson (36 tackles in 2012). The Blue Raiders know all about turnarounds. They were 2-10 in 2011 but went 8-4 last year. Although the series is tied 2-2, this is the first meeting since 1981. This is the first game for Middle Tennessee as a member of Conference USA. It officially joined the league on July 1. The Blue Raiders have two players on national watch lists for this season: Quarterback Logan Kilgore is on the Manning Award Watch List while safety Kevin Byard is a member of the Jim Thorpe Award List. Kilgore needs 14 touchdown passes to break the school record.

Projected Score: Middle Tennessee 34, Western Carolina 20


Tennessee Martin at #22 Chattanooga, Thursday, 7:00 p.m.

This is one of the more interesting games in the first week and the first meeting between the two schools in 20 years. Both teams have high hopes for 2013, but expectations are really high in Chattanooga, where SoCon coaches picked the Mocs to finish third in the league race. That’s the highest preseason pick for UTC since the media predicted a third-place league showing in 1991. The Mocs were 6-5 last year, but they return 20 starters (10 on offense and 10 on defense) and they lost overtime games to Georgia Southern and Wofford in 2012. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman returns, but the defense is where the emphasis might be this year. It was 10th in the nation last year in total defense and 12th in pass defense. That will come in handy against a UT Martin team that likes to throw the football. The Skyhawks, 8-3 last year with six league victories in the Ohio Valley Conference, return six starters on both offense and defense. They must replace Derek Carr, a three-year starter at quarterback, who left UT Martin as the all-time leader in passing yards and TDs. Expect Chattanooga’s defense to get the job done.

Projected Score: Chattanooga 24, UT Martin 13


#25 Samford at Georgia State, Friday, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

With 13 starters returning, optimism is high at Samford, which finished 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Southern Conference last year. Former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan (1971) is back for his seventh season in Birmingham, Ala., with an offense that returns its starting quarterback, Andy Summerlin, and 1,000-yard rusher Fabian Trurs. This is the first meeting between the two schools as Georgia State (1-10) makes the transition to FBS status as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. In its three-year history, Georgia State is just 10-23, but the school hasn’t been deterred from going to the FBS. Trent Miles replaces retired Bill Curry as Panthers’ coach, and he knows about rebuilding programs. The former Indiana State coach suffered through a 1-22 start in his first two years there before going a combined 19-14 the last three years. The Panthers’ lineup will be filled with underclassmen so it’s likely to be a slow rebuilding process.

Projected Score: Samford 31, George State 10


Elon at Georgia Tech, Saturday, noon (ESPN3)

The Phoenix (3-8, 1-7) face a tough task in their nonconference opener. Georgia Tech is 42-1-3 against Southern Conference foes and is coming off a season where it returns 15 starters from a team that beat USC 21-7 in the Sun Bowl. Elon’s strength is on defense where junior middle linebacker Jonathan Spain (team-high 120 tackles last year) anchors the unit. On offense, only four starters return. Georgia Tech is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bobby Dowd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in 2013. Sophomore Vad Lee is expected to make his first career start at quarterback for Georgia Tech, which ranked fourth in the nation last year in rushing.

Projected Score: Georgia Tech 42, Elon 10


Charleston Southern at The Citadel, Saturday, 6 p.m.

These two teams met in last year’s opener with The Citadel pulling away for a 49-14 triumph. But the final score is a little misleading as the teams were tied at halftime. The Citadel is coming off a 7-4 campaign and trying for back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991-92. Last year also was the first winning season since 2007 as the Bulldogs defeated Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to start the season 3-0. A tough 24-21 loss at Wofford hurt the Bulldogs’ playoff chances. This year, senior quarterback Ben Dupree returns as he has started 24 consecutive games. The Citadel has six returning offensive starters and nine starters back on defense. At Charleston Southern, Jamey Chadwell takes over as head coach of a program that went 5-6 in 2012. Senior quarterback Malcolm Dixon returns to run the offense.

Projected Score: The Citadel 28, Charleston Southern 17


Savannah State at #3 Georgia Southern, Saturday, 6 p.m.

No. 3 Georgia Southern finds itself in a tough spot this year as it transitions to FBS status as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The Eagles aren’t eligible for the Southern Conference title or the FCS playoffs because they are utilizing more than the number of scholarships allotted by FCS rules. Georgia Southern went 10-4 last year but had its season end in the FCS semifinals when it lost to North Dakota State 23-20. Quarterback Jerick McKinnon returns as the Eagles’ top returning rusher and passer from last year. For Savannah State, this year’s opener is easier than last year when it lost to Oklahoma State 84-0. That loss was followed by a 55-0 trouncing at the hands of Florida State so there is only one direction to go for Savannah State, which introduced a new coach this summer in Earnest Wilson III, a former assistant at Hampton.

Projected Score: Georgia Southern 48, Savannah State 6


Furman at Gardner-Webb, Saturday, 6 p.m.

Both schools are coming off 3-8 campaigns, and Gardner-Webb has a new coach in Carroll McCray, an alumnus of the school. Furman leads the series 3-0, but the two haven’t met since 2005. Although Furman has several players returning (eight on offense and five on defense), it is a young squad with freshmen and sophomores making up 72 percent of the roster. Although outstanding running back Jerodis Williams is gone, the entire offensive line and quarterback return for the Paladins. True sophomore Reese Hannon is set to direct the attack after getting thrown into action last year because of injury. Gardner-Webb is picked to finish third in the Big South. The Bulldogs’ defensive front is a veteran group with Preston Pemasa and Matt Goods leading the way.

Projected Score: Furman 34, Gardner-Webb 17


#5 Wofford at Baylor, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

The Terriers begin the post-Eric Breitenstein era of Wofford football and they picked a tough opponent to do it against. Wofford (9-4) advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs last year before losing a hard-fought 14-7 decision to eventual champion North Dakota State. With Georgia Southern and Appalachian State ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season because of their transition to FBS status, Wofford assumes the favorite’s role for the league title. So this opener against Baylor might or might not provide a glimpse of where the Terriers stand. Baylor went 8-5 last year with a 49-26 victory over UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. It scores points at will, but also gives up points. The Terriers will try to ground it out and play keep away, but it might not matter.

Projected Score: Baylor 48, Wofford 20


#11 Appalachian State at #14 Montana, Saturday, 9 p.m. (ESPN3)

The last meeting between these two in Missoula in 2009 was one of the more memorable games in college football history – any level. On a snow-covered field in nearly white-out conditions at times, Montana prevailed 24-17 in the FCS semifinal that came down to the last play when App State quarterback Armanti Edwards’ pass fell incomplete at the Grizzlies’ 3. This will be the fourth meeting between the two FCS powers with Montana holding a 2-1 edge (winning both games in Missoula). App State, of course, is going to FBS level next year and isn’t eligible for the Southern Conference title or the playoffs this season. This contest pits App State’s high-powered offense against Montana’s veteran defense. Both units boast 10 returning starters. Preseason SoCon Player of the Year Jamal Londry-Jackson leads the Mountaineers’ attack. He has passed for 5,423 yards in just 19 starts, but he will be missing his main target, Sean Price, who has been suspended from the team for an indefinite amount of time because of an off-the-field incident. Price had 81 receptions last year. Former App State player and assistant coach Scott Satterfield takes over as head coach from Jerry Moore who retired after 24 seasons. Montana, meanwhile, is coming off a 5-6 season – its first losing season since 1985. This is Mick Delaney’s second season at the helm and he returns 19 starters. After an ugly off-the-field situation that kept him off the team last year, Jordan Johnson returns at quarterback and that should be a big plus for the Grizzlies. This program and school’s image were tarnished last year with several off-the-field incidents and one gets the feeling it’s on a mission to restore the program’s credibility. It’s tough to bet against them in Montana.

Projected Score: Montana 24, Appalachian State 20


See All FCS Games of the Week Breakdowns