#19 Furman FCS Football 2014 Preview

George Hammond

Furman Paladins

Overall Rank: #19
#2 Southern Conference

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One year after finishing 3-8 and picked to finish seventh in last year’s preseason conference poll, few saw Furman’s 2013 success coming. Forced to contend with injuries to several quarterbacks over the first six games, Furman struggled early but won its last five league games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Paladins beat Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Samford and Wofford en route to an 8-6 (6-2 SoCon) mark that was good enough for a share of the league title with Chattanooga and Samford. Furman earned the leagues automatic bid to the playoffs where it knocked off in-state rival South Carolina State 30-20 in the first round only to lose to eventual national champion North Dakota State 38-7 the following week. This season, the expectations are much higher as Furman tied with Samford for No. 2 in the preseason SoCon poll.

2013 Record: 8-6, 6-2)
2013 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Bruce Fowler (17-19 at Furman)
Offensive Coordinator: Jimmy Kiser
Defensive Coordinator: John Windham

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Hank McCloud, RB, 1,092 yards
Passing: Reese Hannon, QB, 1,748 yards
Receiving: Andrej Suttles, WR, 50 yards
Tackles: Carl Rider, LB, 136
Sacks: Gary Wilkins, DE, 5.5
Interceptions: Reggie Thomas, CB, 2, Marcus McMorris, LB, 2

Other Key Returnees: OL Charles Emert, OL Joe Turner, DL Ira McCune, DB Trey Robinson, FB Ernie Cain, DT Jordan Hawkins, LB Cory Magwood

Key Losses: S Jairus Hollman, C Eric Thoni, WR Ryan Culbreath, OT Dakota Dozier, TE Cameron Mason, CB Austin Williams, SS Greg Worthy, K/P Ray Early.

Two seasons ago, Furman forced just 13 turnovers en route to a three-win season. Last year, the Paladins had 29 takeaways – nine more than anyone else in the SoCon. If they can do that again, prospects will look bright. The Paladins have a wealth of experience on defense with eight starters returning (including three seniors and four juniors). All of Furman’s defensive linemen return, including senior Gary Wilkins, who moved from linebacker to end last season. He wasn’t the only Paladin to change positions, however. Marcus McMorris switched from linebacker to safety on a game-to-game basis last year and played well. Both are preseason first-team all SoCon picks, as is junior linebacker Carl Rider, who had 136 tackles last season. Offensively, Furman returns several key skill position players, too. For starters, quarterback Reese Hannon, a second-team all-SoCon pick, threw for more than 1,700 yards last season. In addition running back Hank McCloud and top receiver Andrej Suttles also return.

It appears McMorris could see much of his time in the secondary this season as Furman lost three starters in that unit, including second-leading tackler Greg Worthy and fourth-leading tackler Jairus Hollman. Also an outstanding punt returner, Hollman left school in June so there are questions in the secondary. Also gone from the team is center Eric Thoni, dismissed for violating team policies. The kicking game needs an overhaul as placekicker and punter Ray Early graduated. Early scored 94 points in 2013 and was 7-of-9 in field goals from 40 yards out.

The Bottom Line:
This is another team that’s difficult to get a handle on. The pieces are here for a fine season yet statistically the Paladins weren’t anything special last year – except for the turnover margin. In fact, they were outscored by their opponents in 2013 and their best offensive category in national rankings was rushing offense (79th). Furman’s total offense was ranked 102nd nationally and its total defense was 75th. So take away those turnovers and one gets the feeling the Paladins wouldn’t have been anything special. But with so many key players returning this year, it’s difficult not to think of Furman as a title contender. There are interesting games in the early part of the year: at South Carolina State, a home game with Coastal Carolina and a visit to Columbia, S.C. to meet the Gamecocks, but ultimately Furman’s success will be determined in its final three games; November 8th at The Citadel, November 15th Wofford and November 22nd Chattanooga.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 147.9 (79th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 170.4 (95, 4)
Total Offense: 318.3 (102, 7)
Scoring Offense: 22.7 (81, 4)
Rushing Defense: 197.0 (89, 5)
Pass Defense: 207.6 (44, 4)
Total Defense: 404.6 (75, 5)
Scoring Defense: 24.3 (44, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.9 (9T, 1)
Sacks: 1.29 (109, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.86 (57, 6)

Madness 2014 FCS Football Recruit Rankings:
#124 Connor Jackson
#137 Daniel Butler


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