Because no Southern Conference teams face South Carolina this season, it seems unlikely that the question that dominated SEC and ACC media days — Exactly who is or is not afraid of Jadeveon Clowney? — will come up at SoCon media day in Spartanburg on Wednesday.
Still, there are some pressing questions to be answered as the media hordes descend on Sparkle City. After all, this season marks the end of the SoCon as we know it, with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State soon bound for the promised land of the Sun Belt.
Among those questions:
– Is SoCon commish John Iamarino afraid of Clowney? (Just kidding)
– Georgia Southern and App State are ineligible for the FCS playoffs and the SoCon championship this season as they transition to FBS and the Sun Belt. With no hardware to play for this season, will GSU coach Jeff Monken and new App State coach Scott Satterfield redshirt some players to prepare for the rigors of the Sun Belt, or will they give their final FCS seasons their best shot?
– It’s clear that momentum is building toward a “Super Division” or “Division Four” made up of college football’s power leagues — the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12 and Big Ten (and maybe the new AAC and Conference USA). What does this mean for FCS and the SoCon? What does it mean for GSU and App, who could be trapped in some sort of football purgatory, between FCS and the “Super Division”? If the big boys decide to play only among themselves, the end of big-money guarantee games for FCS schools would be a game-changer.
– How interested is the SoCon in ESPN’s proposal for FCS TV games the week before the usual start of the regular season? This could start as soon as 2014. How close is the SoCon to a “real TV” package as opposed to games streamed on ESPN3?
– With GSU and App State ineligible for the SoCon title, which team will fill the vacuum? One or both has earned at least a share of the title every year since 2003.
Here’s one man’s predicted order of finish:
1. Georgia Southern. It must pain GSU coach Jeff Monken to no end that the Eagles are ineligible for championships this season. because he’s surely got a team that could contend for a national title. Seven starters are back from the offense that averaged 34.5 points and nearly 400 rushing yards per game last year, including QB Jerick McKinnon and fullback Dominique Swope. Oh well.
2. App State. The Mountaineers fired legendary coach Jerry Moore after last year’s 8-4 mark, getting rid of the man who won three FCS titles and beat Michigan in order to clear the decks for the move to FBS. New coach Scott Satterfield brought in Wofford DC Nate Woody to fix the defensive problems that were so apparent in App’s shocking 52-28 loss to The Citadel, and 10 starters back on offense include QB Jamal Londry-Jackson and 6-5 WR Sean Price.
3. Chattanooga. After four years of knocking on the door under coach Russ Huesman, the Mocs seem well-positioned to take advantage of this transition season. The melodrama of last year’s QB situation — coach’s son Jacob Huesman replacing starter Silk Robinson, who briefly quit the team — is behind them. Robinson seems settled in at WR, though he will still play some QB. Ten starters are back from the SoCon’s second-best defense, and transfer DT Danny Ring has joined from Navy. The Mocs do play App State, GSU and Samford on the road.
4. Samford. The other Bulldogs were 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the SoCon last year, losing by three to App State and seven to Chattanooga while pummeling The Citadel and topping Wofford. Samford returns QB Andy Summerlin, RB Fabrian Truss and WR Kelsey Pope, all of them all-SoCon caliber. FS Jaquiski Tartt is the deal. Samford has a tough four-game road stretch in mid-season — at App, at Wofford, at The Citadel, at Furman.
5. The Citadel. Our Bulldogs have been building toward this season for three years, since coach Kevin Higgins put it the triple option. Early wins over GSU and App last year created big hopes, but they were followed by ugly losses to NC State, Chattanooga and Samford. An early win against Wofford — which has beaten The Citadel 14 straight times — is a must. App State and GSU will be out for revenge in their final FCS seasons, and the Dogs must figure out something for Chattanooga and Samford. The Bulldogs have senior leaders on offense and nine starters back on defense. Four-game stretch vs. App, GSU, Chattanooga and Samford will tell the tale.
6. Wofford. Predicting the Terriers’ demise seems a fool’s game, but maybe this is the year the Terriers slip. They really became dependent on FB Eric Breitenstein as the 2012 season wore on — he averaged 27.4 carries over the last five games — and he is gone, as is QB Brian Kass. The biggest loss might be defensive coordinator Nate Woody, who left Wofford after 26 years, four as a player and 12 as DC. Quite frankly, betting against Mike Ayers is never smart — but it’s got to happen sometime, doesn’t it?
7. Furman. Furman is rebuilding Paladin Stadium and its football facilities this off-season, and third-year coach Bruce Fowler continues his rebuild of the football program. He’s 9-13 in two seasons, 7-9 in the SoCon, and the 3-8 Paladins team I saw lose by 42-20 last season was the least talented I’ve ever seen in Greenville. The offense loses stud RB Jerodis Williams and the defense must replace six starters. Freshman QB Reese Hannon provided some hope last year, but it could be another long year in the Upstate. Here’s a five-game stretch — at Chattanooga, App State, at LSU, at GSU, Samford.
8. Elon. The Fightin’ Phoenix have been going the wrong way under third-year coach Jason Swepson, sliding from 5-6 (3-5) in 2011 to 3-8 (1-7) last season. Elon is also making its SoCon swan song (its headed for the CAA). but it looks like the Phoenix will go quietly.
9. Western Carolina. With App State and GSU leaving and football newbies Mercer and ETSU (as well as hapless VMI) coming on board, there is long-term hope in Cullowhee. Short term, the Catamounts (1-10, 0-8 last year) face FBSers Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Auburn this year.