The SoCon is trying to regain ground after the loss of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to FBS. The conference leaders in rushing yards and touchdowns (Mercer’s Alex Lakes), all-purpose yards (Mercer’s Chandler Curtis) and passing yards (VMI’s Al Cobb) will be sophomores this season. Citadel’s DaSean Daniels, who collapsed during a practice in March, continues to recover and coach Mike Houston said his place with Citadel remains secure, even if he does not play again.
AT A GLANCE
(2014 record in parentheses)
Chattanooga (10-4, 7-0): The Mocs return seven starters on offense and defense from last year’s conference champions, including quarterback Jacob Huesman. The SoCon’s offensive player of the year completed 68.5% of his passes for 2,731 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 1,009 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Mocs need to replace leading rusher Keon Williams and SoCon defensive player of the year Davis Tull. But five sophomores on defense, led by first-team defensive back Lucas Webb, earned all-conference recognition.
Western Carolina (7-5, 5-2): Coming off their best season in a decade, the Catamounts return all starters on offense and nine on defense, including 10 all-conference players. Quarterback Troy Mitchell, who completed 65.6% of his passes for 2,541 yards and 20 touchdowns, triggers an offense that includes running back Darius Ramsey (763 yards, six touchdowns) and receivers Terryon Robinson (643 yards, one touchdown) and Spearman Robinson (571 yards, 11 touchdowns). One challenge will be replacing linebacker Christon Gill and safety Ace Clark, both unanimous all-conference selections.
Samford (7-4, 5-2): Former Valdosta State, Georgia Southern and Murray State head coach Chris Hatcher takes over a team that returns seven starters on offense and defense. Quarterback Michael Eubank, who completed 63.3% of his passes for 2,136 yards and 12 touchdowns, running back Denzel Williams (918 yards, 16 touchdowns) and receiver Karel Hamilton (877 yards, six touchdowns) lead the offense. Linebacker Justin Cooper, safety Jamerson Blount, defensive lineman Michael Pierce anchor a defense that registered three shutouts last season.
Wofford (6-5, 4-3): The Terriers return 10 starters on offense, including leading rushers Lorenzo Long (930 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Ray Smith (601 yards, three touchdowns). Evan Jacks shared playing time at quarterback but was third in rushing (450 yards, five touchdowns.) The Terriers depend on the ground game — they passed only 113 times. On defense, nine starters return to a unit that allowed only 107.5 rushing yards per game.
Citadel (5-7, 3-4): The Bulldogs’ triple-option attack averaged 347.2 rushing yards per game last season, and Citadel returns four of its six top rushers — Tyler Renew (761, five touchdowns), Isiaha Smith (591 yards, five touchdowns), Cam Jackson (505 yards, three touchdowns) and Vinny Miller (466 yards, two touchdowns). Freshman Evan McField opened eyes in the spring game, rushing for 86 yards on 13 carries. But the Bulldogs have to replace quarterback Aaron Miller, who completed only 44.4% of his passes but led the team with 1,080 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.
Furman (3-9, 2-5): One key for the Palladins is the return of quarterback Reese Hannon, who missed the season after suffering a broken ankle in the opener last year. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. PJ Blazejowski, Hannon’s replacement, passed completed 59.5% of his passes for 1,376 yards and nine touchdowns. But he suffered a broken ankle in the offseason. Still, Furman returns 34 other players with starting experience, including linebacker Cory Magwood, the SoCon’s leading tackler last season.
Mercer (6-6, 1-6): The Bears are finding their way under Bobby Lamb. They return all their starters on offense and defense, including leading rusher Alex Lakes (1,107 yards, 17 touchdowns). Quarterback John Russ (2,167 yards, 19 touchdowns) and leading receivers JT Palmer (460 yards, five touchdowns) and Chandler Curtis (564 yards, five touchdowns) are also back along with linebacker Tyler Ward (100 tackles each of the past two seasons). Experience should help Mercer close the gap on the four games they lost by seven points or less.
VMI (2-10, 1-6): The Keydets turn to new head coach Scott Wachenheim, Virginia’s offensive line coach the past five seasons. He takes over an offense that features quarterback Alex Cobb, the conference’s freshmen of the year after completing 61.4% of his passes for 2,971 yards and 20 touchdowns. The biggest improvement needs to come on defense, which allowed 41.4 points per game.
East Tennessee State (first season): The Buccaneers are back in the game for the first time since 2003 with former North Carolina coach Carl Torbush at the helm. They will compete as an independent this season and join the conference in 2016. ETSU kicks off against Kennesaw State, another new program (Big South).
Foreground: Western Carolina’s Spearman Robinson (WCU Athletics)
Top left: VMI’s Al Cobb (Chuck Steenburgh photo)
Bottom left: Wofford’s Lorenzo Long (WG SportsPhotos), East Tennessee State coach Carl Torbush (ETSU Photo)
Top right: Mercer’s Alex Lakes (Chad Morehead/Mercer Athletics)
Bottom right: Samford’s Michael Eubank (Caroline Summers/Samford University), Chattanooga’s Jacob Huesman (Dale Rutemeyer/UTC Athletics)