GREENVILLE, S.C.–With four Southern Conference titles and five trips to the FCS postseason in the last six seasons, it’s hard to overlook what Wofford has been able to accomplish on the college football gridiron and not be supremely impressed.
But perhaps more than any of the previous six seasons, head coach Mike Ayers’ Terriers face more questions than ever.
Ayers becomes the dean of coaches in the Southern Conference with 26 years of experience and Jerry Moore’s departure from Appalachian State this off-season.
Wofford’s first major question is how to replace a player as talented as Eric Breitenstein, arguably the greatest player to move on from Spartanburg since Shawn Graves graduated in 1992. Breitenstein left not only a mark on Wofford football, but also on the Southern Conference as a whole.
He finished as the league’s second all-time leading rusher with 5,730 yards, trailing only former Georgia Southern great Adrian Peterson’s 6,559.
Breitenstein was part of some great Wofford offenses, and won the SoCon’s prestigious Offensive Player of the Year award each of his final two seasons in the program. He was also a Walter Payton Award finalist as both a junior and senior. Breitenstein signed a free agent deal with the Carolina Panthers this spring, and is more than capable of not only making the Panthers’ roster, but carving out a nice career for himself at the pro level. He was truly a Terrier legend and the Valle Crucis, N.C., native won’t be replaced overnight, that’s for sure.
However, the question marks entering the 2013 season only start with Breitenstein. While it was known his time in the Old Gold and Black was drawing to a close, a couple of other departures have made some raise some eyebrows.
First, there was Nate Woody leaving the program after serving as the Terriers’ defensive coordinator since 2000 for Appalachian State. Woody leaving the program may have been a shock to some, including Ayers, but money and Appalachian’s desire to move to FBS were two perks that Woody could not simply pass up. Taking the reins as the Terriers’ new defensive coordinator will be Jack Teachey, who will be entering his 19th season in the program.
The latest departure, however, is one that leaves most who follow Wofford football scratching their heads. Brian Kass, the quarterback that helped the Terriers to claim a share of the program’s fourth regular season Southern Conference title, transferred to Coastal Carolina and will be eligible for the Chanticleers immediately.
It could be a great situation for Kass, who will have a chance to assume the starting job right away with the graduation of All-Big South quarterback Aramis Hillary, and also add to that the fact that the Chanticleers, like the Terriers, are coming a season that saw the Chanticleers claim a share of a conference crown in 2012, sharing the Big South title with Stony Brook. In February, Kass made it clear he would be transferring, and had fallen out of favor during spring drills as the starting signal caller.
Apparently, confidence in Kass and his ability to run the Terrier offense was stressed during the playoffs, and he was pulled in the playoff game against North Dakota State. Injuries also likely factored in to Kass’ finish to the season. James Lawson, a former standout quarterback at Pickens High School, Evan Jacks and Michael Weimer head into fall camp competing for starting duties. Weimer sat out during the spring recovering from knee surgery.
Another concern for the program, which has fallen off a bit in the past two signing classes with I-85 rival Furman signing better classes. Furman was a program that Wofford had seemingly started to dominate on the recruiting trail in the latter years of Bobby Lamb’s tenure as the Paladins head coach. but Furman’s re-dedication to hitting the recruiting trail could also be some cause for concern for Wofford. That won’t be a concern unless Furman begins to consistently win on the field against the Terriers like it did just after the Terriers joined the league in 1997, when the Paladins won the first five of six annual contests.
With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern moving to the Sun Belt Conference, Wofford is now looked at as the top team in the Southern Conference, and is the league’s most dominant program over the past 10 seasons, having won 50 against SoCon opponents and 81 overall. The Terriers have ranked in the top two in rushing offense nationally in each of the past seven seasons.
More emphasis on the pass was placed on spring practices, and an aerial element to the Terrier offense could be something to watch this fall. In an interview prior to spring drills, Ayers commented that in order for the Terriers to take the next step and get over the hump to a national title, they must be able to throw the football with more consistency.
Wofford was knocked out of the postseason in the FCS Quarterfinals by eventual national champion North Dakota State, losing 14-7 in Fargo.
The Terriers must also replace three starters from an offensive line that averaged 349.7 rushing YPG this past season. There is some good news heading into 2013 though, and that is the return of Donovan Johnson. He likely would have been a starter much sooner had he not been playing behind the best running back to ever come through the program ahead of him on the depth chart. Johnson posted 473 rushing yards and three touchdowns last season.
Defensively, the questions aren’t as numerous, however the secondary, which loses its two best performers, in Stephon Shelton and Blake Wylie remains a huge concern. The Terriers should be strong at linebacker, despite losing Mike Niam.
Senior outside linebacker Alvin Scioneaux enters the season as an All-America candidate, and defensive end Tarek Odom looks to build on what was an outstanding freshman campaign in which he earned SoCon All-Freshman accolades.
While many questions face Wofford, you can bet Baylor, the Terriers’ opponent on Aug. 31 in Waco, isn’t taking this game for granted. In a strange irony, it is the place where Ayers’ good friend and former Appalachian State and SoCon dean of coaches, Jerry Moore, played football from 1958-60. Ayers might be dialing up Moore to ask him some questions before the 2013 season gets underway, but you can bet Wofford will be as dangerous as ever despite the many questions it has in front of it heading into the fall.