SoCon Preview 2014 –All You need to know for the upcoming SoCon Football Season!
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Chattanooga–Mocs have the horses to be champs again, but still hungry for elusive playoff bid
2. Furman–Paladins are back and ready to show last season was no fluke; back-to-back league titles hasn’t been accomplished in Greenville since 1989-90
3. Wofford–Mike Ayers and crew steaming after not making postseason for the first time since 2009
4. Samford–Head coach Pat Sullivan knows the challenge is now sustained success, and he’ll hope Arizona State transfer QB Michael Eubank will help the Bulldogs hold serve after losing Fabian Truss, Kelsey Pope and Andy Summerlin to graduation.
5. Western Carolina–Third-year head coach Mark Speir has a Western Carolina team ready to make some noise and perhaps have its best season since 2005.
6. The Citadel–There’s a new sheriff in Charleston and his name is Mike Houston. Houston, who led Lenoir-Rhyne to the national title last season in Division II, might be the one causing the problems for the rest of the league.
7. Mercer–Bobby Lamb is back in the SoCon, this time leading Mercer. The Bears won 10 in their first season in a little over seven decades, surprising the Pioneer League foes. Now, it’s a step up in competition, but a field of competition Lamb spent some 29 years studying as a QB and coach at Furman
8. VMI–VMI was a charter member, but then left in 2002 due to having trouble competing in the league. The Keydets are back under a face the SoCon knows well, in Sparky Woods, who led Appalachian State to its first two SoCon titles before leaving to take the head coaching job at the University of South Carolina following the 1988 season.
RISE OF THE OLD GUARD
GREENVILLE, S.C.–The 2014 football season is almost here, and with Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Elon having all left for different conferences and classifications, the Southern Conference will likely now see a ressurection of the old guard. What does that mean?
What it means is the old Southern Conference football titans, which before Appalachian got its momentum as a program going in full force in the mid-late 1980’s, and prior to Georgia Southern joining the SoCon in 1993, the Southern Conference had its old guard of Furman and Chattanooga.
The Paladins and Mocs were competing the at a high level in the SoCon, winning titles and routinely finding themselves ranked highly in the preseason projections by the league’s media and coaches for about an 12-year span from about 1977-89.
During that span, the Paladins and Mocs were able to claim outright or shared Southern Conference title 13 times. The Paladins claimed nine SoCon titles from 1978-89, while Chattanooga was able to boast four Southern Conference titles.
In tying for the league’s crown this past season, the Mocs garnered the program’s fifth league title, while Furman’s title marked its 13th, and first since 2004. Chattanooga’s last crown has been quite a bit longer, which came way back in 1984.
But Chattanooga’s crown was bittersweet, as the Mocs failed to find themselves selected into the FCS postseason, and the streak of having missed the postseason stretches now to 30 years (also 1984) heading into 2014.
That will obviously be Chattanooga’s motivation heading into the 2014 season, which will be taking that next crucial step as a program, helping the Mocs be known more than just an accomplished basketball program.
Few remember the Mocs as once being one of the SoCon’s most dominant teams in the mid-late 1970s under the direction of Joe Morrison–the chain-smoking head coach that went on to further success at South Carolina later on.
Few also probably know the Mocs defeated Appalachian State, 72-14, in 1978, which was the worst defeat ever suffered by the Mountaineers in their Southern Conference membership.
Morrison’s Mocs would enjoy a nice run in the Southern Conferece in the late 1970s, and this was the era in which the Furman and Chattanooga rivalry really grew its roots. From 1977-79, the two programs started to build their success and tradition as winning programs during those three seasons.
Chattanooga joined the Southern Conference as a league member of course in 1977, and in that first season of membership, which would see the influx of new teams over the next couple of seasons, with Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Marshall, Appalachian State and East Tennessee State all coming into the league.
The Mocs were the most successful of the new members in the early going, and in their first season as a member, won their first Southern Conference title. The Mocs had only one blemish during their first season as a league member, which saw the Mocs finish 9-1-1 and 4-1 in the SoCon, and that would be a 17-7 loss to Furman in their first-ever SoCon home game. The Mocs would share the league crown with VMI, who ironically, re-enters the league this fall after an 11-year stint in the Big South.
In 1978, Furman would claim its first Southern Conference crown under the direction of first-year head coach Dick Sheridan, who helped Furman post an 8-3 record and a 4-1 league record, with Furman’s only SoCon blemish being a 13-9 loss to the Mocs in Greenville, which helped Morrison’s Mocs claim a share of the ‘78 title along with the Paladins.
Chattanooga would have won the title outright had it not been for a memorable goal-line stand by Furman against The Citadel, stopping Bulldog acclaimed running back Stump Mitchell for no gain on fourth-and-goal late in the fourth quarter, as Furman held on for a 17-13 win at Sirrine Stadium in Greenville.
The ending to that ‘78 season, which saw the Mocs and Paladins share the title, was strangely similar to the 2013 shared crown, only it was Chattanooga’s missed field goal in overtime that left the door open for Furman to claim a share of the crown, and after Furman’s 27-14 win over Wofford.
What was the icing on the cake for Furman was the late TD by Samford against Elon in the waning seconds, as the Bulldogs gained a 33-32 win over the Phoenix, allowing the Paladins qualification by virtue of the automatic bid as a result of Samford making it a three-way tie for the conference title with the late score.
Chattanooga claimed the 1979 SoCon title, as it claimed an outright league title, posting a 5-1 league record and finished 9-2 overall. The Mocs demolished the Paladins, 45-14, that particular season, and would win three out of the next five meetings with the Paladins from 1980-84, with four of those five meetings being decided by a TD or less.
Going into the 2014 season, both Furman and Chattanooga head into the season as favorites once again with head coaches that were apart of those late 1970s title runs at their respective alma maters. That friendly rivalry has carried over from the gridiron, in which both were defensive backs as players, to the sidelines where both are now the head coaches, reviving the rivalry and the winning culture at both of those programs.
Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman has posted a 31-25 record overall heading into his sixth season as the head coach of the Mocs, while Furman’s Bruce Fowler has a 17-19 heading into his fourth season at Furman. Fowler improved the Paladins by five wins last season, and answered many of his detractors last season by following a tough 3-8 season by winning eight games last fall.
Now, Chattanooga and Furman find themselves perched atop the Southern Conference as the teams to beat entering the 2014 season. The Nov. 22 matchup, which is the last week of the regular season, will see the two square off against each other.
After 16-straight wins in the series by the Paladins, the Mocs have won three out of the past four in the series, including out-scoring the Paladins 62-19 in each of the past two meetings. I expect this year’s meeting will be a little closer and will see both come into the matchup perhaps playing for a Southern Conference title–just like old times!
For the complete preview of the 2014 and all you need to know about the upcoming football season in the Southern Conference, click on the link highlighted in blue above, which is packed with info, including all-conference teams and must-see games for the 2014 season in the Southern Conference.