Traditionally, Southern Conference teams have always had some of the top offenses and playmakers in the FCS. That might be the assumption this year, but the majority of teams will rely on inexperienced quarterbacks.
Entering 2012, only two teams - Elon and The Citadel - have a returning quarterback who started every game in 2011. The remaining seven teams have quarterbacks who either played sparingly as a backup, started midway through the season, split time, contributed at another position or transferred into the program this year.
Take a look at last year's top four teams: Georgia Southern needs to replace two-year starter Jaybo Shaw; Wofford must replace Mitch Allen; Appalachian State (which is probably in the best shape at QB) brings back Jamal Jackson, but he only started the final seven games of the season; and Furman looks to fill the hole of the quarterback who led the FCS in pass efficiency, Chris Forcier.
That doesn't imply the SoCon will have a down offensive year or that there aren't current returners who will have a solid season under center. Instead, it should make for an even more exciting conference title race and likely means a lot of players at other positions will impact the title race as much as the quarterbacks.
The FCS' top-three rushing teams last year came from the Southern Conference. They were Wofford, at 364 yards per game; Georgia Southern, 323 yards per game; and The Citadel, 286 yards per game. Of course, those results are most likely due to the result of the conference's three triple option offenses, but eight of the SoCon's top rushers from last year return in 2012.
In the last three years, the SoCon has had one team make the national semifinals. Georgia Southern has had back-to-back appearances, losing to Delaware in 2010 and North Dakota State last season, while Appalachian State lost to Montana in 2009.
Every team will play at least one FBS opponent in 2012, but the schedule will be highlighted by one of the most intriguing regular-season matchups in the history of the FCS, when traditional Big Sky Conference power Montana visits "The Rock" to play Appalachian State on Sept. 8.
"We try not to ever look ahead, which is sometimes easier said than done," Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. "But, with a game against a longtime traditional rival and nationally respected FBS program like East Carolina on our schedule first, our focus is entirely on Sept. 1."
With the competitiveness of the conference increasing year in and year out, Moore said, if a team can be successful in the SoCon, it has a better chance of being prepared for the postseason.
"We make it our goal every year to win the Southern Conference championship," Moore said. "We try to not even talk about the playoffs or the national championship because if you focus all of your energy on winning a SoCon championship and are successful, it guarantees you a chance to compete in the postseason."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 Southern Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Georgia Southern
2. Appalachian State
6. The Citadel
9. Western Carolina
1. GEORGIA SOUTHERN EAGLES (11-3 overall, 7-1 Southern)
COACH: Jeff Monken (21-8 in two seasons at Georgia Southern; 21-8 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: B-Back Dominique Swope, So. (168 carries, 1,023 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Brent Russell, Sr. (67 TT, 16.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ezayi Youyoute, So. (26 carries, 310 yards, 3 TD)
QB Jerick McKinnon, Jr. (80 carries, 537 yards, 7 TD)
A-Back Darreion Robinson, Sr. (47 carries, 293 yards, 6.2 YPC, 1 TD)
A-Back Robert Brown, Jr. (136 carries, 937 yards, 5 TD)
B-Back Ean Days, So. (University of Illinois transfer)
T-Back Jonathan Bryant, Sr. (26 carries, 217 yards, 8.3 YPC, 2 TD)
WR Kentrellis Showers, So. (15 receptions, 258 yards, 3 TD)
TE Tyler Sumner, Sr.
RG Trevor McBurnett, So.
LG Zach Lonas, Jr.
LT Dorian Byrd, Jr.
C Blake DeBartola, Sr.
RT Raymond Klugey, So.
DE Josh Gebhardt, Jr. (22 TT, 3 TFL, 2 sacks)
NT Blake Riley, Jr. (24 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 PD)
DE Dion Dubose, Sr.
LB Darius Eubanks, Sr. (69 TT, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 4 PD, 1 FF)
LB Kyle Oehlbeck, Jr.
LB John Stevenson, Sr.
CB Valdon Cooper, So.
CB Lavelle Westbrooks, Jr. (60 TT, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 4 PD)
FS Deion Stanley, So. (86 TT, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 8 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR)
P Luke Cherry, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Jaybo Shaw (75-of-134, 1,476 yards, 10 TD, 3 INT; 168 carries, 420 yards, 14 TD) and PK Adrian Mora (12-of-14 FG, 62-of-64 PAT)
OUTLOOK: Monken has made Georgia Southern faithful happy in his first two seasons. The Eagles are coming off back-to-back FCS playoff semifinal appearances and a rare 11-win season. But, at GSU, if the Eagles don't win a national championship regularly, the season is a bust. Not to mention, this will be the first time Monken will be without QB Shaw to lead one of the FCS' top rushing teams. Youyoute, a sophomore, and McKinnon, a junior, are battling it out in fall camp to become the starter. McKinnon, a hybrid return man, defensive back and running back, threw, ran and caught a touchdown pass during the 2011 season. He also had 80 carries for 537 yards and seven touchdowns while passing for a mere 3-of-6 for 37 yards and one touchdown. Youyoute, a more natural triple option QB, rushed for 310 yards and three touchdowns and was 4-of-6 for 35 yards last season. Whoever wins the job will be happy to give the ball to 2011 SoCon Freshman of the Year Swope, who made only six starts as a true freshman, yet rushed for 1,033 yards and seven touchdowns. Joining him will be Brown, Robinson and Bryant, who accounted for 209 carries and eight touchdowns collectively. The offensive line isn't overly physical, but extremely athletic and should have no problems paving the way for the Eagles' dangerous ground attack. On defense, GSU arguably has the FCS' best run-stopper in Russell, a two-time Buck Buchanan Award finalist and an absolute beast. The senior defensive tackle had 67 total tackles, including 16 1/2 for loss and 6 1/2 sacks in 2011. Many of the SoCon's coaches, offenses and opposing fans will be happy to see him leave after the season due to the impact he has hade in his career. The Eagles have a solid defense that is often overlooked by their high potent offense. GSU also has a very manageable schedule early on that should allow it to determine who will be the lead signal-caller. The Eagles host Appalachian State and Wofford and should know their SoCon fate by Nov. 3 because the last two games are non-conference versus Howard and at SEC power Georgia.
Sept. 1 - vs. Jacksonville
Sept. 8 - at The Citadel
Sept. 22 - vs. Elon
Sept. 29 - vs. Samford
Oct. 6 - at Western Carolina
Oct. 13 - vs. Wofford
Oct. 20 - at Furman
Oct. 27 - at Chattanooga
Nov. 3 - vs. Appalachian State
Nov. 10 - vs. Howard
Nov. 17 - at Georgia
2. APPALACHIAN STATE MOUNTAINEERS (8-4 overall, 6-2 Southern)
COACH: Jerry Moore (207-83 in 23 seasons at Appalachian State; 234-130-2 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Jamal Jackson, Jr. (161-of-262, 2,001 yards, 15 TD, 8 INT; 296 rushing yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jeremy Kimbrough, Sr. (105 TT, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 5 PD, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Steven Miller, Sr. (76 carries, 380 yards, 5 YPC, 3 TD)
RB Rod Chisholm, Sr.
WR Andrew Peacock, Jr. (48 receptions, 564 yards, 3 TD)
WR Tony Washington, Jr. (32 receptions, 355 yards, 2 TD)
C Alex Acey, So.
LT Kendall Lamm, So.
RG Ian Barnard, Jr.
RT Regan Dufort, Jr.
LB Brandon Grier, Sr. (97 TT, 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)
DE Deuce Robinson, So.
DE Ronald Blair, So. (40 TT, 11.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 PD)
DT Thomas Bronson, R-Fr.
SS Troy Sanders, Sr. (79 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 5 PD)
FS Patrick Blalock, Jr.
CB Rodger Walker, Jr. (4 INT, 2 PBU, 6 PD)
CB Demetrius McCray, Sr. (48 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 INT, 9 PBU, 14 PD)
P Sam Martin, Sr. (54 punts, 40.9 YPP)
PK Drew Stewart, Jr. (8-of-10 FG, 17-of-19 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSSES: RB/KR Travaris Cadet (151 carries, 651 yards, 6 TD; 34 receptions, 333 yards, 1 TD; 26 KR, 632 yards) and WR Brian Quick (71 receptions, 1,096 yards, 11 TD)
OUTLOOK: Despite coming off an eight-win season and a seventh straight NCAA playoff berth, Appalachian State failed to win a postseason game for the first time since 2004. Thus, in the eyes of many, the Mountaineers failed to live up to their expectations. Moore brought in seven new assistant coaches, including longtime assistant Scott Satterfield to come back to the program as the offensive coordinator. Appalachian brings back five starters under Satterfield, including Jackson, a junior who threw for 2,001 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for seven touchdowns. He didn't take over as the starter until midway through the 2011 campaign. Miller returns as the leader in the backfield after rushing for 380 yards, three touchdowns and an impressive five yards per carry. However, Chisholm, who missed 2011 because he was academically ineligible, and Frazier, who moves from defense to offense, have little experience at running back. Although the Mountaineers will miss two- time All-America selection and second-round NFL draft pick Brian Quick at wide receiver, Peacock and Washington will be dependable pass catchers for Jackson. The key to success in 2012 will depend on a defense that returns nine starters. Appalachian State may have the most talented linebacker corps in the FCS. Leading the way will be Kimbrough and Grier, who accounted for 22 1/2 tackles for loss and 6 sacks one year ago. The secondary features McCray, Walker and Sanders, who will give SoCon offenses a lot of trouble after picking off 11 of the team's 17 interceptions last season. ASU will be tested early with games at East Carolina and home versus Montana, in one of the FCS' most anticipated regular-season contests of all time. If the Mountaineers want to return to their past glory, the new offense will need to produce quickly.
Sept. 1 - at East Carolina
Sept. 8 - vs. Montana
Sept. 15 - vs. The Citadel
Sept. 22 - at Chattanooga
Sept. 29 - vs. Coastal Carolina
Oct. 6 - vs. Elon
Oct. 13 - at Samford
Oct. 20 - vs. Wofford
Oct. 27 - at Western Carolina
Nov. 3 - at Georgia Southern
Nov. 10 - vs. Furman
3. WOFFORD TERRIERS (8-4 overall, 6-2 Southern)
COACH: Mike Ayers (162-111-1 in 24 seasons at Wofford; 173-132-2 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: FB Eric Breitenstein, Sr. (268 carries, 1,474 yards, 19 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Alvin Scioneaux, Jr. (85 TT, 17 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 5 FF, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brian Kass, Jr. (8-of-14, 157 yards, 3 TD)
HB Donovan Johnson, Jr. (110 carries, 967 yards, 8.8 YPC, 9 TD)
HB Brad Nocek, Sr.
WR Jeff Ashley, Jr. (7 receptions, 188 yards, 2 TD)
TE Michael Harpe, Jr. (2 receptions, 64 yards, 2 TD)
LT Calvin Cantrell, Sr.
C Jared Singleton, Jr.
RT Jake Miles, Sr.
LG Tymeco Gregory, Jr.
DE Tarek Odom, So.
DE Zach Bobb, Sr.
NT E.J. Speller, R-Fr.
LB Mike McCrimon, Jr. (62 TT, 5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
LB Mike Niam, Sr. (83 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 FF)
LB Phillip LeGrande, Sr. (34 TT, 3 TFL, 1 PBU)
CB Blake Wylie, Sr. (40 TT, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
CB Stephon Shelton, Sr.
FS James Zotto, Jr. (70 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
SS Kendall Bratcher, Sr. (40 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU)
PK Christian Reed, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Mitch Allen (40-of-88, 728 yards, 4 TD, 7 INT; 165 carries, 856 yards, 10 TD) and DL Alex Goltry (26 TT, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 FR)
OUTLOOK: Last year's top-rushing team in the FCS with 364 yards per game returns the FCS' active career leader in rushing and rushing touchdowns in Breitenstein at fullback. The senior enters the season as the 2011 SoCon Offensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-America selection. He has accounted for 622 carries for 3,695 yards and 46 touchdowns in his illustrious career. Last year, the Terriers reached the FCS playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons, but fell to Northern Iowa, 28-21, in the second round. There is no question Ayers will rely on Breitenstein to provide offense for the Terriers. But don't underestimate HB Johnson, who rushed for 967 yards, nine touchdowns and a staggering 8.8 yards per carry. The biggest concern for Wofford will be replacing QB Allen, who was a very effective passer (728 yards, 4 TD) and runner (856 yards, 10 TD) last season. Kass, a junior, will most likely take over the starting role under center. In 2010, he played in eight games, completing 18-of-34 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, however, Kass played in six games, rushing for 43 yards and passing for 157 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line only lost one starter and brings back a wealth of experience, which will greatly help Kass. Like many teams in the SoCon, Wofford's defense takes a backseat to its offense. Last season, the Terriers gave up 311 yards per game, good for 17th in the FCS. Scioneaux, Niam and Zotto are tackling machines and will make up for the loss of three key defensive linemen. Wofford has one of the more favorable schedules in the conference, but face major tests in Weeks 7 and 8, at Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. The Terriers brought in 33 freshmen in the 2012 recruiting class and redshirted 14 players in the 2011 class, but they shouldn't have to worry about rebuilding this season.
Sept. 1 - at Gardner-Webb
Sept. 8 - vs. Lincoln (Pa.)
Sept. 15 - vs. Western Carolina
Sept. 29 - at Elon
Oct. 6 - vs. Furman
Oct. 13 - at Georgia Southern
Oct. 20 - at Appalachian State
Oct. 27 - vs. The Citadel
Nov. 3 - at Samford
Nov. 10 - vs. Chattanooga
Nov. 17 - at South Carolina
4. CHATTANOOGA MOCS (5-6 overall, 3-5 Southern)
COACH: Russ Huesman (17-16 in three seasons at Chattanooga; 17-16 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Terrell Robinson, So. (27-of-43, 336 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT; 417 yards rushing, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Wes Dothard, Jr. (98 TT, 15.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 7 PD, 5 FF, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Chris Awuah, Sr. (58 carries, 227 yards, 3 TD)
RB Marquis Green, So. (120 carries, 530 yards, 3 TD)
RB J.J. Jackson, Sr. (70 carries, 234 yards, 3 TD)
QB Graham Nichols, Jr.
WR Marlon Anthony, Jr. (27 receptions, 333 yards, 4 TD)
WR Ron Moore, So.
TE Faysal Shafaat, So. (19 receptions, 179 yards, 2 TD)
RT Adam Miller, Sr.
C Patrick Sutton, So.
LG Kevin Revis, Jr.
LT Brandon Morgan, So.
DE Josh Williams, Sr. (42 TT, 9.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 PD)
DE Davis Tull, So. (30 TT, 8 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR)
DT Toyvian Brand, So.
LB Gunner Miller, Jr. (51 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 PD, 1 FF)
CB Kadeem Wise, Jr.
DB/KR Chaz Moore, Jr. (18 KR, 468 yards, 26 YPR)
CB Chaz Moore, Jr.
S D.J. Key, Jr. (77 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 9 PD, 2 FF)
PK Nick Pollard, So. (10-of-14 FG, 31-of-33 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSSES: LB Ryan Consiglio (120 TT, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 2 FF, 2 FR) and QB B.J. Coleman (137-of-225, 1,527 yards, 9 TD, 9 INT)
OUTLOOK: Four of Chattanooga's six losses came by a combined five points in 2011. One-point losses against The Citadel, Georgia Southern and Wofford came by the same score of 28-27, and the Mocs lost a heartbreaker on the road versus Appalachian State, 14-12. Nonetheless, Chattanooga will be hungry this season after losing the close games last year. The SoCon's No. 1 defense allowed 305 yards per game and only 25 total touchdowns, finishing 13th in the FCS. Williams, the Mocs' all-time leader in sacks with 21 1/2, is coming off a season in which he led the SoCon with 9 1/2 sacks. All-America linebacker Dothard returns for his junior year after totaling 98 tackles, including 15 1/2 for a loss, six pass breakups and five forced fumbles in 2011. Key, at safety, will be one of the SoCon's best pass defenders with fellow junior Wise in the secondary. Huesman teams have had the talent, but not the ability to win big games. Without QB Coleman to lead the offense, that might be even more difficult. However, Robinson put up impressive numbers after starting the season at wide receiver, then playing five games at QB. He has a lot of potential after completing 27-of-43 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 417 yards and five touchdowns. If the defense can play like it did last season, the Mocs offense should be productive. Only eight seniors provide Chattanooga with leadership, and of the 62 Mocs who participated in a game last season, 22 were freshmen and another 17 were sophomores. Road games at South Florida and Jacksonville State to open the season may impede a fast start for the Mocs.
Sept. 1 - at South Florida
Sept. 8 - at Jacksonville State
Sept. 13 - vs. Glenville State
Sept. 22 - vs. Appalachian State
Sept. 29 - at The Citadel
Oct. 13 - at Furman
Oct. 20 - vs. Samford
Oct. 27 - vs. Georgia Southern
Nov. 3 - at Western Carolina
Nov. 10 - at Wofford
Nov. 17 - vs. Elon
5. FURMAN PALADINS (6-5 overall, 5-3 Southern)
COACH: Bruce Fowler (6-5 in one season at Furman; 6-5 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Jerodis Williams, Sr. (199 carries, 1,055 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Mitch McGrath, Sr. (87 TT, 13.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 INT, 2 PBU, 6 PD, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dakota Derrick, Sr. (8-of-17, 104 yards, 1 TD; 1 rushing TD)
TE Colin Anderson. Sr. (40 receptions, 696 yards, 7 TD)
RB Hank McCloud, So. (58 carries, 241 yards, 1 TD)
WR Ryan Culbreath, Jr. (18 receptions, 265 yards, 2 TD)
WR Daniel McFadden, Sr. (2 TD, 22.5 yards per reception)
OL Dakota Dozier, Jr.
OL Ryan Storms, Jr.
OL Charles Emert, So.
DE Josh Lynn, Sr. (49 TT, 10.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DE Shawn Boone, Jr. (27 TT, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 PD)
DT Colton Keig, Sr.
NG Neal Rodgers, Jr.
MLB Matt Solomon, Sr.
OLB Gary Wilkins, So. (46 TT, 1 PBU, 1 PD)
CB Cortez Johnson, Sr.
CB Derrick Murray, Sr. (1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 PD)
CB Austin Williams, Jr.
SS Nathan Wade, Sr. (75 TT, 5 TFL, 3 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FR)
SS Marcus McMorris, So. (1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD, 1 FR)
FS Greg Worthy, Jr. (80 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 6 PD)
PK/P Ray Early, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Chris Forcier (148-of-231, 2,265 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT; 250 rushing yards, 2 TD) and LB Kadarron Anderson (111 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 3 PD, 2 FF)
OUTLOOK: In Fowler's first season, Furman won six games overall and finished fourth in the conference. The Paladins had impressive wins over Wofford, Appalachian State and Chattanooga, but lost critical home games versus Samford and Elon. The FCS' No. 1-ranked passing efficiency offense last season will have to replace Forcier, the man responsible for an efficiency rating of 172.36. Derrick, a senior, appears to be the starter at quarterback. He doesn't have a lot of experience, but over his career Derrick has passed for 300 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 251 yards. The Paladins bring back Williams, who is a workhorse, rushing for 1,055 yards and 9 TD in 2011 (it was the first 1,000-yard season by a Paladin since 2003). The ground game might take a small hit with the loss of fullback Tersoo Uhaa, who tallied 1,491 yards and 31 rushing touchdowns in his career. Furman's best weapon will be All-America TE Anderson, who caught 40 passes for seven touchdowns. The defense only lost three starters from a unit that finished 33rd in the FCS in allowing 193 passing yards per game last season. Three seniors - All-SoCon defensive end Lynn, McGrath, at linebacker, and strong safety Wade, (28 starts and 215 tackles in his Furman career) - will lead a very underrated defense. The Paladins' success will rely the play at quarterback. Without a balanced attack, Furman could be in trouble.
Sept. 1 - at Samford
Sept. 8 - vs. Coastal Carolina
Sept. 15 - at Clemson
Sept. 22 - at Presbyterian
Sept. 29 - vs. Western Carolina
Oct. 6 - at Wofford
Oct. 13 - vs. Chattanooga
Oct. 20 - vs. Georgia Southern
Oct. 27 - at Elon
Nov. 10 - at Appalachian State
Nov. 17 - vs.The Citadel
6. THE CITADEL BULLDOGS (4-7 overall, 2-6 Southern)
COACH: Kevin Higgins (31-47 in seven seasons at The Citadel; 87-72-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: B-Back Darien Robinson, Jr. (136 carries, 862 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Derek Douglas, Jr. (43 TT, 14.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ben Dupree, Jr. (22-of-46, 192 yards, 3 INT; 177 carries, 645 yards, 8 TD)
QB Aaron Miller, So. (10-of-24, 118 yards, 3 INT; 85 carries, 314 yards, 5 TD)
B-Back Terrell Dallas, Sr. (missed 2011 due to injury)
Slot-Back Rickey Anderson, Sr. (52 carries, 498 yards, 2 TD)
Slot-Back VanDyke Jones, Sr. (46 carries, 211 yards, 2 TD)
WR Matt Thompson, Jr.
TE Cullen Brown, Jr.
C Mike Sellers, Jr.
LG Keith Carter, Jr.
RG Jim Knowles, Jr.
LT Neal Strange, Sr.
DE Chris Billingslea, Sr. (53 TT, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 PBU, 5 PD, 3 FR)
NG Cameron Mobley, So.
DT Justin Oxendine, So.
OLB Rah Muhammad, So.
OLB Bay Amrhein, Jr.
ILB Carl Robinson, So.
CB Brandon McCladdie, Jr. (42 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 7 PD, 2 FF)
CB/KR Keith Gamble, Sr, (25 KR, 532 yards, 21 YPR)
S Davis Boyle, Sr. (36 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD, 2 FR)
S Austin Boyle, Sr.
P Cass Couey, Sr. (40 punts, 42.98 yards per punt)
BIGGEST LOSS: LB Rod Harland (103 TT, 12.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OUTLOOK: The Citadel enters its third season in the triple option offense. Although the Bulldogs only won four games last year, the team improved drastically on both sides of the ball. The Citadel finished third in the FCS with 286 yards rushing per contest, while finishing third in the SoCon in total defense, allowing 343 yards per game. Higgins enters his eighth season of trying to rebuild the program. Four of last year's six conference losses came by 10 points or less. They included an overtime loss versus Elon, a seven-point loss versus Appalachian State and a two-point loss at Georgia Southern. The strength of the offense lies in the offensive line, led by All- SoCon center Sellers and three other returnees. Dupree and Miller will split time at quarterback and are exceptional runners, but the pass game needs improvement, even for a triple option team. Robinson and Anderson fit nicely as the go-to guys at running back, and if Dallas is healthy, the run game can continue to develop. The Bulldogs were the FCS' worst passing team last year, throwing for a mere 32 yards per game and one touchdown. If the pass game can be utilized, the Bulldogs could become very dangerous, but that's easier said than done. The Citadel needs to replace some key defensive linemen and Harland at linebacker. The defense was neither bad nor great last year, but early games on the schedule in 2012 will determine if the Bulldogs can make the next step as a program. Weeks 2, 3 and 4 feature Georgia Southern at home followed by road contests at Appalachian State and North Carolina State.
Sept. 1 - vs. Charleston Southern
Sept. 8 - vs. Georgia Southern
Sept. 15 - at Appalachian State
Sept. 22 - at North Carolina State
Sept. 29 - vs. Chattanooga
Oct. 6 - at Samford
Oct. 13 - vs. Western Carolina
Oct. 27 - at Wofford
Nov. 3 - vs. Elon
Nov. 10 - at Virginia Military Institute
Nov. 17 - at Furman
7. ELON PHOENIX (5-6 overall, 3-5 Southern)
COACH: Jason Swepson (5-6 in one season at Elon; 5-6 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Aaron Mellette, Sr. (113 receptions, 1,639 yards, 12 TD, 149 yards receiving per game)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Blake Thompson, Sr. (60 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Thomas Wilson, Sr. (279-of-411, 3,057 yards, 23 TD, 21 INT)
RB Matt Eastman, Jr. (3 receptions, 7 yards, 2 TD)
RB Karl Bostick, So. (Akron transfer)
WR Jeremy Peterson, Sr. (39 receptions, 333 yards, 2 TD)
WR Rasaun Rorie, Jr.
LG Kyle Herbert, Sr.
C Clay Johnson, Jr.
RG Justin Ward, Sr.
LT Austin Sowell, So.
RT Gavin Billings, Jr.
TE Chris Harris, Sr.
DL Olufemi Lmikanra, Sr. (32 TT, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR)
DL Jay Brown, Jr. (30 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU)
DL Jordan Jones, Jr. (30 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 PBU)
DL Tony Thompson, Jr. (24 TT, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR)
LB Jonathan Spain, So. (37 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
LB Odell Benton, So.
SS Chandler Wrightenberry, Jr. (59 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 3 FF)
FS Miles Williams, So.
CB Akeem Langham, So.
PK Adam Shreiner, Jr.
P Kenton Beal, Jr. (49 punts, 38 yards per punt)
BIGGEST LOSSES: RB Dontay Taylor (115 carries, 410 yards, 9 TD) and LB Joshua Jones (112 TT, 17 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT)
OUTLOOK: At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Mellette is not only the SoCon's top receiver, but he is also one of the FCS' top pass catchers. The senior enters the season as an All-America selection who finished fifth in the voting for last year's Walter Payton Award and led the nation in both receptions per game (10.3) and receiving yards per game (149). Elon ranked 14th in the FCS, passing for 281 yards per game. The Phoenix, who will once again rely heavily on the passing game, return Wilson at quarterback. He attempted 411 passes for 3,057 yards and 23 touchdowns, but threw 21 interceptions. The biggest question mark for this team is the run game. Gone are Taylor and Harris, who accounted for 10 of the team's 11 rushing touchdowns last year. Bostick, who transferred from Akron, and Eastman will be asked to contribute right away. Defensively, the Phoenix must improve against the run after finishing 99th in the FCS, allowing 191 yards per game. The defensive line, led by Brown, Jones and Thompson, played well as sophomores and should improve. Elon will have one of the FCS' youngest rosters, and a lot of underclassmen will need to step up their play. The Phoenix only play four SoCon road games, but two of them are against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, not to mention a home game versus Wofford in between.
Sept. 1 - at North Carolina
Sept. 8 - vs. North Carolina Central
Sept. 15 - vs. West Virginia State
Sept. 22 - at Georgia Southern
Sept. 29 - vs. Wofford
Oct. 6 - at Appalachian State
Oct. 20 - vs. Western Carolina
Oct. 27 - vs. Furman
Nov. 3 - at The Citadel
Nov. 10 - vs. Samford
Nov. 17 - at Chattanooga
8. SAMFORD BULLDOGS (6-5 overall, 4-4 Southern)
COACH: Pat Sullivan (25-30 in five seasons at Samford; 49-72-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Kelsey Pope, Jr. (86 receptions, 810 yards, 6 TD; 33 carries, 175 yards rushing, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SS Alvin Hines II, Sr. (66 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 9 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ben Neill, Jr. (9-of-14, 89 yards, 1 TD)
QB Andy Summerlin, Sr. (Memphis transfer)
RB Jeremiaha Gates, So. (86 carries, 381 yards)
RB/KR Fabian Truss, Jr. (150 carries, 847 yards, 7 TD; 27 KR, 790 yards, 1 TD)
WR Riley Hawkins, Sr. (37 receptions, 472 yards, 2 TD)
WR Chris Cephus, Jr. (25 receptions, 339 yards, 4 TD)
C Ryan Dudchock, Sr.
RG Jacob Kirschenbaum, Sr.
RT Charlie Sanford, Sr.
LG Kasey Morrison, Jr.
LT Branden Moore, So.
DT Nicholas Williams, Sr. (23 TT, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
NG Jeremy Mathis, So.
NG Jeremy Towns, Sr.
DE Brandon Wilkinson, So.
DE Aaron Bethune, Sr. (21 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks)
MLB Keith Shoulders, Sr. (61 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
MLB Justin Shade, Jr. (63 TT, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF)
LB Durell Hill, Sr. (49 TT, 4 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
LB Darion Sutton, Sr. (56 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Justin Sly, Sr.
CB Tae Lewis, Jr.
S Jaquiski Tartt, So.
PK Cameron Yaw, Sr. (23-of-28 FG, 32-of-33 PAT)
P Greg Peranich, So. (47 punts, 41.1 YPP)
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Dustin Taliaferro (233-of-372, 2,301 yards, 14 TD, 10 INT) and CB Corey White (58 TT, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FF)
OUTLOOK: Samford surprised a lot of teams in the SoCon last season by finishing in the middle of the conference with a 4-4 record. The Bulldogs return a lot of studs on offense. Pope, Truss, Hawkins and Cephus all will play significant roles in 2012. Truss ranked third in the SoCon with 847 yards rushing, but also showed how dangerous he can be returning kicks. He led the conference in all-purpose yards, averaging 177 per game. As a sophomore, Pope caught 86 passes for six touchdowns and had four rushing touchdowns. Samford has the playmakers to be competitive, but Sullivan is unsure of who will get them the ball under center. Taliaferro, a four-year starter, graduated, leaving the spot up for grabs. Neill and Memphis transfer Summerlin will battle it out for the top spot. Last year, Summerlin was 45-of-94 for 469 yards, playing in five games for Memphis, including two starts. The Bulldogs ranked third in the SoCon in allowing 172 yards passing per game, but they were second-to-last in the conference in giving up 193 yards rushing per contest. That's not good news considering only one starter (Williams) returns on the defensive line. Hines II is the team's leading returning tackler, registering 66 tackles, three interceptions and nine pass breakups. Yaw returns at kicker, coming off a season in which he set a new Samford record with 23 field goals. Samford ends the season at home against Wofford, at Elon and at SEC East member Kentucky, so finishing strong won't be easy.
Sept. 1 - vs. Furman
Sept. 8 - vs. West Alabama
Sept. 15 - at Gardner-Webb
Sept. 22 - at Western Carolina
Sept. 29 - at Georgia Southern
Oct. 6 - vs. The Citadel
Oct. 13 - vs. Appalachian State
Oct. 20 - at Chattanooga
Nov. 3 - vs. Wofford
Nov. 10 - at Elon
Nov. 17 - at Kentucky
9. WESTERN CAROLINA CATAMOUNTS (1-10 overall, 0-8 Southern)
COACH: Mark Speir (First season at Western Carolina and overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Michael Johnson, Sr. (88 carries, 274 yards, 2 TD; missed four games in 2011 due to injury)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Rock Williams, Sr. (115 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Eddie Sullivan, So. (Marshall transfer)
QB Jawan Simmons, R-Fr.
RB Shaun Warren, So. (91 carries, 454 yards, 5 TD)
RB Michael Vaughn, Sr. (96 carries, 344 yards, 2 TD)
WR Deja Alexander, Jr. (36 receptions, 455 yards, 1 TD)
WR Jacoby Mitchell, Sr. (25 receptions, 379 yards, 3 TD)
WR Gary Green, Jr. (29 receptions, 345 yards, 3 TD)
C Quevalas Murray, Jr.
RG Ryan Moore, Sr.
RT Steve Steiner, Jr.
LT Wes Cook, Jr.
LG Vince Williams, Jr.
DE Nick Woodard, Sr.
DT Eric Banford, Sr.
DT Andrew Shishkin, Sr. (51 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU)
DE Brian Johnson, Jr. (29 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacksm 2 FF)
LB Courtland Carson, So. (56 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Elijer Martinez, Sr. (32 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
DB Ace Clark, So. (90 TT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
FS Ben Watkins, So.
K Clark Sechrest, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Brandon Pechloff (119-of-224, 1,660 yards, 12 TD, 11 INT) and WR/KR George Richardson (26 receptions, 335 yards, 3 TD; 38 KR, 1,037 yards, 1 TD)
OUTLOOK: Western Carolina took an important step forward by hiring Speir, the former Appalachian State assistant. The Catamounts, who have gone 11-56 since 2006, are hoping Speir can use his SoCon knowledge to build a program the right way. Six new assistant coaches, including two new coordinators, will help fix an offense that ran for only 118 yards per game and a defense that finished second-to-last in the FCS in allowing a whopping 509 yards per game. WCU enters the season without an experienced quarterback, but snagged Marshall University transfer Sullivan, a dual-threat speedster who still has three years of eligibility left. Johnson, Warren and Vaughn were all productive running the ball for last year's pass-heavy team. There is some decent depth at wide receiver with Alexander, Mitchell and Green, who combined for 1,192 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The Catamounts defense can't get much worse after allowing 334 rushing yards per game and 43 touchdowns on the ground last season. Speir's understands the difficulty of his job. Having spent time with Appalachian State and at WCU in the past, he knows the recipe for creating change. Two out of three non-conference games are at Marshall and Alabama. It will take sacrifice to rebuild once again.
Aug. 30 - vs. Mars Hill
Sept. 8 - at Marshall
Sept. 15 - at Wofford
Sept. 22 - vs. Samford
Sept. 29 - at Furman
Oct. 6 - vs. Georgia Southern
Oct. 13 - at The Citadel
Oct. 20 - at Elon
Oct. 27 - vs. Appalachian State
Nov. 3 - vs. Chattanooga
Nov. 17 - at Alabama