Following week two, the Southern Conference picture is starting to get a little clearer as we get closer to starting conference play in-earnest. Below I have put down some thoughts and put together my power rankings heading into week three.
- Chattanooga (2-0, 1-0 SoCon)-Projected league champions continue to impress, especially offensively, which is something that was a little bit of a question entering the season. New quarterback Preston Hutchinson was selected as the Southern Conference Player of the Week following his performance in UTC’s 38-20 win at Eastern Illinois. The Eastern Michigan transfer completed 17-of-27 passes for 278 yards, which included a 51-yard scoring toss and posted 64 yards rushing and a pair of scores on just six attempts. Hutchinson averaged an impressive 10.7 yards-per-carry and had scoring runs of 20 and 14 yards, respectively.
- Furman (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)-We didn’t know much about the Paladins after their 52-0 win in the season opener against North Greenville. We got a clearer picture with a respectable 35-12 loss at No. 4 Clemson, as the Paladins out-gained the Tigers, 384-376. The Paladins got a record-setting performance from tight end Ryan Miller, who tied a 53-year-old school record with 13 catches for 95 yards and a 25-yard scoring grab in the second quarter. The Paladins also got a strong effort out of graduate transfer quarterback Tyler Huff, who connected on 30-of-39 throws for 256 yards, with one TD and an INT.
- Mercer (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–The Bears were idle this past Saturday. They opened the season with a huge 63-13 win over Morehead State before turning around to face the Auburn Tigers last week, which saw the Bears drop a 42-16 contest at Auburn. The Bears have been powered offensively so far by James Madison running back Austin Douglas (180 rushing yards, 2 TDs), quarterback Fred Payton (32-of-53 passing, 445 yds, 6 TDs, 0 INT) and wideout Ty James (8 rec, 234 yds). The Bears will open Southern Conference play Saturday.
- Samford (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–Bulldogs dropped a 33-0 decision on the road at defending national champion and current No. 1 Georgia. The visiting Bulldogs from Homewood Alabama struggled to muster much of anything all day, and it marked just the second time Samford has been shutout during Hatcher’s seven-plus seasons as the head coach. The only other time came in 2019 with a 52-0 setback to Auburn. The Bulldogs opened the season with an impressive 27-17 win over then No.8 Kennesaw State. Interestingly, Hatcher gave current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart his first coaching job.
- The Citadel (1-1, 1-0)–Following its season-opening loss at Campbell, The Citadel Bulldogs responded in a big way, getting a win over Top 10 win over No. 8/9 East Tennessee State with a 20-17 win over the Bucs inside the friendly confines of Johnson Hagood Stadium. The win marked the first over a Top 10 foe since Oct. 15, 2016, when the Bulldogs knocked off No. 5 Chattanooga, 22-14, in Charleston. The Bulldogs got a 39-yard field goal from SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week Colby Kintner to secure the victory. One of The Citadel’s TDs was set up by another important special teams play, as sophomore defensive back Dominick Poole set up a Bulldog touchdown with a 50-yard punt return in the third quarter.
- Western Carolina (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–Like Furman and Samford, Western Carolina was respectable in its performance against FBS competition, dropping a 35-17 contest at Georgia Tech. After taking a 14-7 lead in the opening quarter on a pair of Carlos Davis TD passes, the Catamounts then struggled to hold on to the football, totaling four turnovers in the contest, leading to 28 unanswered points from the Yellow Jackets. Like Furman did against its ACC opposition–the Clemson Tigers–the Catamounts also followed suit against Georgia Tech, out-gaining the Yellow Jackets, 390-343.
- East Tennessee State (1-1, 0-1 SoCon)–Though the Bucs remained in the FCS STATS poll at No. 18 this week, they had a stark drop in my weekly SoCon power rankings, falling from third all the way to seventh with their road loss at The Citadel. While it might seem like a free-fall to Bucs fans, they can make up quick ground with a win over visiting Furman this weekend, who looked like a ranked FCS team in its performance at No. 4 Clemson. The Bucs got an outstanding effort from Jacob Saylors in the road loss to the Bulldogs, as he gashed The Citadel’s defense to the tune of `187 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, averaging an impressive 7.8 yards-per-carry. Also in the loss, linebacker Chandler Martin set a school record with 23 tackles, eclipsing the previous standard set back Nakia Thomas in a 20-16 loss at Appalachian State back in 1993. It was the most tackles in a game by a SoCon player since 2012.
- VMI (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)–VMI picked up its first win of the season this past Saturday, with a 24-14 win in its home opener against Bucknell, racing out to a 24-0 lead before holding on for a 24-14 win. Quarterback Seth Morgan led a more balanced Keydet offense, completing 13 passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and an INT. The Keydets have dedicated themselves more to the running game through the first couple of games of the season. VMI ended up out-gaining the visiting Bison 326-183 in total offense. It was a dedicated effort on the defensive side of the football, which limited the visitor’s to just 34 rushing yards. Hunter Rice ended the day leading the ground game for the Keydets, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown on 23 rush attempts. Stone Snyder posted 11 tackles to lead the defense, while Jerry Rice knocked home his 30th-career field goal, which is third all-time in program history.
- Wofford (0-2, 0-1 SoCon)–Wofford’s football program is the lone program in FCS football to have not scored a point through eight quarters of football this season. The Terriers enter Saturday’s contest at Virginia Tech having lost 12-straight games, which is the second-longest streak in FCS football behind only Wagner. Things don’t seem to be getting any better for Josh Conklin’s Terriers, and we think his seat is getting warmer by the week, but we can’t be too sure on that.