published Thursday, November 10th, 2011

SoConversation: Week 11

Welcome to Week 11 of the college football season and a SoConversation between The Citadel beat writer Jeff Hartsell of the Charleston Post and Courier, Elon beat writer Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News and UTC beat writer John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Here are last week’s results: Furman def. Appalachian State 20-10; Georgia Southern def. The Citadel 14-12; UTC def. Samford 24-9; Wofford def. Western Carolina 42-24. What are your thoughts on the game you covered last week and the rest of the scores?

ADAM: With both coaches firing verbal blasts in what became a built-up backdrop of smack talk, N.C. State delivered the last word — and it was a definitive statement — by shutting out rival North Carolina for the first time since 1960.

Sounds exciting, huh? Wrong. Not even close.

Yes, Elon’s bye week took me into ACC country, so I was removed from my comfy SoCon cocoon. But I tried to follow the developments of the day, especially given that I was parked in front of a snoozer.

Furman apparently is for real. The Paladins rocketed ahead 20-0 against an App State team that had seemed to rekindle some mojo and defeated their second Top 5-ranked opponent in a span of three weeks. Impressive stuff.

More grown man defense from Chattanooga. Does Mocs coach Russ Huesman have any sort of a defensive background? Somebody get back to me on that.

Wofford ran for 500 yards on Western Carolina, its highest output in more than a decade. The Terriers probably could have made it 700 if they needed to.

And is Georgia Southern squeaking past Citadel — at home, no less — an indictment of the highly ranked Eagles or more confirmation of progress from the gritty Bulldogs? Tough call for me to make. But it sounded like Georgia Southern was super lucky to avoid the upset. Uncle Hartsell, what say you?

JEFF: When Freedom the bald eagle had his pre-game flight canceled due to high winds, you knew the gusts might play a role in the Citadel-GSU game. And it did, when the Bulldogs' try at a game-winning field goal with 13 seconds left was blown away. Two blocked extra points didn't help The Citadel's cause, either.

Shows you the depth of the SoCon — The Citadel, in next-to-last place, lost to GSU by 2, App State by 7 and Furman by 10. All three could/should be playoff teams.

JOHN: The Mocs’ offense got a lot of attention because UTC rotated three guys at quarterback, but the defense held a Samford squad that was averaging more than 33 points a game to three field goals. It was an impressive performance.

The three-man system at quarterback (utilized because of injuries) was interesting, and the offense did enough to help get the win, but I don’t think the Mocs will be sticking with it.

The Citadel sticking so close to Georgia Southern surprised me more than Furman’s win over App State. That Furman defense is tough and appears to be getting better every week.

The Paladins are obviously on a roll and appear to be headed toward the playoffs (with an outside shot at getting the league’s automatic bid). Is it fair to say that Furman’s Bruce Fowler has moved to the top of the list of candidates for SoCon Coach of the Year?

JEFF: More than fair. Fowler's team is one of the few in the league that has shown steady improvement over the season, and he has squeezed production out of Chris Forcier's potential. Coastal Carolina got them early, but Furman might be the SoCon team you least want to play at the moment.

GSU's Jeff Monken should remain high on this list, as well.

JOHN: I think we all knew the Paladins had talented players, especially guys like Kadarron Anderson and Ryan Steed on defense, but Furman has really put all the pieces together since the middle of the season.

In Fowler’s first season I don’t think most of us really knew what to expect, but it’s probably fair to say that we didn’t foresee Furman in the hunt for a playoff spot. It’s been a job very well done by Fowler and his staff.

ADAM: In this voter’s eyes, yes. Like a purple bullet up to the head of that list.

Fowler isn’t likely to spin off many catchy quotes, for reporters at least, but the Furman alum and former longtime assistant there (1984-2001) is showing that he can do some coaching.

In his first year after coming back from Vanderbilt, the Paladins are poised to return to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Look across the board. Quarterback Chris Forcier leads the FCS in passer efficiency. Jerodis Williams is second in the SoCon in rushing. Colin Anderson is the best tight end in the league. Kadarron Anderson is the conference’s top tackler. And Ryan Steed is one of the most respected cornerbacks in the FCS.

All of those guys are talented, of course. But somebody also knows what they’re doing in deploying them.

Now on to Saturday’s matchups: Georgia Southern at Wofford is obviously the marquee game of the day, followed by Elon at Furman; also on the slate are Samford at The Citadel and Western Carolina at Appalachian State. What will you be keeping an eye on this week?

JOHN: Fortunately for me, the Mocs have finally hit their off week so I won’t be near a college football stadium on Saturday. Hopefully I’ll get in 18 holes in the morning and then catch the Georgia-Auburn game in the afternoon. I was going to visit my alma mater, Ole Miss, but I decided that was too much driving to see the Black Bears lose to Louisiana Tech.

I would have liked to watch the Georgia Southern-Wofford game, but the SoCon game of the week is Samford at The Citadel. That might be a good one, too, but the game is Spartanburg is HUGE. It’s the top two teams in the league going at it, with a SoCon title on the line, yet I wouldn’t say either team heads into the game with much momentum. Interesting. I’ll take the Eagles by a point, 21-20.

ADAM: I’m interested to see how Georgia Southern shows up Saturday. The Eagles lost their No. 1 national ranking two weeks ago in a mega showdown game at App State. Certainly no crime there, but the oh-so-narrow escape of The Citadel raises some eyebrows. Now comes another big-time clash with the SoCon title on the line and a chance to reclaim more of the glory that went on hiatus for a couple years. As De La Soul would say, them stakes is high.

After three straight losses — a first since 2005 — and Jamal Shuman’s unfortunate Twitter tantrum, how does Elon come back from its bye week? Will Furman be focused on the Phoenix with Florida waiting next week?

Probably no need to eyeball Western Carolina/Appalachian State and the “Old Mountain Jug” rivalry. Unless you’re into watching torture.

JEFF: This will be the third meeting between GSU and Wofford in two years. Who knows, they might meet for a fourth time in the playoffs. The two games last year were decided by a total of five points, and this one should be just as close. GSU has struggled two weeks in a row, losing to App and almost losing to The Citadel, and Wofford has given up some points in recent weeks. GSU looks unsettled at QB, as Monken shuffled Jaybo Shaw and Jerick McKinnon on almost a play-by-play basis at times vs. The Cid. I'll go with Wofford, 26-24.

Now that the news has died down a bit regarding the NCAA’s approval last month of a measure that will allow schools to give athletes an extra $2,000 to help cover the full cost of attendance, where do you stand on the issue? Should the SoCon go along with this at all or only in certain sports? And, could the school you cover even afford to do this?

ADAM: This is a great question, one that I need to bend on the ear of Elon athletics director Dave Blank, because I have no idea if the Phoenix could (or to what extent) afford the $2,000 stipend.

And that might be moot anyway, because SoCon commissioner John Iamarino — next week’s guest in this very forum! — is on the record as saying he would be surprised if the league’s presidents agreed to widespread implementation of the stipend because of the expected cost.

According to the NCAA, no FCS athletics department generated a profit in 2010.

I’ve always been in favor of rewarding athletes, especially given the immense commitments they make to their schools. But not if it’s going to wreck bottom lines and create a further divide between the major colleges and the rest of the landscape out there.

JEFF: As of this discussion, the SoCon has not announced a decision, and it's my understanding league presidents are leaning against the $2,000 stipend. But all it will take is one mid-major basketball league to decide to award the stipend, and the SoCon will be forced to follow suit, at least in men's basketball. And don't forget that Title IX has to be satisfied, as well. And no, already strapped atheltic departments can't afford it.

Look at Western Carolina, which just slashed budgets for all sports across the board. Raising just an extra $26,000 for 13 basketball scholarships is a big ask. Raising $120,000 for 63 football scholarships? Yikes.

JOHN: When the NCAA approved the stipend, I thought a line in the sand had been crossed. Once you’re paying players a little, how long until the BCS big-money schools start lobbying hard to pay their players, who play in front of 100,000 people each week, a lot? I suspect we’ll find out in the next week or two what the SoCon is going to do, and some of that is probably predicated on what other FCS conferences have decided.

Talking to UTC athletic director Rick Hart, he essentially said UTC would figure out a way to pay for it if it came to that. UTC’s had its budget cut every year for about five straight years, so Hart and his staff are constantly having to work hard to balance the budget. This won’t make that task any easier.

If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at jhartsell@postandcourier.com, asmith@thetimesnews.com or jfrierson@timesfreepress.com. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @Adam_Smith10 and @MocsbeatCTFP.

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