Primary strength: The Mountaineers may not be quite as dominant as they were a few years ago, but in many ways they still set the SoCon standard. ASU’s defense is stout, led by a couple of outstanding linebackers in preseason All-American Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier.
Primary weakness: Appalachian State has gone through some player and coach turnover this offseason, and it remains to be seen what kind of impact the losses will have. There’s no easy way to replace 6-5 wideout Brian Quick, taken by the St. Louis Rams with the first pick of the second round in the NFL draft.
Incumbents: QB Jamal Jackson, LB Jeremy Kimbrough, LB Brandon Grier, DB Demetrius McCray, WR Andrew Peacock
Primary strength: The Bulldogs will continue to be led by their defense while the offense grows through triple-option growing pains. The defense was second only to UTC in 2011 in scoring defense (23.4 ppg) and third in total defense (343.8 ypg) in 2011.
Primary weakness: The Citadel has proven that it can move the ball on the ground with some success. Last season the Bulldogs were third in the FCS with 286.64 rushing yards a game. But the team was dead last in passing yardage at 32.2 per game. You can’t be completely one-dimensional in the SoCon.
Incumbents: OL Mike Sellers, P Cass Couey, RB Darien Robinson, DL Derek Douglas, DL Chris Billingslea
Primary strength: Wide receiver Aaron Mellette is as good as any FCS player in the country. The All-American was at times option Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for the Phoenix last season, and he delivered with 113 catches for 1,639 yards. The passing game again will carry the Elon offense, as it has for several years.
Primary weakness: Thomas Wilson didn’t have a problem piling up passing yards (3,057) and hitting his targets (67.9 completion rate); it’s just that when he missed it was often catastrophic. Wilson threw 23 touchdown passes, tied for most in the SoCon, but his 21 interceptions were more than double anyone else.
Incumbents: WR Aaron Mellette, QB Thomas Wilson, DL Tony Thompson, LB Jonathan Spain, DB Chandler Wrightenberry
Primary strength: The Paladins’ best player also may be their toughest to cover, tight end Colin Anderson. A consensus All-American and a big target at 6-foot-4, 237 pounds, he led the Paladins with 40 receptions for 696 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
Primary weakness: Furman surprised teams by going 6-5 last season, but many of the guys who made that happen have graduated. The Paladins will have to replace a first-team All-SoCon quarterback in Chris Forcier.
Incumbents: TE Colin Anderson, RB Jerodis Williams, DB Nathan Wade, LB Mitch McGrath, DB Greg Worthy, OL Dakota Dozier
Primary strength: The Eagles have a mix of speed and power all over the field, and they have the confidence of having won the SoCon in 2011 and made their second straight FCS semifinals. There aren’t many holes in the Eagles’ lineup.
Primary weakness: Coach Jeff Monken no longer has Jaybo Shaw running the offense as he did the last two years after Shaw followed Monken from Georgia Tech to Statesboro. Jerick McKinnon may be a better running quarterback, but can he run the offense as well?
Incumbents: DT Brent Russell, DB Deion Stanley, LB Darius Eubanks, RB Darreion Robinson, QB Jerick McKinnon, S J.J. Wilcox.
Primary strength: The Bulldogs have an experienced team (16 seniors) that made some strides in 2011 and enters the season confident about its ability to compete in the SoCon. Offensively, Samford has some weapons and can put up points against almost any team in the league.
Primary weakness: Samford had a mostly sound defense last season, and there will be some key contributors to replace, none bigger than safety Corey White, a fifth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints. The Bulldogs also tied for seventh in the SoCon in 2011 with just 17 sacks.
Incumbents: WR Kelsey Pope, K Cameron Yaw, RB Fabien Truss, DL Nick Williams, DB Alvin Hines III
Primary strength: The best thing going for the Catamounts is that they begin a new era under first-year coach Mark Speir. Having won just three of its last 47 SoCon games, Western Carolina has nowhere to go but up.
Primary weakness: The Catamounts’ defense was among the worst in the FCS in 2011; in fact it was ranked dead last in points allowed (45.6) and second to last in total defense (509.6 ypg). The offense will have to improve and stay on the field more to help the defense get better.
Incumbents: WR Jacoby Mitchell, LB Rock Williams, DB Ace Clark, DB Christon Gill
Primary strength: What isn’t a strength for the Terriers? They return the SoCon offensive player of the year in fullback Eric Breitenstein and two of the best linebackers in the SoCon in Alvin Scioneaux and Mike Niam, and the team is as balanced as any in the league.
Primary weakness: Wofford does have to replace two key offensive players in quarterback Mitch Allen and big receiver Brenton Bersin, who is in the Carolina Panthers’ training camp. That passing combination averaged 17.1 yards a completion.
Incumbents: FB Eric Breitenstein, LB Alvin Scioneaux, LB Mike Niam, OL Jake Miles, DB James Zotto