Welcome to week five of the SoConversation, featuring 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.
Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened in the SoCon last week took place away from the field. College of Charleston held an athletics committee meeting last Friday to discuss a possible move to the Colonial Athletic Association.
In the meeting, CofC AD Joe Hull called SoCon basketball "invisible on a national stage" and said membership in the league "hurts recruiting" in every sport but baseball, and makes it hard to schedule quality foes. (The Cougars don't play football). SoCon commisioner John Iamarino said he's still working hard to keep the Cougars in the SoCon.
What's your view of Hull's comments and the Cougars' future in the league?
JEFF: We can agree or disagree on the truth of Hull's statements. SoCon hoops does not have a high profile nationally, at least since Steph Curry left Davidson, although a couple of nice NCAA Tournament runs by the Cougars themselves might have helped that situation.
But what's the point of burning bridges on the way out the door? Hull's comments were not diplomatic, to say the least, and will lead to some awkward moments for at least this basketball season and in the future, should he fail to round up the Board of Trustees votes needed to make the move. And perhaps his comments reveal the lengths he feels he needs to go to convince board members that moving to the CAA is the right thing to do.
Simply noting the uncertain future of SoCon membership (Georgia Southern and App State want to play FBS football) and extolling the virtues of the CAA should have been enough, if CofC people really think it's the right thing to do. In my view, it's certainly a difficult decision.
With the losses of VCU, Old Dominion and Georgia State, I'd say the CAA is marginally a better hoops league than the SoCon, instead of the clearly superior league it used to be. The move to the CAA will do harm to a successful Cougar baseball program, without a doubt. And there are ramifications far beyond the athletic department. The CofC board meets again in mid-October. If the Cougars end up not making the move, Hull will have a lot of 'splainin to do.
JOHN: I don’t know if I would have phrased things the way Hull did — the term “invisible” is pretty darn strong — but I’m not going to disagree with everything he said. The SoCon is hurt in numerous ways by not having a broadcast television deal, but at the same time I don’t know what one would cost. And playing on NBC Sports, as the CAA does, isn’t the same as being on ESPN2.
I’ve said multiple times that if you’re going to spend a lot of money on a move (like ASU or Georgia Southern going up to the FBS) make it one worth the expense and effort. I still don’t see the Cougars going to the CAA as worth the trouble, but I also still think they’re out the door.
ADAM: As for Hull’s blistering words and College of Charleston’s future in the league, well, read the line below in your best sorority girl inner monologue.
Awk – ward.
CofC has to have at least one if not both Sperrys out the door, right? Why else would Hull and the school’s athletics committee chairman (Dwight Johnson) present the material in such a compelling way?
You can’t open up the flamethrower, scorch the earth and then go sit in a SoCon ADs meeting like nothing happened, can you?
To me, once stuff like that has been said in such a public forum, it’s almost impossible to turn back.
Remove the commentary and the emotions and this becomes the latest step in the domino effect that began playing out in the spring, when CAA commissioner Tom Yeager called Iamarino with the message that, in his hunt to reload the depleted CAA, he would be contacting some SoCon members.
Four months ago the SoCon’s initial fear was that C of C was the most likely to leave. Now that’s looking like a reality, especially with the school’s brass seemingly enamored with the CAA’s presence in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
I was in sticky Statesboro, Ga., for Elon’s game at Georgia Southern on Saturday night. Hull’s words then were just a day old and the CofC/CAA issue was a prevalent press box topic.
By the way, as the sage Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald Journal and others have pointed out, College of Charleston hasn’t won the “invisible” SoCon since 1999.
Before we discuss what happened elsewhere in the SoCon, let’s take a moment to go over what happened with the teams we cover. UTC got thrashed in the fourth quarter by Appalachian State, Elon nearly stunned the Eagles in Statesboro and The Citadel’s roll hit a non-conference speed bump. Thoughts?
JOHN: The Mocs got off to a nice start by forcing a couple of turnovers and taking a 10-0 lead. Not much good happened after that. The score was 10-10 heading in the fourth quarter and the Mountaineers dominated the final 15 minutes. UTC had turnovers on three straight possessions and the game ended in a rout.
The strangest part of the game was UTC’s offense, which looked nothing like the spread system the Mocs had been running. It was much more basic and ASU had little trouble defending it. The Mocs didn’t hit the 100-yard mark in total offense until midway through the third quarter.
ADAM: In the minutes after Elon’s near-miss at Georgia Southern, one of the first things coach Jason Swepson said outside the locker room was that the Phoenix proved it could play with any team in this league.
Obviously, whether that holds true remains to be seen in the next two months.
But that sense of confidence had to be the most significant of several positive takeaways as Elon departed Paulson Stadium, where Georgia Southern has won 12 straight home games, the second-longest active streak in the FCS.
Elon led at halftime (13-6), late in the third quarter (20-16) and was tied at 23-23 with Georgia Southern with less than four minutes remaining. Then with less than two minutes left, the Phoenix came 12 yards shy of the potential winning touchdown before a turnover pulled the plug.
Thomas Wilson threw for 302 yards. Aaron Mellette caught two touchdown passes. Kierre Brown (five catches, 110 yards) and Jeremy Peterson (two catches, 77 yards) stepped up big. And Elon’s defense withstood Georgia Southern’s triple option sufficiently enough to make it to crunch time with a chance to win.
An upset victory would have been tremendous for Elon. But still, it amounted to a good night’s work.
JEFF: I thought The Citadel would give N.C. State a much better game, but the Bulldogs did not for a couple of reasons. The Wolfpack is better than I gave it credit for, and N.C. State took the Bulldogs much more seriously than some FBS teams have in the past (cough, cough, South Carolina). They were prepared and for the option, and in the end just too big and fast for the Bulldogs. Good news is, the 52-14 loss does not disqualify The Citadel from winning the SoCon title. Over the last five seasons, SoCon champs (and co-champs) are 1-6 against FBS teams, the losses by an average score of 39-16. The lone win was App State's epic upset of Michigan in 2007.
Here are last week’s results: North Carolina State def. The Citadel 52-14, Appalachian State def. UTC 34-17, Georgia Southern def. Elon 26-23, Samford def. Western Carolina 25-21, Furman def. Presbyterian 31-21. What caught your eye during week four?
JEFF: I'm not surprised that Western Carolina gave undefeated Samford such a tussle. From all accounts, Mark Speir has the Catamounts playing with an edge that they've sorely lacked in recent years. I was surprised that Elon gave GSU such a battle in Statesboro. Looks like the Eagles were over-rated in preseason polls, and that Elon has made nice progress since that opening debacle against North Carolina.
And how about this Sean Price fellow at App State? The Mountaineers are 2-0 when the 6-5 freshman receiver plays (he's caught 18 passes for 233 yards and three TDs in the games he's played) and 0-2 when he does not (he was suspended for East Carolina and The Citadel). Jerry Moore needs to find a way to keep this guy eligible.
JOHN: I predicted in this space last week that Samford was going to have its hands full with the Catamounts. I did not predict that Georgia Southern would need a 32-yard field goal with a little more than three minutes left to beat Elon.
And I sure wouldn’t have predicted that UTC-ASU would be the most lopsided SoCon game of the weekend. After four games, the Mocs are last in the SoCon in scoring and total offense ... I wouldn’t have predicted that, either.
ADAM: Samford rallying from down 21-10 in the fourth quarter at Western Carolina and improving to 4-0 overall for the first time since 1995 — which just so happened to be a glorious time in my life.
High school. A full head of hair. A speedy metabolism. My ’86 Chevy Blazer. Ah, the memories …
Back on topic, Samford seems to be a well-scheduled 4-0, with wins against Furman, West Alabama, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina. And sure, it was Western Carolina’s 16th straight SoCon loss, but the Catamounts, as we’ve said, seem to be friskier under new coach Mark Speir.
N.C. State breaking open a 7-7 game with Citadel and running off 35 unanswered points into halftime certainly qualified as eye-catching. When the Twitter machine told me about Darien Robinson’s 65-yard TD in the first quarter, I was thinking Citadel might be spinning some more magic.
And how about the two-pronged effect of App State pulling away from Chattanooga. The Mountaineers bounced back a week after getting drilled by Citadel to score a key road victory. The flip side was a 10-10 game in the fourth quarter — and another meaningful opportunity — dissolving into the latest hard-to-stomach defeat for Chattanooga.
Even if Johnny Frierson wasn’t such a sweetheart, you’d still have to feel for the Mocs.
Here are this week’s matchups: Western Carolina at Furman (1:30 p.m.), Wofford at Elon (1:30 p.m.), Coastal Carolina at Appalachian State (3:30 p.m.), UTC at The Citadel (6 p.m.), Samford at Georgia Southern (6 p.m.). Any predictions on what’s to come this weekend?
JOHN: This is pretty much a MUST-WIN game for the Mocs, who certainly didn’t expect to be 1-3 at this point in the season. A loss in Charleston would mean a 1-4 start, which would be pretty darn stunning. I don’t know if it will help or hurt the Mocs to play with a measure of desperation, but I suspect we will find out Saturday night.
Samford-Georgia Southern didn’t look like a monster matchup at the start of the season, but the Bulldogs are 4-0 with a pair of conference wins. We’ll find out if Samford is for real Saturday and we’ll also learn a lot about the Eagles.
I think the desperate Mocs get a win in Charleston, Furman wins a close one, the Terriers roll, the Eagles pull away late and App State cruises past Coastal Carolina.
JEFF: Ah, the long-awaited "meat of the schedule" arrives. Samford has cruised to a 4-0 start and cracked the Top 25, but plays ranked FCS squads (GSU, Citadel, App State, Wofford) in four of its next five games. Chattanooga (1-3) had high hopes for this season, and will carry a hint of desperation with it as it heads to The Citadel, where I fully expect a fourth-quarter battle. Wofford should be extremely well-rested after its comfortable early schedule (Gardner-Webb, Lincoln, Western Carolina and Open Date, which proved a tougher foe than Lincoln). WCU vs. Furman is vital for both teams; the winner still has hope for a successful season, the loser not so much. Winners are Furman, Wofford, App State, The Citadel and GSU.
Anybody have Citadel and Samford at 2-0 in the league heading into the last weekend of September? Anybody?
Here’s a recommendation: Furman had better take care of business at home against Western Carolina, because the schedule moves in a challenging direction starting with next week’s short trip to Wofford.
There’s something about that Chattanooga/Citadel game that feels like a wild one could be in the works.
If fumble-prone Georgia Southern quarterback Ezayi Youyoute can stop it with the butterfingers routine, the Eagles should be responsible for Samford’s first loss of the season.
As for Wofford / Elon, I’m interested to see how Elon’s defense handles back-to-back weeks of the triple option. Elon middle linebacker Jonathan Spain made 16 tackles at Georgia Southern. Then on Sunday he said he stayed plopped on the couch while trying to ride out the soreness from the collisions and cut-blocks.
With Wofford and a 230-pound animal named Eric Breitenstein coming to Elon this weekend, ready the ice baths and massage therapy.
If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @adam_smithTN and @MocsbeatCTFP.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...