SoConversation: Week 2

SoConversation: Week 2

September 8th, 2011 by John Frierson in Local Regional News

Welcome to Week 2 of the college football season and the second 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.

Each week the three veteran Southern Conference writers will share their thoughts on what's happening with the teams they cover and within the league.

Were the Week 1 results surprising, uninspiring or exactly what you expected?

JOHN: The two things that stood out to me were Appalachian State getting so thoroughly thumped by Virginia Tech and Wofford having to work so hard to beat Presbyterian.

I'm not as sold on Appalachian State this season as most folks seem to be, which only means I think the Mountaineers will be good, but perhaps not very good. Still, to see the Hokies jump all over App like that, and the way it happened, was definitely surprising.

I don't know what to make of the Wofford-PC game. The Blue Hose (such a great nickname) have apparently come a long way since the Mocs beat them in 2009, yet it's hard to image a Mike Ayers team committing 11 penalties or that Terrier defense allowing 326 yards of offense to anyone other than an elite team.

JEFF: You called the two most surprising results. I'm inclined to chalk up Wofford's struggles mostly to an improving PC program under Harold Nichols. Mike Ayers' teams seem to always improve as the season goes along, and this season should be no different, although a young offensive line might slow that progress down a bit. App State's results against FBS teams have been trending downward since that great Michigan upset, though the Mountaineers usually play good ones.

I expect App to finish at or near the top of the SoCon. Unbeatable? No.

ADAM: I'm going to have to make us look like triplets. Ditto on being surprised by App State getting annihilated and Wofford never grinding Presbyterian (a SoCon whipping boy of recent years) into submission.

Also, the 31-17 score doesn't really reveal it, but Georgia Southern, the sexy pick to unseat App this season, had to overcome some hiccups (namely fumblitis) after being tied 7-7 at the half with Samford.

But back to App. When my plane landed in Nashville the first half was ending and Virginia Tech had out-gained them 291-61. Then the Hokies went up 52-0 only 2½ minutes into the third quarter. Yikes.

Chancellor Ken Peacock did pre-game radio and apparently sounded stoked about the push for App making the move up to the FBS. I've got to wonder if getting thrashed by Virginia Tech does anything to that bandwagon.

What are your thoughts on the game you covered last Saturday?

ADAM: Elon can pull a lot of good things from its 45-14 loss at Vanderbilt.

New quarterback Thomas Wilson might not have the aura of Scott Riddle, but he seems plenty capable. And he's got a beast to throw to in Aaron Mellette, who went off for 11 catches and 180 yards - mostly in the first half, well before things got ugly.

The Phoenix out-gained Vandy, racked up 11 more minutes in time of possession and trailed only 21-14 midway through the third quarter. Then the wheels came off in the fourth, but Elon picked up some positives along with its paycheck in Jason Swepson's first game as coach.

JOHN: The Mocs traveled to Big Red country and played well in their 40-7 loss to Nebraska. UTC's defense was impressive for much of the game. Consider this: UTC had 12 tackles for loss (including five in the first quarter) to 11 for the Cornhuskers.

Offensively, the Mocs had some success throwing the ball, but they didn't get much of anything after the catch. They were more effective running the ball than I anticipated and the young offensive line held up well for the most part against a Nebraska defensive front that probably has a few guys headed to the NFL.

JEFF: The Citadel handled Jacksonville, which was 10-1 last year, about like an average SoCon team should handle a non-scholarship program, even one as good as Jax. And that's good new for the Bulldogs, who were a decidedly below average squad last year, mostly due to offensive struggles. The Citadel's defense looks like a solid unit that should be able to keep the Bulldogs in most SoCon games, if the offense can provide a little help. This week's game against Furman should reveal much about both teams.

Here are the Week 2 games: Appalachian State hosts North Carolina A&T, The Citadel hosts Furman, Elon hosts Concord, Georgia Southern hosts Tusculum, Samford hosts Stillman, UTC hosts Jacksonville State, Western Carolina hosts Mars Hill and Wofford visits Clemson. What are your thoughts on the matchups?

JOHN: Wow, four games against Division II opponents. That's a lot of stinkers other than UTC's game against Jacksonville State, The Citadel-Furman game and maybe Wofford's trip to Clemson.

This is obviously a huge game for the Mocs on a number of levels: UTC has to win seven of its last 10 to have a shot at the playoffs, Jacksonville State is one of UTC's bigger rivals and it's a chance for the Mocs to beat a Top-10 team.

UTC should have won at JSU last season but blew a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. That wasn't the friendliest of games and I suspect the Mocs will be highly motivated to win this one.

JEFF: Hey, turnabout is fair play. After getting paid (and pummeled) last week, App State, Elon and Western Carolina get a chance to even their records.

Jacksonville State is huge for Chattanooga's playoff hopes, and I expect Citadel-Furman to be a good one. The Bulldogs have beaten Furman the last two games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, victories which helped keep the Paladins out of the playoffs and hastened the end of Bobby Lamb's tenure in Greenville.

ADAM: Hmm, Samford hosts Stillman. Isn't that where one of the Cosby kids went to college in "A Different World?" Oh, my mistake, it was Hillman. OK, never mind then.

The two most intriguing games (Chattanooga/Jacksonville State and The Citadel/Furman) have been well discussed here. So I'll look elsewhere.

Ten or 15 years ago, A&T and App would've been a playoff-caliber matchup. Not so anymore with A&T struggling through hard times and constant coaching turnover. But it still should be an interesting scene at least. The Aggies always travel well and can crank up the atmosphere several notches with their band. And it's not like Boone lacks for electricity on football Saturdays.

Do you think the SoCon is at a significant crossroads with Appalachian State's possible (maybe probably) departure?

ADAM: Actually, yes.

Sure, the league could pluck a school or a couple of schools to fill the membership void and keep on truckin', but look what would be leaving along with App State, especially from a football sense. Few, if any on the FCS level, enjoy the name recognition and fan support that the Mountaineers do. And the byproduct of that success is venom from the others in the SoCon, which has fueled some fun rivalries.

The collective thought here in North Carolina is that App will make the jump up.

To me, Charlotte could be an attractive replacement option, given its market size and location in the SoCon footprint. That would be a temporary fix, though, because the 49ers want to play major-college football someday. Of course, by then, the national landscape will have been blown to smithereens by realignment.

JEFF: I don't think App State's pending departure puts the SoCon at a major crossroads. The league could simply plug in Coastal Carolina or Charlotte and solider on. But the push toward four 16-team superconferences could put the entire FCS at a crossroads. That would create even more separation in Division I, with three distinct divisions - the BCS superconferences, the rest of Division I-A and Division I-AA (FCS). It's hard to see App State fitting into a superconference, and who knows what kind of no-man's land the rest of I-A will be. We live in interesting times.

JOHN: I'm not alone in thinking that by 2020 we could have the BCS guys in one group and everyone else in Division I in another. And I don't know that the end of the world would arrive if that happened.

If and when App leaves, the SoCon will certainly have to decide which direction to go - literally. Does it add a team on the western side of the conference to keep that balance, and who would that be? Does it go public or private, a football school or one better known for basketball?

A bigger question might be does it try to add several teams so that it becomes more of an FCS superconference like the Colonial Athletic Association?

Georgia State would probably be the ideal school but it's locked in with the CAA, despite some horrendous travel expenses. Maybe adding Kennesaw State would be a good way to tap into the Atlanta area.

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.