SoCon can build new power base

SoCon can build new power base

July 27th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Southern Conference

The is the final football season in the Southern Conference for Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, two programs with a combined nine national championships. Both would be on the Mount Rushmore of all-time greats in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision.

Not only are Georgia Southern and App State leaving the league, along with Elon, but the Eagles and Mountaineers are ineligible this season for the league title and the FCS playoffs. That leaves some room at the top of the SoCon and a couple of spots open in the playoff field, which this season expands to 24.

At the same time that two perennial powers are heading for the exit, several programs, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, appear poised to push their way into the mix at the top of the standings.

"I had one reporter ask me if this was the end of the Southern Conference being a multiple-bid league," SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said Wednesday, during the league's media day in Spartanburg, S.C. "I said absolutely not. I honestly think we'll have multiple teams in this year, and I think we could have three if things break right. And that's without those two that typically are in there."

ASU, GSU and Wofford shared the league title last season. Wofford lost a lot of key players, including two-time SoCon offensive player of the year Eric Breitenstein, but likely will still be in the title mix, as the Terriers have been for most of the past decade.

Expected to join Wofford in the title hunt are UTC, The Citadel and Samford -- the teams that tied for fourth in the league in 2012 with 5-3 records.

"Since I've been here, this program has been going in the right direction," UTC senior linebacker Wes Dothard said. "We're moving in the right direction and we've got to keep going."

The Mocs have been knocking on the door the past four seasons. Samford came on strong in 2012. The Citadel beat Georgia Southern and App State in consecutive weeks last season, something no team ever had done.

"There's no question expectations are high this year," Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins said. "That's the way you want them. I think after last year our players have a new level of confidence that perhaps we've never had before."

If preseason all-conference teams are worth anything, they at least demonstrate the respect that players are getting from the league's coaches. The Mocs led the SoCon with nine All-SoCon picks, Samford and App State had eight each and Wofford had seven. Georgia Southern -- the coaches' and media's pick to have the best record in league play -- and The Citadel had five.

"This league has a way of reinventing itself and shrug off the membership changes and bounce back as strong as ever," Iamarino said, "and I think we'll do that again."

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.