Mercer confident about new season

Mercer football coach Bobby Lamb has led the Bears to improved results from year to year since the school joined the Southern Conference in 2014. They're hoping to take their biggest step yet this season.


› 2016 record: 6-5› Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Jacksonville› Date against UTC: Oct. 14 in Macon, Ga.› Preseason ranking (coaches/media): 5/5› Coming Tuesday: Samford

Last year, despite being predicted to finish seventh in the Southern Conference, Wofford was considered by coaches and media as a team to watch out for. The Terriers went on to win 10 games and advance to the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals.

This year, that talk was directed toward Mercer.

The Bears have a couple of holes to fill - most importantly, finding a replacement for four-year starting quarterback John Russ - but the return of 13 offensive and defensive starters from a 6-5 team has them primed for a solid season.

After resuming football prior to the 2013 season, the program is now on a level playing field as far as scholarships, with four full signing classes in tow.

"Because of that, we ought to have expectations to move up in the league," coach Bobby Lamb said recently at SoCon media day. "We now have depth on both sides of the line, and that's a huge plus for us going into next year."

Mercer players know about the talk, and they're not shrinking away from it or deflecting it. They're embracing the expectations, knowing that regardless of the program's fifth-place preseason ranking in the league, this could be a big year.

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In each season since joining the SoCon, the Bears have doubled their league wins total, from one in 2014 to two in 2015 to four last season.

"It's time to take that next step, get towards the top of the conference and win that championship," offensive lineman Thomas Marchman said. "That's our expectation, and there's nothing to deal with. It's what we are, it's what we want, so we're going to definitely put it on the forefront, talk about it and make it our goal.

"As far as added pressure, there's no added pressure, because we still haven't made a name for ourselves in the conference. There's a lot of work to be done, and we're still earning that right."

The Bears finished 4-4 in the SoCon, with their four losses to playoff teams. They fell by one point to The Citadel in the season opener, by five to Samford and by 10 to Wofford. The only lopsided league loss was a 52-31 defeat at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a team the Bears had beaten the season before in Macon, Ga.

"We approach things the same way," Lamb said. "The old adage is that you can only play one at a time.

"The thing about this league is that there could have been a different champion because of the different results. Week in and week out, it comes down to who can be the toughest, most physical and who can have the most execution in the fourth quarter."

The Bears feel as though it's their time.

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.