Samford was the surprise team in the Southern Conference in 2008, going 4-4 in its first season in the league. As we head into the 2009 season, what players and teams could surprise us?
* The Citadel: The Bulldogs were just 2-6 in SoCon play last season, but three of the losses were by five or fewer points. Returning All-America wide receiver Andre Roberts likely will line up at several spots on the field as the Bulldogs try to get him the ball as much as possible.
They also could have a much-improved quarterback in Bart Blanchard, a redshirt junior heading into his second season as the full-time starter. Blanchard was 205-for-345 for 2,436 yards last season, with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
If The Citadel is going to jump into the top half of the SoCon standings, it must get some help from its running game. The Bulldogs' backs were crushed by knee injuries last season and will need to come back strong.
* Another FBS upset: Looking at the SoCon teams' games against bowl subdivision teams, there has to be one in there that might be winnable, right?
It won't be the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga winning at Alabama, or Furman at Missouri or Auburn. Nor will it be Wofford at South Florida or Wisconsin, though that's tempting given the Terriers' unique offense.
On first glance, the obvious choice is picking Appalachian State to knock off East Carolina. It's an in-state game that the Mountaineers will get up for and their fans will attend, and we all know they can pull off an upset.
However, the surprise here is Elon knocking off Wake Forest on Sept. 19. The Phoenix have a ton of offensive weapons, led by All-America receiver Terrell Hudgins and a running game that can burn the clock -- two key ingredients in the recipe for a stunner.
* Western rising: Western Carolina hasn't finished out of the bottom two in the conference since 2005, but this is Dennis Wagner's second season as coach and the Catamounts will build on the progress they made last season.
Their lone SoCon last season was against UTC, which went 0-8 in league play, but Western Carolina, which has seven starters back on offense and defense, won three games overall for the first time since 2005 and showed signs of a program ready to emerge from the cellar.
The Catamounts don't play Elon or Appalachian State until November, by which time they could have as many as three SoCon wins.
* Tippit time: As the Mocs try to move out of the cellar, just like the Catamounts, one player that could emerge on UTC's defense is strong safety Jordan Tippit. The 6-foot, 185-pound Huntsville native played in 10 games as a freshman last season, seeing more action as the season progressed, and finished with 27 tackles.
Tippitt had 12 tackles, including 10 solo, in the season finale against Samford and moved to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart during spring practice after a productive winter in the weight room.