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UTC's Tavon Lawson celebrates after a play. (Photo by Mark Gilliland)

TEAM ON THE RISE

Furman was picked seventh in last season's preseason polls but at one point held a share of the conference lead and wound up tied with Samford for second place. In Clay Hendrix's first season as coach, the Paladins finished 8-4 and advanced to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, and most of the talent is back. If they can replace graduated quarterback P.J. Blazejowski — and they have numerous options competing — the Paladins shouldn't experience much of a dropoff.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

Having graduated 24 lettermen and 11 starters from last season's FCS playoff quarterfinalists — and having replaced a long-successful coach — Wofford is more likely to regress this season than be a 10-win team. New head coach Josh Conklin will be good, but it's likely that the Terriers will take a step back this season toward the middle of the pack.

DARK HORSE TEAM

Not much will be expected from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after a three-win season that included some horrific offensive performances, but the Mocs have retooled the offensive line and brought in some quality pieces to help in the run game, which should help the quarterbacks. If the offense does improve and the defense remains at or near the top of the league, UTC will be a tough team to beat in 2018.

BEST GAMES

Wofford and The Citadel — another team to keep an eye on — get the season started with a league matchup on Sept. 1 in a battle of option-heavy offenses and stingy defenses. Mercer, which could challenge to take a step into the top half of the league this season, plays at Samford on Sept. 15. Western Carolina has a relatively easy September schedule until the end, when it visits Furman, which hosts Wofford and Samford after the Sept. 29 game against the Catamounts.

 

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