2021 CSJ Southern Conference Spring Season Preview

Over the past few years, the Southern Conference seems like they have gone from being the one of the “Power Four FCS conferences” to “just another FCS conference.”

Furman and Wofford seem to be perennial playoff teams, but the rest of the league has trailed behind. Chattanooga, Samford, and The Citadel have made strides towards consistent playoff appearances, but haven’t yet.

In the fall, the Southern Conference had four teams schedule a total of eleven games. They lost all eleven of those games, seven of which were to FBS opponents.

What does the schedule look like?

All nine Southern Conference teams are playing in the Spring. The teams will play an eight game round robin schedule, playing each team once.

(The Chattanooga/VMI game schedule for February 20 has been postponed due to COVID issues at Chattanooga preventing them from starting practice on time.)

The games will take place between February 20th and April 17th with one off week per team. There is not much wiggle room for reschedule if the teams have different bye weeks, so COVID management and health protocols will play a huge part in the season for these teams.

A quick blurb on each team playing in the Spring

Chattanooga – The Mocs already have their first game cancelled, and as a program allegedly do not seem to be all that interested in playing this spring. A fully engaged Mocs team could compete for the league title; voted third by both the coaches and the media. And there is talent there – eleven Mocs received first or second team preseason conference honors, including DB/KR Brandon Dowdell. With the uncertainly surrounding their spring season, I think this team struggles a little more before bouncing back in the fall.

Courtesy The Charleston Post and Courier

The Citadel – The Bulldogs went 0-4 in their fall games, losing to OVC member Eastern Kentucky along with three FBS teams. Last summer, El Cid had hopes of being the third SoCon team into the playoff conversation. In the spring, they will most likely need to win the conference to warrant playoff consideration. WR Raleigh Webb is the player to watch. He is the best receiver in the conference, while LB Willie Eubanks III is a player that has his designs on playing on Sundays.

East Tennessee State – The Buccaneers looked like they were ready to take the next step up a couple of years ago. Now they are just another team in the conference. Don’t expect much from ETSU in the spring. RB Quay Holmes has starred since his freshman year. Look for some big games from him.

Furman – The Paladins seem strong along the lines on both sides of the ball, and have a stud running back in RB Devin Wynn. As usual, most people think its going to be Furman or Wofford who earns the SoCon autobid for the FCS Playoffs. The last week of the season will probably decide the conference champion. Depending on the playoff draw, Furman has the talent to win a couple of games.

Mercer – The Bears played and lost three games in the Fall. They have a nice stadium but don’t expect much from them in the spring – two or three wins seems like the ceiling for them. No Mercer players were selected to the preseason first or second team units, so it looks like a large hill for them to climb to be competitive. WR/KR Deondre Johnson had a kickoff return for a touchdown and a receiving touchdown against Jacksonville State in the fall – the Bears will probably be trying to develop around his speed and ability.

Samford – The Bulldogs continue to be a mid-pack SoCon team. However, they now do not have the wow players like Devlin Hodges and Kelvin McKnight to give them the hopes to be a playoff team. A less explosive offense has put more pressure on an average defense, though WR Montrell Washington has the potential for a breakout spring. Still, the sum of the parts seems to point to a 5th place finish for Samford.

VMI – Reese Udinski will play for the Keydets this spring before transferring to Maryland in the Fall. Udinksi will help VMI score a bunch of points and will make VMI one of the more entertaining and intriguing teams playing this spring. The problem for the Keydets is on the other side of the ball. The defense is porous, and the offense is not able to our score their defensive mistakes. VMI will be fun to watch, but it wont show in the record book.

Western Carolina – The Catamounts project to be the bottom team in the Southern Conference. They have a decent front seven on defense, including LB Ty Harris, but they lack competitive talent along the rest of the roster, especially on offense. It seems like Western Carolina will be using the spring to develop their younger players, and setting up for the fall.

Courtesy GoUpstate

Wofford – The Terriers have won the last three SoCon titles. But they have struggled in the playoffs. Their offense has been bottled up by better teams each year. The Terriers are disciplined on offense and solid on defense, and will have probably the best trench players in all of the SoCon. The wild card for Wofford is the status of Head Coach Josh Conklin, who is a candidate for defensive coordinator at Tennessee.

Can anyone beat Furman and Wofford to win the SoCon title?

The conference title looks like it should come down to Furman and Wofford. But there are two teams who have enough talent to challenge the favorites for the league title – Chattanooga and The Citadel.

The Mocs may have the deepest roster in the conference. But their lack of ability to start practice in early February may cost them as the season gets going.

The Citadel had high hopes back in the fall. But losing to Eastern Kentucky had many people wondering if they were ready to challenge for the conference title. Their offense should be interesting, and the defense is good. But is either team good enough to leap Furman and Wofford? I’m not so sure.

Who wins the SoCon?

I still think this comes down to Furman and Wofford and may be determined by their matchup on April 17. Wofford has had a strangle hold on the league title recently, but this year that changes. Furman will win at home to propel them to the SoCon title and automatic bid to the playoffs.

How many SoCon teams make the playoffs?

With only 16 teams making the playoffs, there are only six at large bids. There may only be room for one SoCon team, the auto bid, which we project to be Furman, so the math doesn’t look great for Wofford or the Citadel. Expect two (maybe three) at large bids to come from the Missouri Valley, one from the CAA and one from the Big Sky. That leaves one or two more at-large bids for either a third team from the CAA or Big Sky or a second from the rest of the FCS landscape. So for me, there’s a strong likelihood that only Furman or Wofford gets in this Spring, and the loser of that game will have to wait for the fall.

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