2021 Southern Conference Season Preview

The spring season for the Southern Conference looked like a changing of the guard. Most projections had either Wofford or Furman winning the league title and heading into the playoffs. However, both of those teams struggled, combining for a 4-8 record. On the flip side, VMI had never won the conference title. But the Keydets went 6-1 in league play to win the title. Scott Wachenheim was named the Eddie Robinson winner as Coach of the Year.

How performance during the spring season will translate to the fall is completely unknown. The FCS has never had a season like the previous one. Were teams just not interested in the spring and gave less effort? Or did the performance in the spring, where teams essentially have similar rosters to what they’ll have this fall give us a glimpse of what is to come?

ETSU quarterback Tyler Riddell hands off to Quay Holmes. It was a good plan as Holmes rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns. (Dakota Hamilton/Johnson City Press)

Top Returning Offensive Players

Quay Holmes, Running back, East Tennessee State – At 106.7 yards per game in the Spring, Holmes paced all backs in the conference. He scored 8 touchdowns on the ground and led the Buccaneers to a win over VMI. Holmes also averaged 25 yards per return as the kickoff return man.

Jakob Herres, Wide Receiver, Virginia Military – Herres finished 4th in the voting for the Walter Payton Award in the spring, and for good reason. In 8 games, Herres had 80 catches for 978 yards and 8 touchdowns. Herres had 4 games with double digit catches and 5 100+ yard games including 207 yards against Wofford. He had 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown in the Keydets playoff loss to James Madison.

Liam Welch, Quarterback, Samford – Welch took the job in game 2 for Samford and never relinquished it. He averaged 373 yards per game with 12 touchdowns in six games. Welch was also the second leading rusher for the Bulldogs with 379 yards and 4 touchdowns. The job is his from day one and the Bulldogs offense will be among the best in the FCS.

Courtesy Charleston Post and Courier

Top Returning Defensive Players

Stone Snyder, Linebacker, Virginia Military – With a perfect name for a linebacker, Stone Snyder was the best defensive player in the Southern Conference in the Spring. He led the conference in tackles and sacks while finishing third in tackles for loss. Snyder is a 3-down linebacker with sideline to sideline speed. He was key to a heavily improved VMI defense.

Isaac Dowling, Linebacker, Mercer – As a Freshman in the spring, a designation he keeps for the fall, Dowling was sixth in the conference in tackles, second in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. He finished fourth in the voting for the Jerry Rice Award. With that experience under his belt, he is in for a huge season in 2021.

Willie Eubanks III, Linebacker, The Citadel – Eubanks only played in 4 games between the fall and spring last year but had an impact with 38 tackles, 3 for loss and a sack. The senior will be manning the middle of the defense for The Citadel all fall and his presence will be felt.

Projected Order of Finish

I expect the Southern Conference to be really competitive in the fall. Everyone but Western Carolina probably has a shot to jump up and win the conference. In my opinion, the teams that have been at the top have regressed and the teams at the bottom have improved, so everyone meets in the middle. The conference as a whole is not as strong as it was 5-10 years ago but it will make for some great competition.

  1. Chattanooga – The Mocs looked like the most talented team in the Spring, but rumors kept floating that they were not truly all in. That was shown to be true when the Mocs played all second and third string players in their fourth game and then opted out. With a full roster ready to go, this team looks to win the SoCon.
  2. Virginia Military – The Keydets shocked everyone by winning the SoCon in the spring. They had a hard to stop offense but also had a very strong defense led by their linebacking corps of Stone Snyder and Connor Riddle. It was truly a toss up between UTC and VMI. It would be no surprise if the Keydets ran it back.
  3. Wofford – The first of the most recent SoCon powers to appear. The Terriers had a bad spring. I think that this is more a blip than what we saw from Furman. The Terriers tried something new on offense and it didn’t work. They have that experience moving into the fall and should be fairly strong in conference.
  4. Samford – The Bulldogs will have a really strong offense. The question mark is obviously the defense. That has been their Achilles heel for the last few years, even with Devlin Hodges as quarterback. They can score, but they cant keep the opponent off the board.
  5. East Tennessee State – If the quarterback position was in a better position, this team would be much higher on this list. They have the best back in the conference in Holmes and they have a stingy defense. If the Buccaneers get capable play under center, they will overperform this projection.
  6. Mercer – The Bears have a solid defense but they struggled with consistency on offense. There were too many turnovers. This team could put it together and challenge for the title or they could fall flat and finish at the bottom. They are the definition of a team stuck in the middle.
  7. Furman – The other recent SoCon power is down here near the bottom. The Paladins really struggled on both sides of the ball in the spring and I see that continuing in the fall. They had a strong running back in Devin Wynn. But the quarterback play was well below average.
  8. The Citadel – A lot of people though The Citadel would contend for the title in the fall. But they fell flat. They struggled to put a complete game together. They couldn’t score consistently and couldn’t keep the opponent off the board. That is a bad combination. They didn’t give up and did win two of their final three games.
  9. Western Carolina – It looks like another lost season for the Catamounts. Theyre just not as good as the other teams in conference