The 2021 Southern Conference football season played out the way the SoCon always seems to play out: unpredictably.
If you can predict the SoCon’s finishing order this year, Vegas will be very interested in you.
Last year, the title race came down to the last two weekends of the season. There were three teams who could have earned playoff berths with wins. In the end, only the conference champion East Tennessee State made the playoffs; Mercer and Chattanooga barely both lost out on at-large bids.
This season figures to have a similar finish.
Wofford went winless in conference in 2021, but their quarterback was injured early. Can they make a jump back up? Can East Tennessee State repeat their success without Quay Holmes with Jacob Saylors carrying the load? Can Chattanooga get enough offense to take the leap to the top of the standings? The answer to those questions among many others will go a long way to determining where the teams wind up in 2022.
Top Returning Offensive Players
Raphael Williams, WR, Western Carolina – Williams led the team in catches, yards and touchdowns by a large margin in his freshman year. Williams had 73 catches, 959 yards and eight touchdowns. A bigger sophomore season seems not only possible, but likely. He should be a 1000-yard receiver with another year in Kerwin Bell’s high-octane offense.
Aylim Ford, RB, Chattanooga – Despite defenses keying on the Moc running back, Ford still eclipsed the 1000-yard mark and scored 11 touchdowns. He should be the leader in the clubhouse for SoCon offensive player of the year. If he can develop as a pass catcher Ford will easily be the most dangerous player in the SoCon.
Ryan Miller, TE, Furman – On a team that doesn’t pass the ball often, Ryan Miller stands out for Furman. He is listed as a tight end, but his frame and ability are more like that of a wide receiver. Miller himself accounted for 29% of the teams receptions, 39% of the receiving yards and 64% of the touchdown receptions. Miller should find himself in the NFL after this year.
Top Returning Defensive Players
Stone Snyder, Linebacker, Virginia Military – What better name could you come up with for a linebacker than Stone Snyder? Not only does he have the name he has the talent as a linebacker. Snyder led the SoCon in tackles in the regular season (Donovan Manual of ETSU had four more in 2 additional games). Snyder was tied for second in the conference with 11 tackles for loss. Look for him to have a huge senior season in 2022.
Isaac Dowling, Linebacker, Mercer – Dowling came onto the scene as a freshman in the spring season and took another step forward in the fall. He had 73 tackles, 7.5 of which were for loss. Dowling leads a crew of talented linebackers on the Mercer defense. This year he will look to help push his team into the playoffs for the first time.
Devonnsha Maxwell, DL, Chattanooga – Last year’s SoCon defensive player of the year looks to be the front runner for the same award this year. Maxwell led the conference in sacks with 12 and tackles for loss with 15.5. Chattanooga is the best defense in the conference, and Maxwell is the leader of that group.
Projected Order of Finish
As was mentioned in the opening, this conference is one of the most difficult to predict. But we aren’t afraid to be wrong, so here goes nothing. (Click on the links for a more detailed preview.)
- East Tennessee State – Quay Holmes has moved on, but Jacob Saylors is ready to take the reigns as RB1. Tyler Riddell played well as a freshman and is ready to take another step forward. Defensively this is a good unit. The biggest question mark for the Buccaneers is not on the field, but rather on the sideline as George Quarles takes over for the retired Randy Sanders.
- Chattanooga – The Mocs are poised to make a big jump this year. They look like a playoff team on paper, but the offense has to be better than last year. Aylim Ford projects potential SoCon offensive player of the year.
- Mercer – I was poised to put the Bears at two in this projection. But top running back Fred Davis is no longer listed on the team roster and there is no explanation why. Drew Cronic has added two solid transfer to fill the void – Austin Douglas from James Madison and Fred Jackson from Coastal Carolina. With a solid returning, young defense, this team is heading up and will be looking for their first playoff berth.
- Western Carolina – Here is our first big surprise. Kerwin Bell had that team moving in the right direction once his system took hold at the end of the season. The defense is going to have to be much better, but this is a team that will surprise a lot of people this year. Raphael Williams is the best receiver in the conference and will prove it.
- Virginia Military – The Keydets have solid players on both sides of the ball, including one of the best defensive players in the country in Stone Snyder. But I don’t think there is enough horsepower on either side to make the playoffs this season.
- Furman – The Paladins look like a mid pack team this year. The defense isn’t good enough and there are not enough weapons on offense. The quarterback position is unsettled and until Furman can get a solid player under center this is where they will wind up.
- The Citadel – The Bulldogs salvaged their season with two late wins last year. For a team that relies on the triple option, the run game was not good enough. Alex Ramsey should allow them to be better this year, but with a below average defense, they will be playing catch up most of the season.
- Wofford – Jimmy Weirick missed most of the season last year with injury where the Terriers wound up 1-10. The defense was bad as well. The bright spot is Irvin Mulligan. The Terrier lead running back will have a solid season for a team that wont see many bright spots.
- Samford – The Bulldogs have to replace most of their top skills players on offense. Defensively, this team is very deficient. This is a team that looks like it will struggle all season.
Jamie is a proud 2002 graduate of James Madison University. He’s witnessed the growth of the program from no one in the stands in 1998, to the hiring of Mickey Matthews, to the 2004 National Championship, to the 2008 team, to the struggles in the early 2010s, and finally the rebuild under Mike Houston. He also allegedly really enjoys Washington, DC-based Stanley Cup winners.
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