Appalachian State and Elon entered the season as the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 in the SoCon, and they fully lived up to that ranking. The Mountaineers came within a gasp of returning to Chattanooga for the title game, but they couldn’t get that last score at Montana. After starting with tough losses to East Carolina and McNeese State, Appalachian State reeled off 11 straight victories in Armanti Edwards’ last season in Boone. Edwards did finish off his college career by winning the Walter Payton Award for the second consecutive season.
Elon lost just once inside the conference – to Appalachian State. The Phoenix’s only other regular-season loss came to an FBS team (Wake Forest). It was a breakthrough season for Elon in the sense that the team finally reached the FCS playoffs, losing a close one to Richmond. The Phoenix offensive standouts – particularly Terrell Hudgins – continued to break records in the passing game.
Pretty Close to Last Year
For the most part, those two teams separated themselves from the rest of the SoCon. The middle of the league standings was crowded again, but no one got within two games of second-place Elon.
Furman and Chattanooga were the only other teams to finish above .500 in the overall column, both at 6-5. The Paladins’ 5-3 league record turned out to be the only other winning conference mark.
Besides Furman’s 5-3 mark, the middle included Chattanooga and Georgia Southern at 4-4 and Samford at 3-5.
The Citadel and Wofford at 2-6 each and Western Carolina at 1-7 comprised the lower third of the conference standings.
With such a spread of records – particularly the overall marks – the conference once again produced just two playoff participants and only two ranked teams at season’s end.
There were two particular surprises. Chattanooga, in its first season under Russ Huesman, leapt out of the cellar to finish 4-4 and tied for fourth in the conference. The Mocs improved significantly, as the results showed.
The other surprise featured Wofford’s fall from the top echelon of the league. Injuries and untimely turnovers combined to send the Terriers into an unusual spiral to finish 2-6 in the conference and 3-8 overall.
Some of the conference’s most talented players ever finished their run in the 2009 season. In addition to Edwards and Hudgins – who set all-time Division 1 records, The Citadel said goodbye to wide receiver/punt returner Andre Roberts.
The good news is that a lot of playmakers return in all three phases of the game. Next season should be more competitive in the league, and there could be more teams making a push for national recognition.
Now, let’s take one more look at 2009, team-by-team.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
2009 Overall: 11-3
2009 SoCon: 8-0 (First Place)
Key Game(s): The key loss, of course, came in the last minute on a snow-covered field in Montana in December. For two weeks before that, however, the Mountaineers displayed their ability to find ways to win by getting late scores to beat South Carolina State and Richmond.
All Done: OL Mario Acitelli, DL Malcolm Bennett, QB Armanti Edwards, CB Cortez Gilbert, LB Jacque Roman
Expected Back: DL Jabari Fletcher, TE Ben Jorden, S Mark LeGree, RB Devon Moore, WR Brian Quick, LB D. J. Smith
Comment: The Post-Armanti Era has begun in Boone. Coach Jerry Moore and staff do have large holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but this is a program loaded with talent. Will enough of that talent step up in 2010 to maintain Appalachian State’s vise grip on the SoCon title and make a deep run in the playoffs? Time will tell that story, of course, but don’t expect the Mountaineers to fall off the map.
2009 Overall: 6-5
2009 SoCon: 4-4
Key Game(s): Chattanooga followed losses to Elon and Appalachian State – the league’s top teams – with triumphs over Western Carolina and The Citadel. Those victories propelled the Mocs out of the SoCon cellar and above the .500 line for a winning record.
All Done: DE Josh Beard, PK Craig Camay, WR Blue Cooper, LB Joseph Thornton
Expected Back: RB Chris Awuah, QB B. J. Coleman, OL Chris Harr, DB Buster Skrine, DB Jordan Tippit, DL Joshua Williams
Comment: The new regime of head coach Russ Huesman made an immediate impact on the Chattanooga program, equaling the number of victories of the last three seasons combined. Now, the Mocs look ahead to a 2010 season with greater expectations and no surprise element. Young players filled key roles in 2009, and more of them will need to do that for the Mocs keep moving up.
The Citadel Bulldogs
2009 Overall: 4-7
2009 SoCon: 2-6
Key Game(s): Back-to-back home triumphs over rival Furman and Samford gave the Bulldogs a 4-4 record and hopes for a big finish. Then, they got thumped by Wofford and spun out to three straight losses.
All Done: OL Daniel DeHaven, LB Jordan Gilmore, DL Terrence Reese, WR/PR Andre Roberts
Expected Back: DB Cortez Allen, DL Chris Billingslea, QB Tommy Edwards, RB Van Dyke Jones, TE Alex Sellars, QB Miguel Starks
Comment: Two three-game losing streaks trumped a pair of two-game win streaks in 2009, so the Bulldogs will be looking to flip that or do even better. The Citadel returns several young, talented players – including three quarterbacks. The running game overcame all those offseason injuries and changes to finish better than expected. The Bulldogs will need to improve more areas of play to return to the winning ways of 2007.
2009 Overall: 9-3 (lost in First Round FCS Playoffs)
2009 SoCon: 7-1
Key Game(s): Before a record home crowd, the Phoenix could not deliver in the SoCon showdown of the season against Appalachian State. Of course, that game might not have mattered had Elon not pulled out a last-minute road victory at Furman on Oct.N 3.
Kickers: 2/0 (QB Scott Riddle also punts; he returns at both positions)
All Done: DL Andre Campbell, OL David Harrison, WR Terrell Hudgins, DL Eric Ludwig, DB Karlos Sullivan, OL Chris Werden
Expected Back: LB Joshua Jones, RB Brandon Newsome, QB Scott Riddle, LB Dale Riley, RB Jamal Shuman
Comment: The Phoenix continued to ascend in 2009, breaking through to the playoffs and taking Richmond to the last seconds before losing in round one. Now, Pete Lembo and staff must show how far the program has progressed as several critical pieces in the development have finished their time on the team. Elon possesses enough talent and experience to continue at the top of the league, though it needs to find a way to climb over a certain other North Carolina team to be the conference’s No. 1.
2009 Overall: 6-5
2009 SoCon: 5-3
Key Game(s): Down one in the won-loss column with two to go, the Paladins put together perhaps their best two games of the season. They won 30-22 at Georgia Southern and closed with a 58-21 thrashing of Wofford at home.
All Done: OL Tyler Haynes, DB Julian Hicks, QB Jordan Sorrells, TE Chris Truss, WR R. J. Webb
Expected Back: LB Kadarron Anderson, DL Josh Lynn, WR Adam Mims, RB Tersoo Uhaa, DB Nathan Wade, RB Jerry Williams
Comment: It’s been an odd three seasons for Furman. In 2007, the Paladins had to win their last three to finish 6-5. A year later, they were 7-3 before losing the final two. They closed 2009 with a pair of victories to extend their streak of winning seasons to 11, eight of them under Bobby Lamb. Furman will be a bit of mystery team heading into 2010 with several key holes to fill on both sides of the ball and with significant changes among the defensive coaches. Some young players began to step up in 2009, and they will be important this year. And will Chris Forcier be the answer at quarterback?
Georgia Southern Eagles
2009 Overall: 5-6
2009 SoCon: 4-4
Key Game(s): The Eagles won only once on the road (at Wofford) but the key loss may have been at home to Furman in the season’s 10th game.
All Done: LB Terrione Benefield, DE Harland Bower, OL Cole Fountain, DB Darrell Pasco, DL Markeith Wylie
Expected Back: WR Patrick Barker, DB Darius Eubanks, PK Adrian Mora, DL Brent Russell, RB Adam Urbano, WR Jamere Valentine
Comment: Georgia Southern went into its past for a new head coach. Jeff Monken, a longtime assistant under Paul Johnson who comes to the Eagles from Georgia Tech, returns to Statesboro where he was an assistant from 1997 to 2001 during two national title runs. Monken will look to a basically young team to jump-start a program that hasn’t won more than seven games in a season over the last four years.
2009 Overall: 5-6
2009 SoCon: 3-5
Key Game(s): The Bulldogs lost by four at Central Florida and by a touchdown to Chattanooga. One that stung, though, was having a field goal blocked on the last play of a two-point loss at Furman.
All Done: LB C. J. Brown, DB Ty Levie, WR Jonathan Lowery, OL Jon Weber
Expected Back: DL John Michael Clay, DB Andy Davis, RB Chris Evans, P Bob Hooper, LB Bryce Smith, QB Dustin Taliaferro
Comment: The Bulldogs have been a tough out since joining the SoCon, though they slipped back just a bit in 2009. Head coach Pat Sullivan can count on a solid nucleus of players for 2010. Samford has made its mark with a solid defense and a control offense spiced with occasional deep passes. With quarterback Dustin Taliaferro, runningback Chris Evans, linebacker Bryce Smith, and defensive back Andy Davis returning, the Bulldogs should continue to master that formula.
Western Carolina Catamounts
2009 Overall: 2-9
2009 SoCon: 1-7
Key Game(s): Late in a frustrating season, the Catamounts went on the road and defeated an Eastern Kentucky team still challenging for the OVC title. Western Carolina’s toughest losses had to be a 27-20 home loss to nearby Gardner-Webb and a four-point defeat at Chattanooga.
All Done: DB Chris Collins, DB Antoine George, LB Adrian McLeod, NG Gene Singletary
Expected Back: DB Mitchell Bell, QB Zack Jaynes, RB Michael Johnson, WR Marquel Pittman, LB Ricky Schwarz, RB Dion Wilson
Comment: Western Carolina suffered another brutal season on the won-loss sheet, winning just twice. Still, the Catamounts showed progress in the second half of the season, beating Eastern Kentucky and losing three games by nine points or less. They’ll need to find some new faces on defense, but young offensive standouts give the Catamounts hope for 2010.
2009 Overall: 3-8
2009 SoCon: 2-6
Key Game(s): Stinging from a 1-2 start, Wofford narrowly missed two opportunities to turn around the season, both at home. A late turnover ruined a comeback against Georgia Southern, and the next week, Appalachian State rallied late to defeat the Terriers. Best triumph came in November at The Citadel.
All Done: LB Gary Blount, QB Stev Davitte, DB Mychael Johnson, WR Justice Joslin, P Chris Tommie
Expected Back: QB Mitch Allen, OL Clark Bishop, OL Pat Illig, RB Mike Rucker, LB SeQuan Stanley
Comment: 2009 produced the fewest victories in a season for the Terriers since 1997. Much of the Terriers’ issues stemmed from turnovers (they were minus-10 on the season) and injuries. Mike Ayers and staff are a competitive group, and they will have lots of experienced – and hopefully healthy – players on board to attempt a return to the top of the league.
Southern Conference Stat Leaders
Scoring Offense: Appalachian State, 33.2 points per game
Scoring Defense: Elon, 13.2 points per game
Total Offense: Appalachian State, 465.1 yards per game
Total Defense: Elon, 248.3 yards per game
Rushing Offense: Wofford, 270.2 yards per game
Rushing Defense: Elon, 104.4 yards per game
Pass Offense: Elon, 291.5 yards per game
Pass Defense: Elon, 143.9 yards per game
Turnover Margin: Elon, 0.83
Sacks by: Elon, 37 sacks for 232 yards
Penalty Yards: Wofford, 38.6 yards per game
Total Offense: Armanti Edwards, Appalachian State, 330.8 yards per game
Scoring: Edwards, 9.0 points per game
All Purpose Yards: Terrell Hudgins, Elon, 136.1 yards per game
Rushing: Chris Evans, Samford, 104.7 yards per game, 1,152 yards
Passing Yards: Scott Riddle, Elon, 278.8 yards per game
Pass Efficiency: Edwards, 147.9
Receptions/Game: Hudgins, 10.2 receptions per game
Reception Yards: Hudgins, 136.1 yards per game
Punting: Chris Tommie, Wofford, 43.2 yards per punt
Field Goals: (tie) Craig Camay, Chattanooga, and Adrian Mora, Georgia Southern, 1.45 field goals made per game
Punt Return Avg.: Andre Roberts, The Citadel, 15.5 yards per return
Kick Return Avg.: Stephon Shelton, Wofford, 25.8 yards per return
Interceptions: Mark LeGree, Appalachian State, 7 interceptions, 0.50 per game
Total Tackles: Adrian McLeod, Western Carolina, 137 total tackles, 12.5 per game
Sacks: Josh Beard, Chattanooga, 1.09 sacks per game