SoCon Preview: Hatch Attack is back, hopes to challenge Chattanooga

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(STATS) - The Hatch Attack is back in the Southern Conference.

That doesn't only mean a fast-paced offense at Samford, it also means a passionate approach under new head coach Chris Hatcher.

"I want us to play hard, that's the No. 1 thing I preach to our guys," Hatcher said. "I want them to love playing the game and to play with a lot of emotion. That is the No. 1 thing that is going to be key to our success this season."

The Bulldogs expect to have plenty of success, having tied with Western Carolina for second place in the SoCon last season behind champion Chattanooga. Samford flip-flopped second and third places with Western across the SoCon's two preseason polls, so the predictors are envisioning a similar title race.

Except the Bulldogs eye something else. Chattanooga visits Birmingham, Alabama, for the conference opener for both teams Sept. 19, and things can get a whole lot more interesting that day.

Talented Samford features seven returning starters on each side of the ball, including six SoCon preseason first-team selections, led by preseason defensive player of the year Michael Pierce.

"We have to play with great passion and great emotion. We have to be a smart football team," Hatcher said. "I don't know that we'll out-athlete everybody we play, but we have to be very efficient, we have to make plays when the time comes. But for me, there are just so many unknowns because I haven't seen these guys perform when it counts. It is very difficult for me to tell people where we're going to finish or what type of a team we're going to have just because of the lack of experience I have with this group."

Hatcher has experience coaching in the SoCon. He guided Georgia Southern for three seasons from 2007-09, although the results were mixed as he moved the Eagles away from their triple option offense to a passing attack.

Hatcher won the 2004 NCAA Division II national championship at Valdosta State during a glorious seven-year run, and he guided Murray State and a high-powered attack the last five seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference.

The SoCon's loss of both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to the FBS last season was evident as Chattanooga was the only team in the conference to qualify for the FCS playoffs. At least two teams had qualified in each of the previous four seasons.

Chattanooga, having gone unbeaten in SoCon games last year, is the heavy favorite again, led by senior quarterback Jacob Huesman.

East Tennessee State has returned to football for the first time in 2003. Previewed below, the Buccaneers will play as an FCS independent this season before joining the SoCon schedule next year. Their only SoCon opponent this season is Mercer.

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PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH=

1. Chattanooga

2. Western Carolina

3. Samford

4. Wofford

5. Furman

6. Mercer

7. The Citadel

8. VMI

Ind.: East Tennessee State

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TEAM CAPSULES=

1. CHATTANOOGA MOCS

LOCATION: Chattanooga, Tennessee

STADIUM: Finley Stadium

COACH: Russ Huesman (41-29 in six seasons at Chattanooga)

LAST SEASON: 10-4 overall, 7-0 Southern (1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Keon Williams, WR Tommy Hudson, TE Faysal Shafaat, DL Derrick Lott, DE Davis Tull, LB Wakeel

OFFENSIVE STAR: Jacob Huesman, QB, Sr., 6-1, 220 (226-for-330, 2,731 yards, 23 TDs, 8 INTs; 197 carries, 1,009 yards, 14 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Lucas Webb, FS, So., 6-1, 190 (58 TT, 2.5 TFL, 6 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Derrick Craine, RB, Jr., 5-10, 205; Richardre Bagley, RB, So., 5-9, 180; C.J. Board, WR, Jr., 6-2, 175; Drae Bowles, WR, Jr., 6-0, 205; Hunter Townson, LT, So., 6-4, 280; Corey Levin, LG, Jr., 6-5, 295; Jacob Revis, C, So., 6-3, 295; Synjen Herren, RG, Sr., 6-4, 315 (injured last season); Keionta Davis, DE, Jr., 6-4, 250; Toyvian Brand, DE, R-Sr., 6-2, 260; Josh Freeman, DT, Sr., 6-0, 285; A.J. Hampton, LB, Sr., 6-1, 240; Nakevion Leslie, LB, Jr., 5-11, 215; Justin King, LB, Jr., 6-2, 245 (Tennessee transfer); Dee Virgin, CB, Jr., 5-10, 195; Trevor Wright, CB, So., 6-1, 175; Sema'je Kendall, S, Sr., 6-0, 185; Henrique Ribeiro, PK/P, Jr., 6-0, 220

OUTLOOK: The Mocs have 42 lettermen back from last year's SoCon championship squad which earned the program's first FCS playoff win and reached the national quarterfinals. They are heavy favorites in the SoCon again, although their conference opener at Samford is a difficult way to get it all started again. Dual-threat QB Jacob Huesman already owns two SoCon offensive player of the year awards and he again leads a unit whose 34.7 points per game last year were a school record. With opposing defenses focusing on Huesman, the offense has to compensate for the losses of Williams, a 1,000-yard rusher, and WR Hudson and TE Shafaat, two of the three leading pass catchers. A superb offensive line will at least give time for the offense to get moving. Among the defensive losses, DE Tull is irreplaceable. But fellow end Davis (5.5 sacks) is ready for a bigger spotlight and the secondary is one of the best in the FCS. Webb was among the national leaders with six interceptions as a freshman. The Mocs placed 12 players on the All-SoCon preseason team, including eight first-teamers.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Jacksonville State

Sept. 12 - vs. Mars Hill

Sept. 19 - at Samford*

Sept. 26 - at Presbyterian

Oct. 10 - vs. Furman*

Oct. 17 - at VMI*

Oct. 24 - at Wofford*

Oct. 31 - vs. Western Carolina*

Nov. 7 - at Mercer*

Nov. 14 - vs. The Citadel*

Nov. 21 - at Florida State

*- Southern Conference game

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2. WESTERN CAROLINA CATAMOUNTS

LOCATION: Cullowhee, North Carolina

STADIUM: E.J. Whitmire Stadium

COACH: Mark Speir (10-25 in three seasons at Western Carolina)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 5-2 Southern (Tie/2nd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 20 (11 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: DB Ace Clark, LB Christon Gill, PK Richard Sigmon

OFFENSIVE STAR: Troy Mitchell, QB, Sr., 6-0, 205 (231-for-352, 2,541 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs; 127 carries, 555 yards, 6 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Trey Morgan, DB, Jr., 6-0, 175 (59 TT, 2 TFL, 6 INT, 8 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Darius Ramsey, RB, Sr., 5-8, 185; Detrez Newsome, RB, So., 5-10, 205; Karnorris Benson, WR, R-Sr., 6-1, 205; Spearman Robinson, WR, R-Jr., 6-4, 215; Terryon Robinson, WR, Jr., 5-11, 190; Zach Weeks, LT, R-Fr., 6-3, 260; Josh Wineberg, RT, Sr., 6-6, 285; Jake Thornton, C, R-Sr., 6-0, 265; Kelvin Ume, DT, Jr., 6-2, 285; Helva Matunguli, DT, R-Sr., 6-5, 280; Caleb Hawkins, DE, Sr., 6-3, 225; Daniel Riddle, LB, R-So., 6-1, 225; Tyson Dickson, LB, Jr., 6-1, 215; Sertonuse Harris, DB, Sr., 6-0, 200; Fred Payne, DB, Jr., 5-10, 185

OUTLOOK: Coming off their most conference wins since 2001, the Catamounts hope to take the next step in their climb, although last year's 51-0 home loss to Chattanooga suggested the distance between first and second place. The Catamounts didn't lose a lot in numbers, but Clark and Gill were leaders of the defense, including in tackles. Their 4-3 is particularly strong in the secondary with Morgan (six interceptions) and Harris, but the Catamounts need to develop a stronger pass rush (DE Hawkins tied for the team lead in sacks with three). While the defense made big strides last season, opponents averaged 228.3 yards on the ground and converted 47.4 percent of third-down attempts. The offense returns all 11 starters and should be outstanding with dual-threat QB Mitchell spreading the ball between his three top WRs, the two Robinsons (no relation) and Benson, who combined on 131 catches and 17 touchdown receptions. Ramsey and Newsome provide two solid running backs. The dynamic of the Catamounts' season is different as they won't sneak up on the rest of the conference this time. They also will play two SEC schools (Tennessee and Texas A&M).

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Mars Hill

Sept. 12 - at The Citadel*

Sept. 19 - at Tennessee

Oct. 3 - vs. Presbyterian

Oct. 10 - vs. Mercer*

Oct. 17 - at Wofford*

Oct. 24 - vs. Samford*

Oct. 31 - at Chattanooga*

Nov 7 - vs. Furman*

Nov. 14 - at Texas A&M

Nov 21 - at VMI*

*- Southern Conference game

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3. SAMFORD BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Birmingham, Alabama

STADIUM: Seibert Stadium

COACH: Chris Hatcher (first season at Samford; 121-57 overall)

LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 5-2 Southern (Tie/2nd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Kelvin Clay, LG Kyle Champion, RG C.H. Scruggs, NG Jerry Mathis, DE Brandon Wilkinson, DE Brinson Porter, FS Jaquiski Tartt

OFFENSIVE STAR: Denzel Williams, RB, R-Jr., 5-10, 215 (191 carries, 918 yards, 16 TDs; 25 receptions, 194 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Michael Pierce, DT, R-Sr., 6-0, 340 (35 TT, 5 TFL, 1 SK, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Michael Eubank, QB, R-Sr., 6-5, 250; K'rondis Larry, RB, So., 5-7, 145; Karel Hamilton, WR, Jr., 6-1, 202; Emmanuel Obajimi, WR, R-Jr., 6-0, 200; Tony Philpot, TE, Sr., 6-2, 260; Gunnar Bromelow, LT, R-Sr., 6-6, 293; Wesley Carter, RT, Sr., 6-5, 318; Roosevelt Donaldson, DE, R-Jr., 6-2, 265; Jose Casanova, NG, Sr., 6-2, 295 (UAB transfer); Justin Cooper, MLB, R-Sr., 6-1, 236; Josh Killett, LB, R-Sr., 6-2, 220; Tonne Osaigbovo, LB, R-Jr., 6-0, 220; James Bradberry, CB, R-Sr., 6-1, 213; Trey Wesley, CB, R-Sr., 6-1, 192; Josh Kimberlin, SS, Sr., 6-1, 200; Jamerson Blount, FS, Jr., 6-0, 180; Alec Hulmes, LS, Sr., 6-0, 245; Warren Handrahan, PK, R-Jr., 5-10, 181

OUTLOOK: Samford's roster is always filled with terrific individual talent. The question is, can the Bulldogs put it all together to build a SoCon champion? It's quite possible in Hatcher's first season in Birmingham. The offense didn't play up to its potential last season, so Eubank (183-for-289, 2,136 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs) has to take his play to a higher level. The second-year transfer from Arizona State should do that with the return of RB Williams and WR Hamilton (55 receptions, 877 yards, 6 TDs). The defense surrendered only 19.7 points per game and ranked second in the conference in total defense (312.7 ypg). Pierce, the SoCon's preseason defensive player of the year, will anchor the line, and MLB Cooper and CB Bradberry also are among the best in the conference at their positions. Still, it will feel different not to have the All-America Tartt, the first FCS player selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Hatcher opens his Samford career with three straight home games, including the big one against Chattanooga.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 - vs. Central Arkansas

Sept. 12 - vs. Florida A&M

Sept. 19 - vs. Chattanooga*

Sept. 26 - at Louisville

Oct. 10 - at VMI*

Oct. 17 - vs. The Citadel*

Oct. 24 - at Western Carolina*

Oct. 31 - vs. Furman*

Nov. 7 - vs. Clark Atlanta

Nov. 14 - at Wofford*

Nov. 21 - at Mercer*

*- Southern Conference game

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4. WOFFORD TERRIERS

LOCATION: Spartanburg, South Carolina

STADIUM: Gibbs Stadium

COACH: Mike Ayers (182-126-1 in 27 seasons at Wofford; 193-147-2 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall, 4-3 Southern (4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (10 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: DE Tarek Odom, LB Kevin Thomas, LB Travis Thomas, CB Bernard Williams

OFFENSIVE STAR: Lorenzo Long, FB, Jr., 5-9, 210 (163 carries, 930 yards, 15 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: E.J. Speller, NT, Sr., 6-2, 295 (39 TT, 1.5 TFL)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Evan Jacks, QB, Jr., 6-0, 205; Will Gay, HB/RS, Sr., 5-9, 195; Ray Smith, HB, Sr., 5-7, 205; Will Irwin, WR, Sr., 6-2, 195; Zach Muller, TE, Sr., 6-3, 240; Anton Wahrby, OL, Jr., 6-5, 300; T.J. Chamberlin, OL, Sr., 6-3, 290; Bradley Way, OL, Jr., 6-2, 285; Steven Cornellier, DL, So., 6-2, 255; Terrance Morris, LB, So., 6-1, 225; Drake Michaelson, LB, Sr., 6-1, 230; Brion Anderson, CB, Sr., 6-0, 195; Jaleel Green, S, Jr., 6-2, 215; Chris Armfield, CB, Jr., 5-11, 185; David Marvin, PK, So., 6-2, 205; Brian Sanders, P, Sr., 6-3, 190

OUTLOOK: The Terriers are revving up their triple option offense, so the rest of the SoCon should take note. When QB Jacks (450 yards, 5 TDs) isn't rushing the ball, he will get it to backfield mates Long, Smith (601 yards, 3 TDs) and Gay. The offensive line is full of veterans, including the anchor Wahrby. Conversely, Wofford is usually tough against the run. But the defense has to overcome several key losses, especially Odom. Speller, the big man in the middle of the D-line, and LBs Michaelson and Morris are the standouts on that side of the ball. The Terriers have taken a step back since they made the playoffs in three straight seasons from 2010-12. But Ayers is one of the better coaches in the FCS. A big season will take him to the 200-win milestone.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Clemson

Sept. 12 - vs. Tennessee Tech

Sept. 19 - at Idaho

Sept. 26 - vs. Gardner-Webb

Oct. 3 - at Mercer*

Oct. 10 - at The Citadel*

Oct. 17 - vs. Western Carolina*

Oct. 24 - vs. Chattanooga*

Oct. 31 - at VMI*

Nov. 14 - vs. Samford*

Nov. 21 - vs. Furman*

*- Southern Conference game

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5. FURMAN PALADINS

LOCATION: Greenville, South Carolina

STADIUM: Paladin Stadium

COACH: Bruce Fowler (20-28 in four seasons at Furman)

LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 2-5 Southern (6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Hank McCloud, DE Gary Wilkins, DE Ira McCune, S Marcus McMorris

OFFENSIVE STAR: Duncan Fletcher, TE, Jr., 6-4, 222 (36 receptions, 442 yards, 2 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Cory Magwood, LB, Sr., 6-2, 228 (123 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Reese Hannon, QB, R-Jr., 6-1, 214 (injured last season); P.J. Blazejowski, QB, So., 6-0, 182; Isaac Garcia, RB, So., 5-10, 203; Terry Robinson, RB, R-Jr., 5-11, 183 (injured last season); Antonio Wilcox, RB, So., 6-1, 195; Jordan Snellings, SE, R-Sr., 6-2, 190; Andrej Suttles, FL, R-Jr., 5-10, 182; Chad Scott, WR, R-Jr., 6-0, 187; Joe Turner, OG, R-Sr., 6-3, 275; Terrell Bush, OT, So., 6-3, 308; John Mackey, NT, R-Sr., 6-0, 263; Jordan Hawkins, DT, Jr., 6-1, 290; Carl Rider, LB, R-Jr., 6-2, 217 (injured last season); Reggie Thomas, CB, Sr., 6-0, 180; Jamarri Milliken, CB, R-Jr., 5-10, 186; Trey Robinson, S, Jr., 6-2, 206; Jon Hollingsworth, PK/P, So., 5-10, 155

OUTLOOK: Last season was forgettable for the 2013 SoCon co-champs, who had several returning starters kicked off the team before the season and then endured a number of key injuries during it. In fact, the Paladins return 36 players who have started at least one game. Blazejowski took advantage of his playing time at quarterback, starting the final seven games of his freshman season, but it's likely Hannon (ankle fracture) will return to reclaim the starting job. In Snellings, Suttles, Fletcher and Scott, the Paladins get back their top four pass catchers. They usually have good offensive linemen (this year, Turner leads the way), but the Paladins have to average more than 17.5 points per game. Last year's injury bug also hit LB Rider (torn labrum), who led the conference in 2013 with 136 tackles, so the defense welcomes him back with open arms. Magwood wasn't too far behind Rider's pace when he led the SoCon with 123 tackles last season. Fowler isn't shying away from good competition as his Paladins face a rugged non-conference schedule and then road games at Chattanooga, Samford and Western Carolina.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Coastal Carolina

Sept. 12 - at Virginia Tech

Sept. 19 - at UCF

Sept. 26 - vs. VMI*

Oct. 3 - vs. South Carolina State

Oct. 10 - at Chattanooga*

Oct. 24 - vs. The Citadel*

Oct. 31 - at Samford*

Nov. 7 - at Western Carolina*

Nov. 14 - vs. Mercer*

Nov. 21 - at Wofford*

*- Southern Conference game

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6. MERCER BEARS

LOCATION: Macon, Georgia

STADIUM: Moye Complex

COACH: Bobby Lamb (16-8 in two seasons at Mercer; 83-48 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 1-6 Southern (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 21 (10 offense/11 defense)

KEY LOSSES: OL Alan Posey, K Will Roper

OFFENSIVE STAR: Alex Lakes, RB, So., 5-10, 212 (200 carries, 1,107 yards, 17 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Tyler Ward, ILB, Jr., 6-1, 231 (104 TT, 5 TFL, 1 SK, 1 INT)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: John Russ, QB, Jr., 6-0, 199; Tee Mitchell, RB, So., 5-10, 186; Chandler Curtis, WR/RS, So., 5-10, 186; J.T. Palmer, WR, Sr., 6-2, 209; Robert Brown, TE, Jr., 6-1, 218; Wilson Heres, LG, Sr., 6-0, 289; Thomas Marchman, LT, So., 6-2, 287; Kirby Southard, C, Jr., 5-11, 272; Tunde Ayinla, DE, Jr., 6-0, 239; Austin Barrett, DT, So., 6-2, 295; Kyle Williams, OLB, So., 6-0, 235; Tosin Aguebor, LB, Jr., 6-3, 226 (injured last season); LeMarkus Bailey, S, So., 5-11, 194; Alex Avant, CB, Sr., 5-8, 168; Lendell Arnold, S, Jr., 5-9, 188; Matt Schiel, P, So., 5-11, 205

OUTLOOK: The Bears' third-year program returns all but one starter and seeks to make a move in the SoCon standings after beating only VMI in its first season in the conference. The Bears lost four of the conference games by seven points or less, including to Chattanooga and Samford, so they may not be far off from bigger things. But they have a stronger schedule in 2015 with no sub-Division I opponents (there were three last season). There's also no denying the young, growing talent base. Lakes and Curtis were dominant in their first season as Lakes led the SoCon in rushing and touchdowns, and Curtis was one of the best all-purpose players in the nation, scoring 10 touchdowns on receptions, returns and rushes. Russ also is back to run the Pistol offense for a third season. On defense, LB Ward has surpassed 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons. The player whom SoCon opponents have yet to see is Aguebor, a 2013 All-Pioneer Football League pick in the Bears' inaugural season before he missed last season with an injury. The Bears have a good fan base, so if their developing program has a quick start to the season, it will grab a lot of attention.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Austin Peay

Sept. 12 - vs. Stetson

Sept. 19 - at Tennessee Tech

Oct. 3 - vs. Wofford*

Oct. 10 - at Western Carolina*

Oct. 17 - vs. East Tennessee State

Oct. 24 - vs. VMI*

Oct. 31 - at The Citadel*

Nov. 7 - vs. Chattanooga*

Nov. 14 - at Furman*

Nov. 21 - vs. Samford*

*- Southern Conference game

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7. THE CITADEL BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Charleston, South Carolina

STADIUM: Johnson Hagood Stadium

COACH: Mike Houston (5-7 in one season at The Citadel; 34-15 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 3-4 Southern (5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (10 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Aaron Miller, OL Victor Hill, DE Justin Oxendine, LB Raj Muhammad, LB Carl Robinson

OFFENSIVE STAR: Sam Frye, OG, Sr., 5-10, 277

DEFENSIVE STAR: Mitchell Jeter, DT, Sr., 6-0, 275 (34 TT, 10.5 TFL, 6 SK, 3 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Cam Jackson, QB/KR, So., 6-2, 197; Dominique Allen, QB, QB, 6-1, 214; Vinny Miller, A-Back/KR, Sr., 5-10, 205; Isiaha Smith, B-Back, So., 5-10, 230; Tyler Renew, B-Back, Jr., 5-11, 217; Alex Glover, WR, Sr., 6-3, 227; Brandon Eakins, WR, Sr., 6-2, 205; Ryan Bednar, C, Jr., 6-1, 272; Kyle Weaver, OG, Jr., 6-2, 272; Michael Mabry, OT, Sr., 6-1, 260; Isaiah Pinson, OT, So., 6-3, 264; Joe Crochet, DL, Jr., 6-2, 245; Mark Thomas, DL, Sr., 6-2, 225; Travis Johnson, DL, So., 6-1, 224; Tevin Floyd, LB, Jr., 6-1, 234; James Riley, LB, Sr., 5-11, 222; Dee Delaney, CB, So., 6-1, 191; Ben Roberts, CB, So., 5-9, 175; Nick Willis, S, Sr., 6-2, 205; Malik Diggs, S, Jr., 6-1, 180; Will Vanvick, P, Jr., 5-11, 179

OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs lived through an offseason of tragedy as the Emanuel AME Church shootings in Charleston occurred about a mile and a half away from The Citadel's campus. In getting back to football, the Bulldogs have a strong returning nucleus. Their one starter lost on offense is a big one, QB Miller. But his replacement, perhaps Jackson, whom Houston call the team's most dynamic player, will guide a versatile triple offense which features Renew (761 yards, 5 TDs), Miller and Smith. The focus of the defense is stopping the run, but the unit needs more than its three interceptions (in 344 pass attempts) of a year ago. Crochet was the defensive MVP as a sophomore defensive end. Combining him with DT Jeter will keep the D-line stout. Plus, they are backed by LB Floyd, who had a team-best 80 tackles as well as 9.5 tackles for loss. The future also is now for sophomore CB Delaney.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Davidson

Sept. 12 - vs. Western Carolina*

Sept. 19 - at Georgia Southern

Sept. 26 - vs. Charleston Southern

Oct. 10 - vs. Wofford*

Oct. 17 - at Samford*

Oct. 24 - at Furman*

Oct. 31 - vs. Mercer*

Nov. 7 - vs. VMI*

Nov. 14 - at Chattanooga*

Nov. 21 - at South Carolina

*- Southern Conference game

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8. VMI KEYDETS

LOCATION: Lexington, Virginia

STADIUM: Alumni Memorial Field

COACH: Scott Wachenheim (first season at VMI)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 overall, 1-6 Southern (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Deon Watts, WR Doug Burton, OL Andy Marcotte, DL John Washington, LB Miller Williams, LB Logan Staib

OFFENSIVE STAR: Al Cobb, QB, R-So., 6-3, 190 (269-for-438, 2,971 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs; 56 carries, 122 yards, 2 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Ryan Francis, OLB, R-So., 6-1 200 (71 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 SK, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Derrick Ziglar, RB, R-Sr., 5-9, 230; Aaron Sanders, WR, Jr., 6-2, 185; Sam Patterson, WR, Sr. 6-5, 215; Dane Forlines, WR, Jr., 5-10, 190; Nate Murray, OL, R-Sr., 6-3, 325; Andrew Lewis, OL, Jr., 6-5, 260; Denton Ensminger, DL, Sr., 6-4, 270; Joe Nelson, DL, R-Jr., 6-3, 265; Allen Cratsenburg, LB, So., 6-3, 220; Damian Jones, DB, R-Jr., 6-1, 190; Alijah Robinson, DB, Jr. 6-0, 185; Greg Sanders, DB, So., 5-10, 170; Dillion Christopher, PK, Jr., 6-2, 200; Hayden Alford, P, R-Jr., 6-3, 200

OUTLOOK: In replacing Sparky Woods, Wachenheim brings in over 25 years of collegiate coaching experience, including the last five seasons at Virginia. Last season was the Keydets' first back in the Southern Conference after an 11-year absence, and they beat only Furman in conference games. But they found a young, talented quarterback in Cobb, the SoCon freshman of the year who fell just shy of 3,000 passing yards. The offense is experienced and Cobb will continue to look toward WR Sanders (58 receptions, 901 yards, 4 TDs). The struggling defense allowed 41.4 points per game and lost a number of its top producers. Wachenheim has switched to a 4-3 base scheme from a 3-4. Like the offense, the defense features a rising sophomore in OLB Francis. Christopher is one of the SoCon's better place-kickers.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 - at Ball State

Sept. 12 - vs. Morehead State

Sept. 19 - at Richmond

Sept. 26 - at Furman*

Oct. 3 - vs. Bucknell

Oct. 10 - vs. Samford*

Oct. 17 - vs. Chattanooga*

Oct. 24 - at Mercer*

Oct. 31 - vs. Wofford*

Nov. 7 - at The Citadel*

Nov. 21 - vs. Western Carolina*

*- Southern Conference game

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FCS INDEPENDENT=

EAST TENNESSEE STATE BUCCANEERS

LOCATION: Johnson City, Tennessee

STADIUM: Science Hill High School

COACH: Carl Torbush (first season at East Tennessee State; 17-18 overall)

LAST SEASON: Most recent season was 2003

STARTERS RETURNING: None

KEY LOSSES: None

OFFENSIVE STAR: Demetrius Anthony, WR, R-Fr., 6-0, 201

DEFENSIVE STAR: Dylan Weigel, LB, R-Fr., 6-0, 213

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Austin Henrik, QB, R-Fr., 6-3, 206; Nick Sexton, R-Fr., 6-3, 192; Drake Powell, WR, Fr., 6-2, 195; Dylan Dockery, TE, R-Fr., 6-2, 220; Matt Brewer, OL, R-Fr., 6-5, 266; Ferguierson Charles, DL, R-So., 5-10, 267; Joe Pittman, DL, R-Fr., 6-5, 234; Paul Leveritt, DL, R-Fr., 6-6, 285; River Boruff, LB, R-Fr., 6-1, 217; De'Angelo Holt, LB, Fr., 6-3, 225; Kahllil Mitchell, LB, R-Fr., 6-0, 206; Austin Gatewood, LB, R-Fr., 6-1, 221; Jack Jones, LB, R-Fr., 6-0, 196; Trey Quillin, LB, R-Fr., 6-2, 230; Daren Ardis, CB, R-So., 5-10, 166

OUTLOOK: As ETSU returns to football for the first time since 2003, Torbush likes to say his players did so to be part of a dream. Their program is growing quickly under the eastern Tennessee native, who was a head coach previously at Louisiana Tech and North Carolina. He comes from the defensive side of the ball. Henrik and Sexton are battling to be the starting quarterback, and LB Weigel and WR Anthony are among the team's leaders. But this season is about lining up the pieces for 2016, when ETSU will join the SoCon schedule. The Buccaneers' first game will be at home against FCS start-up program Kennesaw State, and trips to Charleston Southern, Mercer and Montana stand out on the schedule. An on-campus stadium still has to be built, so the Bucs will play at a local high school stadium where the field is named for Steve Spurrier.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 - vs. Kennesaw State

Sept. 10 - vs. Maryville

Sept. 17 - at Charleston Southern

Sept. 26 - vs. Emory & Henry

Oct. 3 - vs. Saint Francis (Pa.)

Oct. 17 - at Mercer

Oct. 24 - at Montana State

Oct. 31 - vs. Warner

Nov. 7 - at Robert Morris

Nov. 14 - at Gardner-Webb

Nov. 21 - vs. College of Faith

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