East Tennessee State (3-8, 1-7 SoCon/8th)
For George Quarles, his second season at the helm of East Tennessee State’s football program must seem a little like going from the penthouse to the outhouse, as the Bucs were seemingly the toast of the town last year in Asheville, N.C., when the SoCon held its media event at the prestigious Grove Park Inn. A calendar year later at Greenville’s brand new Hotel Hartness, which was hosting its first big event since opening in March, and the Bucs went from being reigning champs and consensus second-place pick a year ago to being the consensus sixth-place projected finish this season, according to both the league’s coaches and media.
Quarles may have gotten his dream job back in his home state, however, the 2022 season for the one of the winningest high school football coaches in history, effectively was a nightmare rookie season from the outset. Like the aftermath of a bad storm, the wreckage strewn about often a reminder of the disaster that was. For Quarles, a reminder of the disastrous first season he had back in good ol’ Rocky Top, was the infamous transfer portal. While the portal giveth, it also taketh away, and nobody knows that side of the portal better than Quarles’ Bucs.
“I don’t think anyone in our league has probably lost more players to the portal than us…and not just players…really good players,” ETSU head coach George Quarles said. The Bucs lost 23 lettermen—many of which were part of the best team in program history (11 wins in 2021 and a SoCon Football title) a couple of years –were either lost to graduation or the transfer portal. The unit hit hardest by the portal and graduation is the defensive side of the ball, which lost eight regulars from a year ago. Some of that might not be a horrible thing, however, as despite having a large contingent of returnees on the defensive side of the ball a year ago, the Bucs were not good. ETSU finished the 2023 season surrendering 411.1 YPG (85th in FCS) and 30.5 PPG (81st in FCS), however, the Bucs, who lost seven out of their eight league games in 2022, found themselves in almost every ballgame last season. Players like defensive back All-SoCon defensive back Alijah Huzzie, linebacker Chandler Martin, linebacker Jalan Porter, defensive lineman Davion Hood and defensive back Ereck Campbell all are either playing for a different program this season, or in Porter’s case, opted to go ahead and graduate and submit his name to the NFL Draft, despite having a year of eligibility remaining.
Alijah Huzzie, who was arguably the top player lost on the defensive side of the football for the Bucs, chose to go the Gerald Sensabaugh route and transfer to the University of North Carolina, however, the only reason Sensabaugh entered the portal back in 2003 was due to the fact that ETSU canceled its program abruptly. Sensabaugh went on to play in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars over a solid eight-year NFL career. Huzzie hopes to follow a similar route and has already been named All-ACC without having even played a down as an FBS player as of yet—needless to say that’s a great way to start.
So what does return for the Bucs on defense that sports championship experience from that 2021 unit? All three starters that return on defense—DL/LB Max Evans (34 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1 PBU), DB Chris Hope (48 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 6 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FR), and linebacker Di’Andre Davis (37 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 PBUs, 2 FFs)—were all members of that 2021 championship team. That will serve as Quarles’ base, as the Bucs enter the 2023 season under the direction of the dean of SoCon Defensive Coordinators, Billy Taylor. The Bucs had a pair of defensive players represent ETSU on the preseason all-conference teams, with Evans and defensive back Sheldon Arnold II (53 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 INTs) both having been chosen to the league’s preseason all-league second team.
“It’s been a good offseason even despite those losses…the guys coming back have worked extremely hard and the culture is better and I think we’ve got some really good players and we just need to develop some confidence…that’s a really big thing for us and we need some good things to happen to us to help build that confidence,” Quarles added.
Switching sides of the ball, the Bucs have a major void on offense for the first time in six years, with no Quay Holmes or Jacob Saylors still around to tote the rock out of the backfield. That’s not to say the Bucs don’t have some talent coming in, however, and just like the portal has been more bad than good to Quarles at times during his time at ETSU, there is at least some good. He’s added Idaho transfer Zach Borisch (Transferred in from the University of Idaho)from the portal to the fold for the 2023 season. Jawan Martin (9 rush att, 41 yds, 1 TD, 4.6 YPR) adds another tough, inside running presence for the Bucs, and the best news is probably that Tyler Riddell (151-of-279 passing, 1,950 yds, 15 TDs, 11 INTs) returned to the fold for the Bucs from the transfer portal, however, coach Quarles didn’t mince words when he detailed that quarterback play was a little disappointing last year and hinted that there might be some competition in fall camp.
“I am not telling you anything Tyler doesn’t already know,” Quarles said. “We’ve got to better at the quarterback spot and we want some competition this preseason whether it’s Tyler or Baron May (10-of-30 passing, 77 yds, 2 INTs),who played a little bit against Mississippi State, and then we also brought in a transfer kid…Tim Dorsey (transferred in from Illinois State), who I think between those three there will be some good competition,” he added.
Riddell, who was an all-conference quarterback a couple of years ago, leading the Bucs to that magical 11-win season in what was Randy Sanders’ swan song, returned from the transfer portal after briefly flirting with transferring earlier this spring. Another player that went about going to the transfer portal the right way, according to his head coach, was wide receiver Will Huzzie (42 rec, 541 yds, 6 TDs, 12.9 YPR), who consulted with his coach and then his family before deciding to return for his final season with the Bucs. Huzzie is easily one of the best wide receivers in FCS football, and his maturity and playmaking ability will once again be a major asset to the Bucs offense. Huzzie was a preseason second-team all-league pick.
Another talented, experienced option that in the Bucs passing game this fall will be Noah West (10 rec, 128 yds, 1 TD, 12.8 YPR). West was pre-season second-team All-SoCon pick and with Huzzie and Einaj Carter (30 rec, 436 yds, 4 TDs, 14.5 YPR/3 rush att, 46 yds, 1 TD, 15.3 YPC) being kind of an x-factor player with his speed playing in the slot, the Bucs quietly have some of the best big-play options in the passing game in the Southern Conference. Carter was responsible for the longest scoring play of the season for the Bucs, which was a 75-yard scoring catch in the SoCon home opener against Furman.
The major question for the offense other than running back is offensive line, as the unit was decimated by graduation. The Bucs lost Joe Schreiber, Tavon Matthews, Blake Austin and Shaun Hastings have all graduated from the offensive front. The Bucs finished the 2022 campaign averaging 29.4 PPG (43rd in FCS) and 361.2 YPG (68th in the FCS).
The Bucs will kickoff the 2023 season on Sept. 2 at new Conference USA member Jacksonville State, with kickoff slated for 2 p.m. EST.
The Citadel (4-7, 3-5 SoCon/T-6th)
The team picked to finish seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches heading into the 2023 season is one of three league teams to begin the season with a new head coach, as Maurice Drayton, who spent three different stints as an assistant on the Bulldogs’ staff, returns to lead his alma mater for the first time as its head coach.
There’s no doubting that Drayton knows his way around a place where he’s spent a large portion of his life, and the Charleston heat is not even all that much of a negative for the former NFL assistant who spent the previous year to his arrival in Charleston coaching in the oven that is the Las Vegas, as the special teams coordinator for the Las Vegas Raiders.
“Every excuse I get I am looking to get back to Charleston,” new head coach Maurice Drayton said.
Drayton will be installing a new offense, which will feature many of the old option offense principles that Bulldogs fans have become so familiar with over the years. With that said, recent rule changes in regards to player safety have forced many teams around the country to reconsider an option-based offense all together. Fitting the option personnel already on campus that was recruited for that purpose now must adjust, however, as Drayton was quick to point out in our interview, he’s coached pretty much everywhere on both sides of the ball at both college and professional levels, so managing this project is something he’s been uniquely prepared for along the way.
“Due to the recent rule changes, triple-option as we remember it…as we know it…is no longer,” Drayton said at the SoCon’s 2023 meeting outing at Hotel Hartness, in Greenville last week. “We still are a triple-option outfit and we will still run triple-option, but it’s just with different wrinkles..we will be in the gun…we will have different formations and yes we do have a passing element and that is what everyone wants to know and those who came to our spring game saw that and so I am really not telling any secrets folks don’t already know so I guess the cat’s out the bag.”
“Surprisingly everyone puts me in the corner of being a defensive guy or a special teams guy, but I’ve coached offense for many years too…I was an offensive line coach…I’ve coached tight ends and I’ve coached receivers and so I like to consider myself a football coach, however, defensively you will see a similar style to what we saw in 2015 when I was the defensive coordinator and we are in very very capable hands and Raleigh Jackson is our defensive coordinator and he’s called defenses before on the Division II level and he’s one that I recruited to The Citadel and he was a four-year starter for us and we have a great relationship and so he’s added a new age wrinkle to some of the things we used to do defensively” Drayton said.
On offense, the Bulldogs struggled in nearly every phase last season, with the normal, high-level execution of that option offense, slowed to a slower more plodding pace. While the coaches and players would never say it, in my humble opinion I think much of those struggles could be attributed to the recent rule changes. To be frank, finding some offensive success in general would be welcomed in the Low Country following a season that saw maybe the most challenging season offensively since maybe the Ellis Johnson or even the Don Powers era.
The Bulldogs weren’t necessarily horribly low in total offense last fall, ranking 89th nationally (326.3 YPG), however, it was scoring points that seemed to be an eyesore all season. The Citadel ranked 101st nationally in scoring offense, averaging just 18.7 PPG in 2022.
Drayton seems to be on top of things, however, and the good news is he inherits talent. Overseeing its direct effect each time the Bulldogs take the field this fall will be a former Furman Paladin All-American offensive lineman, in Patrick Covington (2002-06), who has honed his skills as a top offensive line assistant along South Carolina’s Grand Strand in nearby Conway at Coastal Carolina University. Covington has also logged time as offensive line coach at Lamar in the three previous seasons before being promoted to his current position at The Citadel.
The primary job for Drayton and his offensive staff will be naming a starter in preseason camp. Three are competing for the job, with Graeson Underwood, Varney Layman and Northern Illinois transfer Dustin Fletcher competing to start the Sept. 2 opener at Allen E. Paulson Stadium against former SoCon rival Georgia Southern on Sept. 2.
As far as the all-conference selection in the preseason are concerned about the only thing to come out of media day was that the Bulldogs have plenty of motivation going into the season, as The Citadel were shut out when it came to preseason all-league selections, as picked by the head coaches. The Bulldogs have a proud football tradition, and getting back to those winning ways are something Drayton seems intent on doing. After all, he was there the last time the Bulldogs really started to make some waves around the FCS back in 2015. There’s a quiet buzz being heard around Charleston. I’m not projecting miracles here, however, don’t be shocked if the Bulldogs aren’t your surprise team in the league this fall.
Certainly, there are players on both sides of the ball worthy of consideration, namely Ricky Conway (40 rush att, 194 yds,1 TD, 4.9 YPC) on offense, as well as both defensive lineman Carson Hatchett (49 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 QBHs) and Dominic Poole (48 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 INTs) on the defensive side. The Bulldogs open the 2023 season at Georgia Southern on Sept. 2. Kickoff for that contest is slated for 6 p.m. EST.
Wofford (3-8, 3-5 SoCon/T-6th)
The Citadel’s directional polar opposite in the Palmetto State, Wofford, will also be welcoming in a new head coach that will have at least some familiarity with the football program he takes over, as Shaun Watson had his interim tag removed shortly after the end of the season.
Watson was named the head coach on Dec. 2, 2022. His calm demeanor exudes confidence, and he struck me as a guy having to rebuild the psyche of his talented players after the Josh Conklin era turned into a sudden debacle midway through his career in the Hub City.
Wofford was picked to finish seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media, respectively. With that said, I understand why the players wanted Watson to lead them.
He has a vision and that particular plan started to show signs of being successful towards the end of the 2022 football season, yielding all three wins on his watch after the Terriers had started the season 0-6 under Conklin.
Watson is the second coach of the Terriers in six years following having one legend, in Mike Ayers for 30. If anything, Conklin will always represent the great schism between what Ayers had built Wofford into being—a Southern Conference power—and whatever Conklin’s formula was, which essentially was destroying the program at twice the pace Ayers worked so hard to build.
Much of the Ayers framework can be gleaned from the words of Watson, and that’s a very good sign for Terrier fans. Watson also gets the identity of Wofford, which I think was somehow lost on Conklin, despite the fact he had been there as an assistant before.
“I knew the day he told me he wanted me to take over…I knew those kids needed something and I knew our coaches needed something…I wanted our players to know that we cared deeply for them and that helped kind of build a unique chemistry between us [the staff] and them [the players]” Wofford head coach Shaun Watson said. In that way, it was Watson to the rescue and he would end up being just the right personality and right calm leader the Wofford football program needed at such a crucial moment. Wins over The Citadel (W, 31-16), East Tennessee State (W, 48-41) and VMI (W, 34-16) to close the season brought the Terriers to three wins on the season and 159 victories since the dawn of the current millennium. The 159 wins are the most of any current SoCon program since 2000.
The Terriers have also claimed all seven of their Southern Conference titles in the past two decades, which even despite a historical precedent of just five wins since the start of the spring 2020 season, Wofford has remarkably still been the standard of comparison in the Southern Conference. Getting the program back to that standard was not so long ago the golden one on the Southern Conference gridiron is not something that’s going to be done overnight, but it’s a task that Watson seems more than willing to see through with patience.
The offensive side of the ball will see a new quarterback taking the reins of the Terrier offense, with the departure of Jimmy Weirick. The Terriers were prolific throwing the ball under Watson at the latter half of the 2022 season, and look for this offense to once again to thrive once again in that tempo-based spread, however, given the nature of that situation last season, expect the offense to look much different this fall as well, with a full off-season of install. That means there will likely be a more concentrated emphasis on the ground attack.
Set to compete for the starting quarterback responsibilities this fall will be Cade Rice, Bryce Corriston, and Western Carolina transfer Samuel Cornett being the main candidates to replace Weirick. Corriston and Rice saw limited action under center last season in limited reserve roles as Weirick’s backup at different points in the 2022 season. Corriston, who is a rising senior, entered fall camp as the penciled-in starter, but his action was very limited last season, throwing only two passes, with an INT.
Rice, who transferred in from South Dakota State in the spring of 2021, threw just four passes with one completion. Cornett has also seen very limited action as a signal-caller in his career, getting some mop-up time in Western Carolina’s 77-21 throttling of Presbyterian last season, completing all four of his throws for 64 yards. The 6-6, 225-lb quarterback gives the Terriers a size and true prototype under center, which is something that likely has not been the case for the better part of the last three decades running mostly an option-based attack. In many ways, the lack of experience in those competing for the starting job at Wofford is not all that unlike the situation taking place at Chattanooga in the preseason, with its quarterback battle.
The skill positions are highlighted by the return of running backs with Kyle Parsons (105 rush att, 485 yds, 3 TDs, 4.6 YPC ) and Ryan Ingram (47 rush att, 203 yds, 4 TDs, 4.3 YPC), while the leading targets in the passing game will be Kyle Pinnix (11 rec, 135 yds, 1 TD, 12.3 YPR), Dylan Djete (27 rec, 431 yds, 1 TD, 16.0 YPR) and Alec Holt. Jacob Ritchie offers a nice option at tight end.
Along the offensive line, the top returnee is senior Jason Swann, who was one of two Terriers to garner preseason all-league accolades according to the head coaches, as Swann was selected to the SoCon’s second-team all-conference scroll. Swann started nine games at left tackle and one at right guard last season. He is one of three starters returning along the OL from last season, joining both Anthony Garcia and Briggs Kearse.
“On offense, it’s about taking the next step. I think we’re more explosive at wide receiver and I love our tight end room…I love our running back room…and the major thing we’ve got to do is get our quarterback, but I like the pieces that we have and we can take a guy that doesn’t have a lot of game experience like a Cade Rice and win with him because of the talent we have around him…It will be an explosive brand of offense because that’s what we became last year.”
Seven starters return on Wofford’s defense, and it’s a side of the ball that the new Terrier head coach went out of his way to highlight at media day last week.
“Defensively, we have some good talent and I am excited about the prospects of that side of the ball in 2023…I’m looking at our defensive board and we’ve got two and three deep at some positions with the competition and every program I’ve ever been a part of…the championship programs… has been about competition in the room…everyone…and I think we are developing that,” Watson said. “Defensively we want to be a team that creates havoc and that’s a scheme I wanted and I believe that we have a pretty salty defense…downside…we’re a little young but that’s ok and that’s never a bad thing.”
While there’s no Michael Mason along the defensive front returning for the Terriers, there is some high-caliber talent returning, though young, along the defensive front. Wofford’s 3-4 scheme will be highlighted by the Terriers’ other preseason all-league selection, in second-team all-conference honoree, in senior Chuck Smith (29 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks).
Outside linebacker Jalen Marshall (52 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 pass deflections) highlights the Terrier returnees at linebacker heading into the 2023 season coming off a 2022 season which saw him garner SoCon All-Freshman team honors, while veteran senior free safety John-Michael DiRoberto (53 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR) highlights the Terrier returnees in the secondary.
Watson will cross paths with his past in Wofford’s season opener when the Terriers travel to Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh on Sept. 2. Watson spent two seasons (2017 and ’18) as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator. Kickoff between the Terriers and Panthers is set for 3:30 p.m. EST on the ACC Network.
VMI (1-10. 0-8 SoCon/9th)
The third new head coach in the Southern Conference this fall can be found at the Virginia Military Institute, as Danny Rocco takes over the Keydets football program looking to bring it back a mountaintop it visited in the not-so-distant past, as the Keydets claimed the 2020 SoCon football title, played during the spring of 2021
Like other schools in the Southern Conference, VMI has its own unique story, and like Watson above, he gets the identity of the athletics culture at VMI, and what it takes to be a student-athlete. Over the past couple of seasons, both Keydets major sports have been ravaged by players moving on to other places after initially embarking on their academic and athletic journeys in Lexington. It’s no secret the challenge is a rigorous one and not to be taken lightly. With the rigors of being a true student with no military exemptions, as well as VMI not having a graduate school, it has made life tough for coaches of the two major sports to keep talent around. I think it’s one of the major reasons that Scott Wachenheim really just ended up frustrated and, in some ways, burned out, although that’s an opinion and not based on actual fact. However, reading the tea leaves, that’s what I come up with.
In recent weeks, I’ve talked to both Keydets men’s basketball coach Andrew Wilson, as well as the new man in charge of the Keydets’ football program to see if or if any ideas could translate between the two programs on creative ways that may be a common ground for both football and men’s basketball to try and keep the exoduses at a minimum.
“Well, Andrew [Wilson] and I became close right when I got to VMI and he’s such a smart young coach with a good vision for that program, and I valued his insight and I think he valued mine…As we bounced ideas around, I realized that basketball and football were non-congruent in some ways to keep guys around both programs, however, in theory we both did gain some knowledge from each other on how to be creative in some ways to make this experience as a student-athlete at one of the best institutions in the country as enjoyable of one as possible,” Rocco said.
Like Watson above, Rocco’s career and success have coincided with one another, and that’s not by accident. Unlike Watson, however, Rocco has been a head coach before and a really good one at that, having had stints at Liberty (2006-11), Richmond (2012-16) and Delaware (2017-21). Those three previous stops yield a total haul of seven conference titles (4-Big South, 3-CAA), as well as 10 appearances in FCS Top 25 at the end of the season.
Leading the way is Collin Ironside (38-of-60 passing, 487 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs), Hagan Wyatt (23-of-44 passing, 276 yds, 0 TDs, 3 INTs) and Collin Shannon (18-of-29 passing, 182 yds, 0 TDs, 2 INTs) all saw action last season for VMI, as the Keydets started four different quarterbacks last fall.
Ironside likely will head into preseason camp as the starter, and there will be several familiar faces at the skill positions at his disposal, including wide receiver Chance Knox (58 rec, 535 yds, 2 TDs, 9.2 YPR), and Isaiah Lemmond (29 rec, 453 yds, 1 TD, 15.6 YPR), who was a SoCon All-Freshman Team selection. Also returning on the offensive side of the football is tight end Aidan Twombly (18 rec, 171 yds, 1 TD, 9.5 YPR), as well as running backs Rashad Raymond (51 rush att, 221 yds, 1 TD, 4.3 YPC) and Hunter Rice (64 rush att, 235 yds, 2 TDs, 3.7 YPC).
“Offensively, it’s not that we are going way all together of the offensive scheme of last year…Our offensive coordinator, Patrick Ashford, who was of course here last year, is back and he will again implement many of those same principles of the air raid as last year, however, we want to be at different tempos to keep defensive off-balance. We want to highlight other sets of the playbook that weren’t necessarily highlighted last season. One of the reasons for making the tempos adjustments is to keep defensive staff from making the adjustment to just one tempo at halftime or even in-game adjustments. If you have different tempos, it’s less predictable,” Rocco said.
On the defensive front, the Keydets are set to employ a 3-4 defensive scheme, yet they aim to maintain versatility on that side of the field. There is some young talent for Rocco and his new staff to work with on that side of the football heading into the 2023 campaign, with sophomore Geoffrey Speight (28 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 QBH) highlighting that young talent slated to return along the defensive front, garnering SoCon All-Freshman Team honors last season. Speight started all 11 games at defensive end as a rookie last season for VMI and is the type of player Rocco can build his defense around.
Unfortunately for VMI fans and Rocco, he won’t have linebacker Stone Snyder around anymore to lead the Keydet linebacking corps. Snyder, after all, ended his career as one of the best defensive players to suit up for the Keydets in the modern era, closing out his outstanding career with 337-career tackles, 22 tackles-for-loss, 12.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and forced a fumble. Snyder was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as a senior and led the SoCon for three-straight seasons in total tackles.
With that said, the Keydets do have some talent returning in the linebacking unit for the 2023 season, with senior Evan Eller (53 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF, 2 PBUs) back at weakside linebacker, while redshirt junior Christian Dunn (75 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 4 QBHs) will once again occupy the Bandit linebacker spot. Junior Eric Rankin (40 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 blkd kicks, 1 PBU) will have the unenviable task of trying to replace Snyder at middle linebacker this fall.
Set to anchor a young, but talented secondary are a pair of players, in Jahleel Porter (25 tackles, 6 PBUs) and Alex Oliver (74 tackles, 10 PBUs, 1.0 TFL, 1 FR, 3 INTs), who both garnered All-SoCon honors last season. Porter was a SoCon All-Freshman team selection, while also sporting an impressive 26.9 YPR return average on kick returns last season. Porter took a kickoff back 96 yards for a score in VMI’s loss to Chattanooga last season. Oliver was a First Team All-SoCon pick a year ago, starting all 11 games and ranking fourth on the team from his cornerback spot in total tackles, while his 10 PBUs led the Keydets and ranked 24th nationally.
Four VMI Keydets garnered preseason all-conference recognition according to the league’s coaches, with offensive lineman Tyriq Poindexter being the only selection from the offensive side of the football, as he was selected to the second-team. On defense, defensive back Alex Oliver was a first-team selection, while linebacker Evan Eller found himself selected to the second team. Rounding out the selections from media day was punter Jack Culbreath, who was a first-team pick.
VMI will open its 2023 season on Sept. 2, hosting Davidson with kickoff slated for 1:30 p.m. EST at Foster Stadium.
SoCon John’s Bold Predictions
- THE SOCON WILL RE-ESTABLISH ITSELF AS AN FCS POWER CONFERENCE!
- The SoCon will receive four FCS playoff invites for just the second time in league history
- Mercer will make its first-ever FCS playoff appearance by finishing the season with at least eight wins.
- Western Carolina will become the second team to sport its primary color purple to break a four-decade drought from the postseason. Furman snapped a 43-year NCAA Tournament drought in basketball, and I predict that the Catamounts of Western Carolina will snap their 40-year streak of being shutout of the postseason, as Western Carolina finishes strong enough in a strong league to gain access into the 24-team field
- Furman will claim its 15th Southern Conference title and win the league outright for the first time since 1990, making it all the way to the doorstep of Frisco Texas before losing 10-7 to eventual national champion South Dakota State in Brookings South Dakota in blizzard-like conditions.
- Furman will become the first team to advance as far as the semifinals of the FCS postseason since 2012 when Georgia Southern made it all the way to the FCS semifinals before losing, 23-20, to eventual national champion North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome
- Samford’s Michael Hiers becomes the second Samford QB in five years to win the Walter Payton Award and leads the Bulldogs to a second-straight FCS playoff appearance
- Both Chattanooga and Furman will beat Kennesaw State