It's a somewhat light week on the Southern Conference Football landscape, but there are two very intriguing league encounters, one of those being the first matchup of the season between two ranked foes.
No. 21 The Citadel found its way back into the national polls for the first time since 2008, as the Bulldogs were able to upset No. 3 Georgia Southern 23-21 last Saturday.
It was just the fourth win over a ranked foe for head coach Kevin Higgins, now in his eighth season at the helm of the Bulldogs' football program, but the win offered proof that it was a good idea to resurrect the triple-option offense in Charleston.
Not since the Charlie Taaffe era in Charleston, during which the Bulldog football program enjoyed their "glory days" of the late 1980s and early '90s, has The Citadel knocked off a Top-Five foe.
Meanwhile, Appalachian State got the home slate started off in strong fashion with a 35-27 win over No. 12 Montana, in a game played in front of better than 30,000 fans.
A game with such preseason hype certainly lived up to its billing, and ASU was buoyed by that throng of partisan home fans to come up with the eight-point win.
The other SoCon game to keep an eye on Saturday is the one between Wofford and Western Carolina, which is set to commence on Saturday in Spartanburg. It will be Mark Speir's first Southern Conference game as head coach of the WCU football program.
The Terriers have not lost to the Catamounts in Spartanburg since 1981, and the Terriers have won six straight overall in the series after a 24-0 loss to the Catamounts in Cullowhee in 2005.
In tomorrow's previews, I will take a look at the non-league matchups to take place this weekend, highlighted by the Palmetto State clash between Furman and Clemson.
Furman has its first 0-3 start to a season since second-year head coach Bruce Fowler was a defensive back for the Paladins back in 1979.
The Paladins travel to "Death Valley" this Saturday to face an 11th-ranked Clemson team that enters the matchup with one of the most potent offenses in the nation—an attack that will also get All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins back from suspension.
So, without further adieu, here are this week's SoCon previews, beginning with league matchups.
No. 21 The Citadel (2-0, 1-0 SoCon) at No. 9 Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 SoCon)
Sept. 15, 2012, 3:30 P.M., Boone N.C., Kidd Brewer Stadium (24,550)
Preview: The Citadel enters Saturday's contest in Boone coming off head coach Kevin Higgins' biggest win in his eighth seasons at the helm of The Citadel football program. The Citadel hasn't beaten two Top-10 ranked FCS foes in a season since 1991, when it took down both No. 7 Furman (10-6) and No. 10 Appalachian State (17-10) in Charleston.
The Citadel was sensational on both sides of the ball last week in getting the memorable win over the third-ranked Eagles. The Bulldogs made big plays in all three phases of the game, causing five GSU fumbles on defense while also getting huge pass plays in crucial situations on offense.
Quarterback Ben Dupree (1-of-4 passing, 26 yds, 1 TD/34 rush att, 169 yds, 2 TDs, 5.0 YPC) even had his first passing TD in nearly two years.
Dupree will once again team with Aaron Miller (7-of-11 passing, 107 yds/14 rush att, 33 yds, 2.4 YPC) under center on Saturday.
Both quarterbacks led the Bulldogs' offense on a furious rally last season in Charleston against the Apps, as the Bulldogs came up just short in their comeback effort. Trailing 49-14 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs reeled off 28 unanswered points but dropped the 49-42 thriller.
Darien Robinson (16 rush att, 128 yds, 1 TD, 8.0 YPC) rushed for 109 yards and a score last season against the Apps, and is once again a key component of the nation's fifth-ranked ground game, as are veteran slotbacks VanDyke Jones (8 rush att, 48 yds, 6.0 YPC/1 rec, 26 yds) and Rickey Anderson (14 rush att, 110 yds, 4 TDs, 7.9 YPC).
If the Bulldogs decide to go to the air on Saturday, they will likely look to one of the aforementioned slotbacks, or Domonic Jones (2 rec, 38 yds, 1 TD, 19.0 YPR). It was Jones that hauled in that 26-yard TD from Dupree last week.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are always among the SoCon's most physical units, especially up front. That unit will be led by All-SoCon defensive end Chris Billingslea (13 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PBUs).
While the Bulldogs were hit hard by graduation at linebacker and in the secondary, keep an eye on Rah Muhammad (22 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF) at LB, and hard-hitting safety Austin Boyle (5 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT) on Saturday. The Bulldogs also have one of the league's top cover corners in Brandon McCladdie (7 tackles, 1.0 TFL).
Appalachian State has looked nearly unstoppable on offense at times through the first two weeks, with much of that success having to do with quarterback Jamal Jackson (47-of-74 passing, 560 yds, 2 TDs, INT/23 rush att, 99 yds, 2 TDs).
It was Appalachian’s 49-42 win over the Bulldogs last season that saw the emergence of Jackson as the full-time starting quarterback.
In starting the game against the Bulldogs for an injured DeAndre Presley, Jackson completed his first 15 passes of the afternoon en route to leading the ASU offense to the seven-point win. Jackson was 21-of-27 passing for 234 yards and three TDs as he powered the ASU offense to a 2011 season-high 552 yards.
This season, Jackson has looked solid in his first two starts, continuing his streak of consecutive performances of 250 or more yards of total offense, which now stands at nine-straight.
Jackson posted 328 yards (260 passing, 68 rushing) of total offense in ASU’s 35-27 win over No. 12 Montana at The Rock last Saturday.
Jackson has a litany of weapons in the ASU attack. One of those is redshirt freshman wide receiver Sean Price (8 rec, 103 yds, 1 TD, 12.9 YPR), who was simply sensational in the win over Montana last Saturday.
Amazingly, Jackson has completed at least 57.5 percent of his passes in eight of his nine career starts for the Apps.
After being suspended for the season opener against East Carolina, Price returned to the lineup in a big way on Saturday. His performance included a 32-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring in the contest for the Apps.
Other than Price, the Mountaineers also have all-league options Andrew Peacock (10 rec, 134 yds, 1 TD, 13.4 YPR) and Tony Washington (9 rec, 124 yds, 13.8 YPR).
With the injury to Rod Chisholm in the opener, the Mountaineers are increasingly thin at running back this season.
However, with the way Steven Miller (41 rush att, 138 yds, 2 TDs, 3.4 YPC/2 rec, 12 yds) ran in ASU’s win over No. 12 Montana last Saturday night at The Rock, apparently he didn’t get the memo on ASU’s lack of depth at the position.
Miller lowered his shoulders and delivered the blows time after time last Saturday. On one run in the third quarter he delivered a massive hit to one of the Montana linebackers.
While his fearless running style might cause the App State coaches to cringe, it has been effective so far this season, as Miller finished Saturday night on the cusp of his second career 100-yard rushing performance. He finished the night with 99 yards and a pair of TDs on 27 carries to power the ASU ground attack. Miller also had a reception for five yards.
The only better game in Miller's career than last week’s 99-yard rushing effort against the Grizzlies came last season against The Citadel, as the Piscataway, N.J. native rushed for 102 yards and a pair of scores in the 49-42 win.
Coming into Saturday afternoon’s showdown at The Rock, Appalachian State brings a defense that ranks 82nd nationally in pass defense (436.5 YPG), 66th in scoring defense (31.0 PPG), 98th in pass defense (274.5 YPG) and 63rd in rush defense (162.0 YPG).
Appalachian State operates out of a 3-4 defensive scheme, with its strength being its linebacking corps.
Leading the talented quartet of linebackers this season is the senior tandem of Jeremy Kimbrough (27 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and Brandon Grier (22 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF).
Kimbrough, who entered the season as a member of the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, has lived up to that preseason hype. He leads the SoCon in tackles coming into this weekend’s contest.
In the secondary, Demetrius McCray (6 tackles, 2 INTs) showed why he was a preseason Buck Buchanan Award candidate, picking off the seventh and eighth passes of his career for the Apps. McCray also had an INT in ASU's win in Charleston last season.
Final Prediction: Appalachian State will benefit from being in front of a crowd that has helped the Mountaineers forge a 62-5 record in their last 67 home games. Look for the Bulldogs to keep it close, however, as they might do a better job of slowing the Apps defensively than Montana was able to do. However, ASU gets its ninth-straight win in Boone, making it 18 of its last 19 in the series against The Citadel on Saturday.
Appalachian State 31, The Citadel 24
Western Carolina (1-1, 0-0 SoCon) at No. Wofford (2-0, 0-0 SoCon)
Sept. 15, 2012, Gibbs Stadium (13,000), 7 p.m.
Preview: Western Carolina heads to Wofford in hopes of garnering its first win over the Terriers in Spartanburg since 1981. All the Terriers have done in the first two weeks of the season is outscore their opponents 116-7, including an 82-0 win in their home opener last Saturday against NAIA Lincoln. Eight different Terriers reached paydirt in the win.
This series hasn't been all that close on the scoreboard in recent history, as the Catamounts haven't kept the Terriers' victory margin under double digits since that '05 win. The Catamounts have lost their last 18 games against ranked FCS foes as well.
The Catamounts will also be looking to snap a 14-game losing streak to SoCon foes, dating back to a Oct. 2, 2010 win over The Citadel in Charleston.
Eric Breitenstein (27 rush att, 254 yds, 4 TDs, 9.4 YPC) has now moved up to No. 2 on the school's all-time rushing ledger (3,949 career rushing yards) and leads the nation's top rushing offense.
Senior Brian Kass (7-of-12 passing, 168 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT/19 rush att, 42 yds, 2.2 YPC), in his first season as the starting signal-caller, is more of passing threat than his predecessor, Mitch Allen. He will challenge the WCU secondary on Saturday.
Defensively, keep an eye on a talented linebacking corps for Wofford, which is anchored by veterans Mike McCrimon and Phillip LeGrande (8 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 FFs).
Blake Wylie is the top returnee in the secondary at CB, as the Terriers had to replace all three starters up front as a result of graduation. The new trio will be anchored by Zach Bobb (4 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sack).
Western Carolina is coming off a 52-24 loss at Marshall last Saturday night in Huntington, but should challenge the Terriers on Saturday on both sides of the ball. Marshall transfer Eddie Sullivan (19-of-40 passing, 191 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) and true freshman Troy Mitchell (20-of-29 passing, 149 yds) will share the quarterback responsibilities on Saturday.
One of the real surprises so far on offense has been running back Darius Ramsey (30 rush att,144 yds, 4.8 YPC/5 rec, 54 yds, 10.4 YPR). The true freshman from right up the road in Shelby, N.C., could challenge the Terriers' defense with his speed.
Once again, the Catamounts have a strong contingent of wide receivers, led by Deja Alexander (1 rec, 12 yds) and Jacoby Mitchell (15 rec, 127 yds, 1 TD, 8.5 YPC).
In recent seasons, the Catamounts have yielded huge, 500-plus yard rushing days to the Terriers. Anchoring the WCU defense this season are linebackers Rock Williams (18 tackles, 2 FFs) and Courtland Carson (19 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 PBU).
Final Prediction: Western Carolina will give the Terriers a solid opening test. This isn't the Catamount team that Wofford has become accustomed to in recent seasons. They will score some points on Saturday, but the defense, while improved, is still a long way from where it needs to be. The Catamounts will again struggle to stop Wofford's Breitenstein and the wing-bone attack.
Wofford 48, Western Carolina 31