Georgia Southern Tabbed Consensus Favorite for Southern Conference Crown

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IIJuly 24, 2013

SPARTANBURG, S.C.—The 2013 Southern Conference Media Day is in the books, and the head coaches and media have projected Georgia Southern to win the Southern Conference title.

With their eventual move to the Sun Belt Conference in 2013, both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are ineligible to win the 2013 Southern Conference title.

Georgia Southern is coming off a 2013 season that saw them make a third consecutive trip to the FCS semifinals last season. They bowed out for a second straight season to the eventual national champions with a 23-20 loss to North Dakota State. The Eagles posted a 10-4 overall record and were 6-2 in Southern Conference play last season, claiming a share of the league title along with Appalachian State and Wofford last fall. 

The Eagles amassed 57 points in the preseason coaches poll, while receiving six of the eight first-place votes by the league's head coaches. In the media poll, the Eagles were 16 points clear of Wofford, who was picked second, with 210 points and 15 first-place votes. 

The Eagles have 15 starters back from a team that claimed the 2012 Southern Conference title, including starting quarterback Jerick McKinnon and All-SoCon running back Dominique Swope on the offensive side of the football, while on the defensive side of the ball, All-SoCon defensive back Lavelle Westbrooks.

Appalachian State, who is also headed into uncharted waters next season by making the jump to the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference, was selected to finish second in the Southern Conference race, according to both the league's coaches, while the league's media penned the Mountaineers third among the league's hierarchy heading into 2013. 

The Mountaineers were also recognized with some impressive individual accolades going into the 2013 season, with senior quarterback Jamal Londry-Jackson having been selected as the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Jackson was sensational last season, passing for 3,278 yards and 21 TDs.

Appalachian was knocked out of the postseason in the second round of the FCS playoffs, with a 38-37 setback to Illinois State at Kidd Brewer Stadium. Appalachian State finished 8-4 overall and 6-2 in league play, claiming their seventh title in the past eight seasons, and league standard tying 12 conference crown overall since joining the SoCon in 1972. 

The Mountaineers amassed 51 points and received a couple of first-place votes by head coaches in the preseason coaches poll while racking up 190 points and six first-place votes in the Southern Conference media poll. 

Chattanooga was selected third in the preseason poll. The Mocs are coming off a 6-5 season, and a 5-3 mark in Southern Conference play, finishing tied for fourth in the league's standings.

Chattanooga has claimed four Southern Conference titles in its history and has made one FCS playoff appearance in its history, but the Mocs haven't tasted championship success since 1984 haven't made it into the FCS postseason since 1986.    

The Mocs have a league-high 19 starters returning for the 2013 season and placed nine players on the Southern Conference preseason All-SoCon teams.

Five of those nine players selected to one of the two All-SoCon teams by the coaches were members of the Southern Conference First-Team defense, including Davis Tull, who is the preseason co-SoCon Defensive Player of the Year along with Samford defensive back Jaquiski Tartt.

Tull was sensational last season for the Mocs, registering a league-high 19 TFLs and 12.5 sacks, and heads into the season as a member of the Buck Buchanan Award candidate. The Mocs ranked among the nation's top defensive units last season, ranking 10th nationally in total defense (307.9 YPG). Ten starters return from that unit that put up those impressive numbers last fall.

The Mocs amassed 47 points in the preseason coaches poll—including one first-place vote—while posting 176 points in the league's media poll—including two first-place votes.

Samford has been a school that has been on the brink of breaking through to the top tier of the league the past couple of seasons, and many consider the Bulldogs a dark horse for the 2013 Southern Conference title.

The Bulldogs return 15 starters from a team that posted a 7-4 record last fall, and finished fourth according to the voting by the league's coaches while being selected fifth by the league's media.

Samford joined the Southern Conference in 2008 and has grown accustomed to exceeding expectations as the Bulldogs finished fourth in their first season as a league member after having been picked eighth.

Among the 15 starters returning for the 2013 season, the Bulldogs have an experienced quarterback in senior Andy Summerlin, who gained an extra year of eligibility after an appeal to the NCAA after the completion of the 2012 season. The Bulldogs will also return running back Fabian Truss and wideout Kelsey Pope, who both garnered preseason All-SoCon status.

Truss has led the SoCon each of the past two seasons in terms of all-purpose yards, and he finished the 2012 season with 1,063 all-purpose yards. Pope is one of the most accomplished receivers in school history, entering his senior season as a Bulldog with 1,402 receiving yards on 130 receptions, including seven TD catches.

On the defensive side of the football, it will be a very green linebacking corps, with three new starters this fall. However, the Bulldogs have a player in the secondary considered to be one of the best in the nation in preseason Co-Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Jaquiski Tartt.

Tartt was one of the most electrifying defensive players in all of FCS football last season, registering 94 tackles, 10 pass break-ups, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a pair of TDs. He will also enter the campaign as a Buck Buchanan Award candidate. 

The Bulldogs were selected to finish fourth in the SoCon preseason coaches poll with 43 points while ranking fifth in the SoCon media poll, amassing 149 points. 

Wofford has claimed a share of two of the past three Southern Conference regular-season crowns, but massive losses on the offensive side of the ball—including two-time Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year Eric Breitenstein and quarterback Brian Kass, who has transferred to Coastal Carolina—has the dean of Southern Conference coaches, Mike Ayers, facing one of his tougher assignments.

However, despite the challenges before the Old Gold and Black heading into the 2013 season, it did not deter the media from selecting Ayers' Terriers to finish second in the SoCon, including receiving four first-place votes. The coaches picked the Terriers fifth in the preseason league balloting. Wofford totaled 194 points to go along with those four first-place votes in the media poll, while amassing 40 points in the league's coaches preseason poll.

The Terriers return 14 starters, but just five on the offensive side of the football heading into the 2013 season. The Terriers completed the 2012 season with a 9-4 overall mark, including a 6-2 league mark to tie for the SoCon title.

Wofford won their second-round FCS playoff game over New Hampshire (24-7) before getting knocked out in a hard-fought contest with eventual FCS national champion North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals, with a 14-7 setback in the FCS Quarterfinals. 

Seven Terrier players made their mark on one of the preseason All-SoCon teams, with three landing on the First Team while four were selected to the Second Team. Terrier linebacker Alvin Scioneaux is maybe the most recognizable name on that list, as he is coming off a season that saw him lead the team in sacks (7.0) and tackles for loss (14.0).

The player with the unenviable task of trying to replace Breitenstein, Donovan Johnson, was a Second-Team All-SoCon selection heading into the season after rushing for 473 yards last fall. 

The Citadel, which was another team that finished with a 7-4 overall mark, which was just their second seven-win season since 1992, is another team knocking at the door of the league's title-contending hierarchy. The Bulldogs' 5-3 conference mark saw them finish tied for fourth in the league's standings. 

Wins over a pair of Top 10 foes last season and with 17 starters returning, the expectations are as high as ever in the Port City. The Bulldogs were selected sixth in both the coaches and media polls, amassing 33 points in the coaches poll and 126 points in the media poll. 

Head coach Kevin Higgins enters his ninth season at the helm with a veteran signal-caller returning in senior Ben Dupree, who helped lead the triple-option for a fourth-straight season. Dupree's rushing offense was ranked fourth in the nation last fall, averaging right at about 300 yards per game on the ground.

Leading that ground attack will be All-Southern Conference running back Darien Robinson who became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Bulldogs since Tory Cooper in 2007, rushing for 1,007 yards last fall.

Like The Citadel, Furman was selected to finish the same place in both the coaches and media preseason polls, with the Paladins registering 107 points in the media poll and posting 25 points in the league's preseason coaches poll.

Head coach Bruce Fowler heads into his third season at the helm with a young contingent of returnees on both sides of the ball as he tries to right the ship after a 3-8, 2-6 season last fall, accounting for the worst season for Furman since 1994 when the Paladins sported an identical record at season's end.

Three Paladins were selected to the preseason all-league team, including preseason All-America selection Dakota Dozier, who has been instrumental in helping the Paladins produce a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons.

Dozier, a first-team selection, was joined by defensive end Gary Wilkins and kicker Ray Early on the two Southern Conference preseason teams. Wilkins, who led the Paladins with 92 tackles last season, makes the move from middle linebacker to defensive end this fall. Furman returns 15 starters for the 2013 campaign.

Elon and Western Carolina were selected eighth and ninth, respectively, to round out the 2013 preseason Southern Conference media and coaches polls.

The Phoenix, who are coming off a 3-8, 1-7 season must find a way to replace quarterback Thomas Wilson and one of the best wide receivers in the history of the Southern Conference, Aaron Mellette. The Phoenix have led the SoCon in passing offense in each of the past seven seasons. 

The Phoenix had three All-SoCon selections in the preseason, including two second-teamers on the offensive side of the ball, offensive lineman Clay Johnson and wide receiver Kierre Brown, who looks to follow in the footsteps of Mellette and Terrell Hudgins before him.

Mark Speir enters his second season as the head coach of Western Carolina, and the Catamounts struggled to a 1-10, 0-8 mark last fall. Though it did not show in their overall record, strides were made in Speir's inaugural season in Catamount country. Speir will look to put an end to the Purple and Gold's futility, which has seen Western Carolina drop 22-straight Southern Conference games, dating back to an Oct. 2010 win at The Citadel. 


2013 Southern Conference Football
Preseason All-Conference Teams

Offensive Player of the Year:
Jamal Londry-Jackson, Sr., QB, Appalachian State
Co-Defensive Players of the Year: Jaquiski Tartt, Jr., DB, Samford;


First-Team Offense

QB Jamal Londry-Jackson, Sr.Appalachian State
RB Dominique Swope, Jr.Georgia Southern
RB Fabian Truss, Sr.Samford
OL Kendall Lamm, Jr.Appalachian State
OL Dakota Dozier, Sr.Furman
OL Dorian Byrd, Sr.Georgia Southern
OL Ty Gregory, Sr.Wofford
OL Jared Singleton, Sr.Wofford
TE Faysal Shafaat, Jr.Chattanooga
WR Andrew Peacock, Sr.Appalachian State
WR  Sean Price, So.Appalachian State
WR (tie) Kelsey Pope, Sr.Samford


First-Team Defense

DL Ronald Blair, Jr.Appalachian State
DL Derek Douglas, Sr.The Citadel
DL Derrick Lott, Sr.Chattanooga
DL Davis Tull, Jr.Chattanooga
LB Jonathan Spain, Jr.Elon
LB Wes Dothard, Sr.Chattanooga
LB Alvin Scioneaux, Sr.Wofford
DB Lavelle Westbrooks, Sr.Georgia Southern
DB Jaquiski Tartt, Jr.Samford
DB D.J. Key, Sr.Chattanooga
DB Kadeem Wise, Sr.Chattanooga


First-Team Specialists

PK Ray Earley, Sr.Furman
P Ray Earley, Sr.Furman
RS Tony Washington, SrAppalachian State


Second-Team Offense

QB Jacob Huesman, So.Chattanooga
RB Darien Robinson, Sr.The Citadel
RB Donovan Johnson, Sr.Wofford
OL Cullen Brown, Sr.The Citadel
OL Clay Johnson, Sr.Elon
OL Garrett Frye, Jr.Georgia Southern
OL Kasey Morrison, Sr.Samford
OL Kevin Revis, Sr.Chattanooga
TE Zeke Walters, Sr.Samford
WR Kierre Brown, Jr.Elon
WR Terrell Robinson, Jr.Chattanooga


Second-Team Defense

DL Gary Wilkins, Jr.Furman
DL Javon Mention, Sr.Georgia Southern
DL Jerry Mathis, Jr.Samford
DL Tarek Odom, Jr.Wofford
LB Carson Smith, Jr.The Citadel
LB Justin Shade, Sr.Samford
LB Mike McCrimon, Sr.Wofford
DB Joel Ross, Jr.Appalachian State
DB Brandon McCladdie, Sr.The Citadel
DB Chandler Wrightenberry, Sr.Elon
DB Ace Clark, Jr.Western Carolina
DB (tie) James Zotto, Sr.Wofford


Second-Team Specialists

PK Drew Stewart, Sr.Appalachian State
P Clark Sechrest, Sr.Western Carolina
RS Fabian Truss, Sr.Samford


2013 SoCon Football Preseason Coaches Poll

School First-place votesPoints
Georgia Southern657
Appalachian State251
The Citadel-33
Elon -16
Western Carolina-12


2013 SoCon Football Preseason Media Poll  

School First-place votesPoints
Georgia Southern15210
Wofford 4194
Appalachian State6190
Chattanooga 2176
Samford   -149
The Citadel-126
Furman 1107
Elon    61
Western Carolina-  47



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