Only three games highlight the slate for Saturday afternoon in the SoCon, however all three are key for each of the respective trio heading into a huge week of league games next week.
Appalachian State was able to get its footing last Saturday after its season-opening, 66-13, loss to Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers were 58-6 victors over North Carolina A&T in front of 26,415 fans at The Rock last week. The Mountaineers had a big day at the office offensively last Saturday, as the Mountaineers rolled up 491 yards of total offense.
It was a balanced attack for ASU, which rolled up 255 yards on the ground and another 236 through the air in strolling to the Black and Gold's fifth-straight win over the Aggies. The Mountaineers improved to 11-2 all-time against MEAC teams and will likely make it 12-2 on Saturday, as the Mountaineers face a hapless Savannah State club fresh off a 63-6 loss to Southland Conference foe Southeastern Louisiana last Saturday.
Savannah State is now 0-2 on the young season, having also dropped its season opener, 34-31, to Division II member Albany State. It will be the second of a three-game homestand for the Apps, while the Tigers will be playing their third of a four-game road swing to open the campaign.
Savannah State hasn't defeated a team with full Division I status since 2004, and have only two wins over Division I foes since 2000, defeating South Carolina State, 14-9, in 2001. Will this game do the Mountaineers any good? The Tigers likely offer ASU its weakest competition since facing Division II Lenoir-Rhyne back in 2007, which followed ASU's monumental, 34-32, win over BCS No.5-ranked Michigan.
The Tigers faced Georgia Southern to open the 2010 season, dropping a 48-3 decision to the Eagles last September. This game will get out of hand early and head coach Jerry Moore will have to do some coaching to keep this game respectable, as he will actually have to try and keep his team from scoring in the low 80s.
Appalachian State will face Chattanooga next Saturday in a game that is shaping up to be a critical early game in Southern Conference play. The Mountaineers were forced into fourth-quarter heroics last season at Chattanooga, as the Apps came back from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to eventually score a 42-41 win.
The Mocs will be involved in the most enticing game of the third weekend of play in the Southern Conference, taking on Eastern Kentucky at Roy Kidd Stadium, in a kickoff slated for 6 p.m. The Mocs are fresh off their first win over a Top 10 ranked foe since 2000, as the Mocs posted 21 unanswered points to garner a 38-17 win over 10th-ranked Jacksonville State.
That win over the Gamecocks helped the Mocs avenge a heartbreaking 21-17 win at No. 5 Jacksonville State last season. Interestingly, Chattanooga's last win over a Top 10 foe came against Appalachian State (next week's opponent) in that 2000 season, as the Mocs posted a 30-27 win over the sixth-ranked Apps in early November at Finley Stadium.
However, first things are first for Huesman's Mocs, who face an Eastern Kentucky team that not only expects to be a title contender in the Ohio Valley Conference this season under fourth-year head coach Dean Hood, but have also been extremely tough to upend at Roy Kidd Stadium.
In fact, the Colonels enter the contest having won six-straight in the friendly confines, and the facility has proven to be a house of horrors for SoCon teams in the past, as Appalachian State can attest. The Mountaineers dropped a 35-7 game in Richmond, KY., back in 2003, while having to hold off a feisty EKU club, 24-16, in ASU's first of three national title runs two years later.
There have also been a couple of head-scratchers for SoCon teams upon their visit to one of the original powers of Division I-AA/FCS football. Like the 1990 season, which saw what was supposed to be a close first-round playoff game between No. 12 Furman, who were SoCon co-champs, and the fifth-ranked Colonels.
The Paladins, who were slight underdogs, uncharacteristically went to the air early and often, as the tandem of option quarterback Frankie DeBusk and wideout Donald Lipscomb helped the Paladins cruise to a 45-17 opening-round playoff win.
Then there was that debacle in 2009, which saw Western Carolina come to Roy Kidd Stadium and posting a 24-7 win. However, the two examples mentioned above are exceptions to the rule, and apparently the Colonels have some weird aversion to the color purple, and unless the Mocs change their color, they should expect a tough game from the Colonels on Saturday. It should be noted that the Colonels did defeat the Paladins, 24-10, on the road in the 1986 Division I-AA playoffs.
The Colonels are 20-27-2 all-time against SoCon members. That record only includes the Colonels record against SoCon teams when they were SoCon members. For instance, East Tennessee State only met the Colonels five times as a SoCon member, and went 2-3 against EKU. The two faced each other 24 times as OVC members, with EKU holding a 17-6 series edge.
Eastern Kentucky is off to a 1-1 start, getting its first victory of the season with a 28-24 win over Missouri State of the Missouri Valley Football Conference last week. The Colonels nearly pulled off a win over an FBS foe earlier this season, dropping a 10-7 contest in Manhattan, KS to the Kansas State Wildcats.
Saturday's meeting in Richmond, KY., will mark the first between the two foes in Roy Kidd Stadium since 1986, which saw the Colonels get a 23-3 victory to open the season. Ironically, that season was the last time the Mocs found themselves playing post-season football. It will be the sixth all-time meeting, with the series knotted, 2-2-1.
This game will have a postseason feel to it, and the Mocs, who many believe will be a team in the final 20 will get a huge test from a Colonels team, who many have said is ready to re-visit the school's tradition-rich roots and claim their first postseason win since 1988.
It has the makings of being a classic, with UTC's big-armed quarterback B.J. Coleman (42-of-66 passing, 470 yds., 3 TDs, 1 INT in 2011) facing off against an EKU defense that features a Buck Buchanan Award candidate in safety Jeremy Caldwell (4 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FR in 2011). The EKU defense has yet to allow any first-half points this season and will be looking to avenge a 42-24 throttling they took in the Scenic City last September.
The final of the three games on Saturday is an intriguing matchup, as Elon travels to Durham to face improving North Carolina Central. The Phoenix took a hit last week, as starting quarterback Thomas Wilson went down with an ankle injury in last week's 42-10 win over NAIA Concord. Stepping into the starting role will be University of Maryland transfer Tyler Smith, who is just 1-of-8 passing for seven yards this season.
Prior to Wilson's exit last Saturday, he had thrown a career-high three TD passes in just a half of play before leaving the matchup with an injury. Wide receiver Aaron Mellette has picked up where he left off last season, having hauled in 20 passes for 257 yards (12.9 YPR) and a couple of scores so far this season.
Another intriguing storyline in this matchup is the fact that it will be one that pits two first-year head coaches against each other, with Jason Swepson being in his inaugural season at the helm of the Elon football program, while Henry Frazier III is in his first campaign as the boss at NCCU.
Both coaches have led their teams to 1-1 records on the young campaign thus far on the young season. The Phoenix lost their opener, 45-14, to Vanderbilt in the season opener, while NCCU was competitive for a half in a 48-0 loss to Rutgers in its season opener, before the Eagles picked up a 42-3 win over Central State last week for their first win of the campaign.
The Eagles will offer some challenges for the Phoenix on Saturday night at O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium, particularly on offense where Andre Clarke (38 att., 172 yds., 2 TDs, 4.5 YPC) leads a strong ground attack. So, with that said, below are my predictions for Saturday's light Saturday in the SoCon.
Appalachian State 72
Savannah State 15
Eastern Kentucky 20
North Carolina Central 27