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CSN So South: Teams Open 2009 Season with Challenging Games

floated rightBy Myron Hosea, CSN So South Columnist

The 2009 season has finally arrived, and fans gladly welcome the start of FCS football. All 16 teams in the So South region tee it up in week one with two games Thursday night and 13 more Saturday.


As usual, several teams open on the road against FBS programs. Coastal Carolina goes first when it plays at Kent State on Thursday. Two days later, defending SoCon champ Appalachian State visits East Carolina while Liberty, the defending Big South champ, goes to West Virginia. Also, three teams go to the Sunshine State as Charleston Southern meets defending BCS champ Florida, Samford ventures to Central Florida and Wofford visits South Florida. The other contests against FBS squads feature The Citadel at North Carolina and Western Carolina at Vanderbilt.

The week’s other So South games include Chattanooga hosting Glenville State on Thursday and Presbyterian at Furman, Davidson at Elon, Mars Hill at Gardner-Webb, Albany at Georgia Southern, Stony Brook at Hofstra and Robert Morris at VMI on Saturday.

The games against FBS teams deliver good and bad features. Of course, there’s the money. Games such as these result in new equipment such as video editing systems or facilities or other improvements for the FCS football teams and their fellow athletic programs that can’t generate as much income. Play two in one season – as Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Furman, Gardner-Webb and Wofford are – and you have the opportunity to do try new things.

Exposure represents another benefit. Even though the score might not be close, FCS teams can get much exposure by playing one of the big programs, especially in week one. Think of all of the exposure Charleston Southern receives just by being the first team Florida plays in 2009.

During the Big South Media Day this summer, some players and coaches talked about how these games can provide a confidence boost. If you play well individually or as a team against one of the larger programs, you feel better about yourself and your ability to play teams on your level.

Certainly, downsides exist. Injuries are one. You’re often playing a faster, bigger team with more players on the home sideline. You might play well but come out of the game with key players slowed by injuries or perhaps unavailable.

It’s fun, though, to see our favorite FCS team take on one of the big boys, and it’s even more fun to see it do well, win or lose. These teams have won hearts and minds, so to speak, with their performances. For example, quite a few South Carolina fans have told me of the great respect they have for Wofford after the Terriers gave the Gamecocks fits in tough losses in 2006 and 2008.

The games against FCS teams in week one also draw our interest. Georgia Southern’s home game against Albany should be interesting, and Stony Brook opens with a tough one at CAA rival Hofstra. Furman and Presbyterian tangle while VMI and Elon also start with FCS teams.

Whether it’s FCS vs. FBS, FCS vs. FCS or FCS vs. someone else, it’s great to have college football back. A preview of the week one games in the So South follows. Enjoy the games and the season.

Spotlight of the Week

The first So South Spotlight focuses on Saturday’s game between Presbyterian College and Furman University. It represents the only meeting of the season’s opening weekend between the two conferences at the center of this column, the Big South and the Southern. It’s an old rivalry between neighbors, too, as the Blue Hose will make the hour or so drive up from Clinton. Presbyterian began its transition to Division I at Furman two years ago, losing 40-16. This game also marks the first game for PC alum Harold Nichols as a head coach. Bobby Lamb starts his eighth season at the helm of Furman.

Coming Up This Week

Thursday, Sept. 3

Coastal Carolina at Kent State
, 7 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
The Chanticleers start on the road, facing a FBS opponent for just the second time. The Golden Flashes aren’t receiving a lot of love in preseason Mid-American Conference rankings. They won four games a year ago, but it ranked 10th nationally in rushing with 230 yards per game. Quarterback Zach MacDowall returns to lead the Coastal offense while defensive end Phillip Oboh headlines the defense.

Glenville State at Chattanooga, 7 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
New Mocs head coach Russ Huesman gets three of his first four opponents at home, beginning with Division II opponent Glenville State. Huesman is looking to a mix of veterans (runningbacks Bryan Fitzgerald and Shaun Kermah, receivers Blue Cooper and Clint Woods) and newcomers (quarterback B.J. Coleman, a Tennessee transfer) to jump-start an offense that averaged just 12 points a game last season.

Saturday, Sept. 5

Albany at Georgia Southern
, 6 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
Year three of Chris Hatcher’s tenure at Georgia Southern might bring more of a full experience of the air game he was known for at Valdosta State. The Eagles begin a tough slate of games with a home match against defending Northeast Conference champion Albany. The Great Danes finished 2008 with a 9-3 record, 7-0 in the conference. Runningback David McCarty rushed for 1,852 yards a year ago. Georgia Southern counters with quarterback Lee Chapple, who took control of the passing game in the season-ending upset at Furman last November.

Appalachian State at East Carolina, Noon
Series Record: Appalachian State leads 19-10 (Last meeting: East Carolina won 38-21 in Boone in 1979)
Will he or won’t he? The Mountaineers travel across state to face East Carolina, a preseason pick to win the Conference USA East Division title. The question is whether Armanti Edwards will get on the field. If Edwards is able to play, he will join his teammates in facing the heat and humidity of the eastern North Carolina region in this early afternoon game. Appalachian State brings a deep and experienced team to this season opener. East Carolina responds with a defense that led C-USA in total defense and scoring defense and an offense paced by quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who threw for 13 touchdowns and more that 2,600 yards a year ago.

Charleston Southern at Florida, 7 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
Bucs head coach Jay Mills has joked that Florida was able to win the BCS Championship Game last January by not looking ahead to the season opener against Charleston Southern. Probably the one good thing of this matchup is that the Bucs won’t see Tim Tebow for a full game. Charleston Southern does enter the game set at quarterback with A. J. Toscano, who’s had two years in the Bucs system. The Bucs will hope to get multitalented Gerald Stevenson loose for some yards against the super-fast Gator defense.

The Citadel at North Carolina, 6 p.m.
Series Record: North Carolina leads 3-0 (Last meeting: North Carolina 45-14 in 1986)
The Bulldogs are looking to rebound from last year’s disappointing 4-7 record. Head coach Kevin Higgins’ team has worked hard in the offseason and in fall practice, but injuries continue to hinder the squad. All-American wide receiver Andre Roberts and quarterback Bart Blanchard have just recently returned to practice, and an already thin runningback group suffered a pair of serious injuries.

Davidson at Elon, 7 p.m.
Series Record: Davidson leads 16-1 (Last meeting: Elon won 14-6 in 1954)
Elon begins one of the more promising seasons in the school’s history by hosting Davidson, a SoCon member that plays football in the Pioneer Conference. It’s the first time the schools have met on the gridiron in 55 years and the first time at Elon. The Phoenix return most of last year’s starters and have firepower behind quarterback Scott Riddle, wide receiver Terrell Hudgins and runningback Brandon Newsome. Elon’s experienced defense will challenge a Wildcat offense that scored 26 points a game in 2008.

Liberty at West Virginia, Noon
Series Record: First meeting
The Flames begin their quest for a fourth straight winning season by visiting West Virginia. Liberty will do so with lots of new starters. Mike Brown and South Carolina transfer Tommy Beecher have battled for the starting quarterback job while several players look to step up at runningback and receiver. Linebackers Ian Childress and Wes Cheek and defensive back Chris Rocco will have to stop the high-powered Mountaineers offense, paced by runningback Noel Devine (6.3 yards per rush in 2008).

Mars Hill (1-0) at Gardner-Webb, 6 p.m.
Series Record: 16-16-0 (Last meeting: Mars Hill won 27-25 in 2000)
The Bulldogs begin the season at home against the Division II Lions, who opened the season last week with a 28-0 victory over fellow Division II team North Greenville. In that game, Mars Hill runningback Jonas Randolph rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown while quarterback Jon Richt, son of Georgia coach Mark Richt and a transfer from Clemson, threw for 116 yards and two scores. They’ll face a more challenging defense this week, led by Bulldogs All-American linebacker Jeffrey Williams.

Presbyterian at Furman, 5 p.m.
Series Record: Furman leads 38-16-1 (Last meeting: Furman won 40-16 in Greenville in 2007)
Furman University and Presbyterian College, just an hour apart, have a gridiron history. In fact, Paladins head coach Bobby Lamb, a 1987 graduate of Furman, and new PC head coach Harold Nichols, a 1989 Blue Hose graduate, are contemporaries. Nichols is familiar with Furman, having played against the Paladins in the 1980s and having coached against them in the 1990s as an assistant at Georgia Southern. He has lots of holes to fill except at quarterback where Tim Webb and Brandon Miley have starting experience. The Paladins hope to generate lots of offense this year with quarterback Jordan Sorrells and runningback Mike Brown leading a great deal of talent on that side of the ball. They’ll need that punch as the defense replaces seven starters.

Robert Morris at VMI, 1:30 p.m.
Series Record: VMI leads 1-0 (Last meeting: VMI won 40-13 in 2007)
The Keydets won four games a year ago while producing the best rushing attack in all of FCS. Top runner Tim Maypray returns at quarterback and Howard Abegesah returns at fullback. The Colonials went 5-6 a year ago, finishing tied for third in the Northeast Conference. Runningback Myles Russ leads their offense after rushing for 1,255 yards in 2008.

Samford at Central Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Series Record: Central Florida leads 7-3 (Last meeting: Central Florida won 52-7 in Orlando in 1997)
The Bulldogs travel to the land of Disney to open the 2009 season against Central Florida. Even though they won just four games a year ago, the Knights finished second in Conference USA in total defense, allowing just 334 yards a game. Samford plays pretty good defense, too, giving up just 19 points and 318 yards per contest last year. The Bulldogs enter 2009 with lots of experience and plenty of confidence after a 6-5 overall finish and 4-4 league mark in its first year in the SoCon. Samford will hit Orlando with a solid offense led by runningback Chris Evans and quarterback Dustin Taliaferro.

Stony Brook at Hofstra, 7 p.m.
Series Record: Hofstra leads 12-0 (Last meeting: Hofstra won 43-3 at Stony Brook last year)
The Seawolves open the season against the Pride, a team some are picking to win the CAA North Division. Thus, defeating Hofstra for the first time will be a challenge. Stony Brook brings a lot of experienced talent to the effort, however, beginning with its pair of 1,000-yard rushers Conte Cuttino and Ed Gowins. Returning quarterback Dayne Hoffman (11 touchdown passes) gives the Seawolves hope for a balanced and effective offense.

Western Carolina at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
While Vanderbilt never has played Western Carolina, the team’s head coach is familiar with the Catamounts. Commodore head coach Bobby Johnson, of course, is the former head coach of Furman, where he fashioned a 6-2 mark against Western. Johnson has turned Vanderbilt into a consistently competitive SEC squad, making this a challenging second opener for Catamount head coach Dennis Wagner. Western hopes to continue the dramatic improvement on defense that the team made in 2008. Offensively, quarterback Zack Jaynes returns to guide the offense.

Wofford at South Florida, 7 p.m.
Series Record: First meeting
Wofford’s ability to fill holes and challenge for playoff invitations will get a test with a formidable early schedule that includes a large-scale travel itinerary. Two weeks before venturing way up north to Wisconsin, the Terriers open with a visit to Tampa to play South Florida, one of the top teams in the Big East. Opponents don’t see many offenses such as Wofford’s, but the Terriers have to face a defense led by All-American defensive end George Selvie.

* * *

News and Notes

- Wofford’s Mike Ayers and Appalachian State’s Jerry Moore have the longest tenure in their current positions among the nine SoCon head coaches. Ayers has been at the helm of Wofford’s program for 22 years and has a 141-96-1 record at the school. In his 20 years as head coach of the Mountaineers, Moore has a 178-73 mark.

- Among Big South head coaches, Gardner-Webb’s Steve Patton has been in his current position the longest. Patton has a 77-54 record in 12 seasons leading Bulldogs football.