By Scott Keeler for SoConSports.com
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – There was an extra buzz at the annual Southern Conference Football Media Day Tuesday at the Marriott. The kind of buzz that’s generated after sending a league-record four teams to the FCS Playoffs last season.
A little more history was made on Tuesday when Wofford was announced as the preseason pick to finish atop the SoCon standings his season. It’s the first time in school history that the Terriers have been the preseason favorite, as Wofford was the No. 1 choice by both the league’s media members and coaches.
After starting last season 1-2 mark in SoCon play, the Terriers won their final five conference games and finished with an overall record of 10-4. Wofford was the last SoCon team standing as it advanced to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.
“We knew we were a good football team and we believed it,” Wofford senior quarterback Brandon Goodson said Tuesday. “Everybody had faith in what we were going to do. We trusted the coaches and the coaches trusted who was on that field.”
Entering his 31st season as head coach of the Terriers, Mike Ayers said the predicted finish was “nice,” but added that it wouldn’t mean much until the end of November.
“Then we can start slapping ourselves on the back or kicking ourselves in the pants - whichever way it goes,” Ayers said.
Coming off a 10-2 season in which it went 8-0 in SoCon play for the first time ever, The Citadel was picked to finish second in both preseason polls. The Bulldogs will be going for their third consecutive SoCon championship this season.
SoCon preseason Defensive Player of the Year Kailik Williams, a senior defensive back, will look to lead Citadel’s charge. Williams earned the 2016 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year award after posting 103 tackles, including 10 for loss, and two interceptions.
“He’s probably the best football player all-around that I’ve been around,” Citadel coach Brent Thompson said. “He’s got a knack for the ball.”
Samford was picked third by the coaches and media. The Bulldogs are led by junior quarterback Devlin Hodges, who was predicted to repeat as the SoCon Offensive Player of the Year after a phenomenal 2016 season. Hodges ranked second nationally in total offense with 359.2 yards per game, including 340.7 passing yards per game. He finished with 4,088 yards passing, 36 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. His league-best efficiency rating was 154.9.
Tuesday’s honor came a month after Hodges participated in the prestigious Manning Passing Academy, led by Peyton and Eli Manning.
“I got to go down there with some of the top quarterbacks in the country,” Hodges said. “It was a great experience for me and very humbling. … They said some things that I can apply this season that will help me become a better quarterback.”
Chattanooga and Mercer rounded out the top five in both polls. The coaches voted Western Carolina sixth and Furman seventh, while the media tabbed the Paladins sixth and Catamounts seventh. ETSU and VMI were picked eighth and ninth, respectively, in both polls.
After interviews with SoCon coaches and players, Media Day wrapped up with words from SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino. He lauded the progress that SoCon football programs have made since a significant transition in league membership a few years ago.
“I think some believed the SoCon would become a one-bid (playoff) league. I said ‘I don’t think that’s going to happen. We will figure out a way to resurrect ourselves.’ We’ve added some good programs,” Iamarino said. “So it was very gratifying to see four teams in the playoffs for the first time last year.
“We’ve got a lot of great players coming back and the expectations are high, but you want that. We’re excited about where we are in football.”