SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The Southern Conference’s media selected Samford as the preseason favorite for the 2018 football season. The Bulldogs, who were the preseason pick for the first time, were the runaway favorites, earning 20 of a possible 23 first-place votes.
Samford, which tied for second in the SoCon last year and reached the FCS playoffs quarterfinals, went 8-4 overall and 6-2 in league play in 2017. The Bulldogs were ranked inside the top 25 the entire season and spent a week inside the top 10 before finishing the campaign at No. 17. Samford returns a trio of All-Americans in quarterback Devlin Hodges and defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden, the reigning SoCon Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, and wide receiver Kelvin McKnight. The Bulldogs are the media’s pick to win the league for the first time after being predicted to finish third in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Samford was also the coaches’ pick to win in 2018.
Furman checked in at No. 2 in the preseason media poll, collecting 174 points and two first-place votes. The Paladins were 8-5 overall and went 6-2 in SoCon play to finish tied with Samford for second in the league standings. Led by 2017 SoCon Coach of the Year Clay Hendrix, the Paladins were ranked in the final five editions of the STATS FCS Top 25 and in the final three FCS Coaches Polls. Furman far outperformed its preseason selections of seventh by the coaches and sixth by the media in 2017, collecting a pair of wins over ranked opponents, including topping No. 17 Elon in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Defending SoCon champion Wofford is slotted third with 163 points and the remaining first-place vote. The Terriers went 10-3 overall and 7-1 in coach Mike Ayers’ final season at the helm, advancing to the FCS quarterfinals for the second straight season before falling to eventual national champion North Dakota State. Following his retirement at the end of the season, Ayers was inducted into the SoCon Hall of Fame. The Terriers will now take the field under first-year head coach Josh Conklin, who served as an assistant for the Terriers from 2007-09 and spent the last three seasons as the defensive coordinator at FBS Pittsburgh.
Mercer is fourth in the poll with 133 points, matching its highest selection since also appearing fourth in the preseason media poll in 2016. The Bears have posted consecutive 4-4 league finishes after going a combined 3-11 in league play in their first two seasons in the SoCon.
Western Carolina, which wrapped up last season receiving votes in both the coaches’ and STATS polls after appearing in the top 25 of both during the season, is predicted to finish fifth by the media. The Catamounts, who went 7-5 overall and 5-3 in league play last season, picked up 114 points in the poll. They must replace running back Detrez Newsome, who finished his career in 2017 by leading the FCS in all-purpose yards for the second straight season.
Chattanooga is sixth in the preseason poll with 88 points, finishing just ahead of The Citadel, which is slotted seventh with 83.
ETSU, which posted its second straight 2-6 league record since rebooting its football program, is eighth with 53 points. VMI rounded out the poll with 23 points.
Chattanooga and Samford get the season underway on Thursday, Aug. 30, with the Mocs hosting Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. Eastern and the Bulldogs welcoming Shorter at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
2018 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Samford (20) 204
2. Furman (2) 174
3. Wofford (1) 163
4. Mercer 133
5. Western Carolina 114
6. Chattanooga 88
7. The Citadel 83
8. ETSU 53
9. VMI 23