Location: Birmingham, Ala.
Colors: Red and Blue
Stadium (Cap.): Seibert Stadium (6,700)
Last Season: 7-4 (5-2)
Head Coach: Chris Hatcher (1st year)
The SoCon: Chattanooga won the conference a year ago and went into the playoffs as the #8 seed and a first-round bye. They won their opening game before losing to New Hampshire 35-30. Samford finished second in the conference, but the SoCon was a one playoff team league. You’ll remember that the SLC got three teams in. The SoCon included App State and Georgia Southern before they left for the Sun Belt. (And way back in the day, the SoCon was made up of most of the SEC schools.)
2014 Season: Samford lost to FBS TCU and Auburn to start and end the season. Between those games, they beat up on D2 Stillman and some school named Condordia. Their two conference losses were to Chattanooga (24-38 on the road) and Wofford (24-20 at home). If you take out the four non-FCS games, they averaged 32 points offensively and gave up just 23. Some of that is deceiving because they beat a pretty bad Furman 45-0 and an even worse VMI 63-21.
2015 Season: The obviously have a new head coach after Pat Sullivan stepped down after his eighth season. Samford is picked 3rd in the SoCon preseason media poll – but with UCA projected 5th and 6th, we all know what those polls mean. They return 14 starters – 7 each on offense and defense. And while Hatcher is new. A lot of his former staff stayed at Murray State. That also means a lot of the staff under Sullivan got to stay around in Birmingham, namely defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio. (But also the offensive coordinator, linebackers coach/director of recruiting, secondary coach, tight ends/slot receivers coach, and special teams coordinator/director of player personnel.)
The Offense: The Bulldogs ran is almost 60% of the time a year ago. But with Hatcher, you have to expect a bit more passing. They have their leaders back a quarterback (Michael Eubank, transfer from Arizona State; played under Mike Norvell while there), running back (Denzell Williams) and receiver (Karel Hamilton). Eubank is a huge 6-5/250. I kept up with him closely at ASU. He was expected to come in and possibly take the job early but never could do it and was used primarily as a short-yardage runner. Last season Eubank threw for 12 touchdowns but also eight interceptions. He was their second-leading rusher in attempts and yards, but only averaged 2.4 yards per carry. It’s Williams (5-10/215) you have worry about as a runner. He was first team All-SoCon a year ago, rushing for 918 yards and 19 touchdowns. Hamilton had more receptions than their next two receivers combined, and he averaged 15.9 per. Behind Hamilton is a lot of youth, led by true freshman Kelvin McKnight (5-8, 185) who is listed as a starter. On the offensive line, they return two starters at the tackle positions, but the middle three are new names with some backups returning as, well, backups.
The Defense: Led by DT Michael Pierce (6-0/309), the defense is what Samford fans are proud of. Six of their starters look to be redshirt seniors! So D’Ottavio’s defense is loaded with experience. Pierce, a Tulane transfer, was named the preseason SoCon Defense Player of the Year. He have five tackles for loss and a sack a year ago. Senior MLB Justin Cooper also returns after leading the team with 94 tackles. Jamerson Blount, junior safety, returns as one of the leaders in the secondary along with fellow safety Josh Kimberlin. Kimberlin, a senior, led the Bulldogs in interceptions.
Special Teams: Quoting from the SamfordBulldogs.com message board now –
LS Alec Hulmes is about the only specialist who is returning to a starting position. K, P, KOS, and PR are all going to be new starters. Special Teams as a whole last year were not our strong suit and must improve in order for us to win a conference championship.
Because it’s week one, I guess it’s hard to be surprised by the game notes this week.
Especially with the offense. The depth chart is loaded with guys we’ve seen, most of them for several years. You have to feel really good about that side of the ball (next year too!).
On paper, our front 3+ on defense looks really odd.
Woodard (280) backed up by Best (225)
Partee (278) -> Hadnot (292)
Tolliver (294) -> Floyd (248)
Simmons (225) -> ESmith (271)
But all of those names are familiar.
Lots of new faces on defense.
Raphael Garner (early HS enrollee) is the only true freshman on the 2 deep.
Garrett Sharp (juco)
In the Secondary:
Devin Spurlock (juco) is the starter at one safety.
Brandon Porter is listed as the backup at both safety positions. He’s a transfer from San Diego St.
Tyler Williams (juco) is behind Winfrey at one corner spot.
Coaches knew the priority in the offseason was to improve the defense. We’ll see if all the new guys leads to getting off the field on 3rd down.
I’m pretty excited about the season. I really can’t wait until Thursday so we get a better idea of what to expect this season. But my expectations right now are high.