SPARTANBURG, S.C. – VMI quarterback Reece Udinski has been named the Southern Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and The Citadel linebacker Willie Eubanks III has been tabbed the Defensive Player of the Year in voting by the league’s nine head coaches, who chose Wofford as the favorite to win the SoCon in their annual preseason poll for the third time in the last four seasons. For the first time since 2005, the league’s media selected Furman to win the title.
The coaches also selected all-conference first and second teams and were not allowed to vote for their own student-athletes or teams in the voting process. Due to several ties in the voting, the first team includes two additional defensive linemen and the second team includes an extra offensive linemen.
The second-team All-SoCon quarterback last season, Udinski threw for a league-best 3,276 yards in 2019, pacing the SoCon in passing yards per game with 273.0 and total offense with 262.9 yards per game. The senior from North Wales, Pennsylvania, also threw for a SoCon-best 19 touchdowns, completing 306 of his 479 pass attempts with just five interceptions. Udinski set an FCS single-season record for consecutive passes without an interception, opening the season with 368 passes without one to surpass the previous FCS mark by 26 and smash the SoCon record by 165. He helped VMI to a 5-7 overall record and a 4-4 league mark, good for a tie for fourth in the league standings after being picked ninth in the preseason. The five total wins were VMI’s most since 2003, while the four league wins were the most since 1979 for the Keydets, who did not compete in the SoCon from 2002-13. Udinski enters his senior season ninth in league history with 658 completed passes, tied for sixth with nine games of at least 300 yards passing and tied for fourth with three games of 400 yards passing or more.
The reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, Eubanks was a finalist for the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award in 2019 and was just the second-ever SoCon Defensive Player of the Year for The Citadel. A consensus All-American as a junior last season, the Augusta, Georgia, native earned first-team honors from the AFCA, the Associated Press and Phil Steele and was a second-team pick by Stats Perform. Eubanks finished second in the league with 112 total tackles – the most in a season for a Citadel player 2000 – and an average of 9.3 per game and led the SoCon with 63 solo stops. In The Citadel’s four fall games this season, Eubanks, a preseason All-American, totaled 43 total tackles including 23 solo stops, both league bests. His 10.8 per game average ranked second in the SoCon, while his 1.25 tackles for loss per game were good for first and his 0.50 sacks per game ranked second.
Three-time defending champion Wofford is the coaches’ pick to win the league again in 2020-21. The Terriers dropped their first two contests last season but then won eight straight against FCS foes, winning the SoCon title and making their fourth straight appearance in the FCS playoffs. Josh Conklin was named the SoCon Coach of the Year by the league’s media in just his second season at the helm for that effort, directing Wofford to an overall record of 8-4 and a SoCon mark of 7-1. The Terriers finished the season ranked 17th nationally in the AFCA poll and 16th in the Stats Perform poll. Wofford earned five first-place votes and 60 points from the SoCon coaches in the preseason poll, edging Furman by four. The Terriers, who were second in the media poll with 228 points and 10 first-place votes, return just two starters on offense and must replace quarterback Joe Newman, the 2019 SoCon Player of the Year, and center Blake Jeresaty, the 2019 Jacobs Blocking Award winner.
Furman topped the media poll with 246 points and 16 first-place votes and finished second in the coaches’ balloting with 56 points and three first-place votes. The Paladins went 8-5 overall and 6-2 in league play last season, finishing second in the SoCon standings and making the FCS playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Furman, which returns seven starters on offense and six on defense, finished last season ranked 19th by the coaches and No. 21 by Stats Perform.
Chattanooga landed third in both preseason polls, picking up 53 points and the remaining first-place vote from the coaches and 192 points from the media. The Mocs went 6-6 overall and 5-3 in coach Rusty Wright’s first season at the helm, finishing third in the league standings. UTC played one game in the fall, dropping a 13-10 decision at FBS Western Kentucky on Oct. 24.
The Citadel, which went 6-6 overall and 4-4 to tie for fourth in the SoCon last season, finished fourth in both preseason polls, picking up three first-place votes from the media. The Bulldogs went 0-4 in the fall, dropping three games against FBS opponents.
Samford, which also went 4-4 in league play last year (5-7 overall) checks in at No. 5 in both preseason polls. VMI, which was also involved in the three-way tie for fourth, and Mercer, which went 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the SoCon last year, tied for sixth in the coaches’ poll with 26 points apiece, while Mercer was alone in sixth in the media poll, with VMI in seventh. The Bears, who are under the direction of first-year head coach Drew Cronic, went 0-3 in the fall.
ETSU (3-9, 1-7 SoCon) was picked eighth in both polls, while Western Carolina (3-9, 2-6) finished ninth in both. The Catamounts went 0-3 in the fall with losses to two FBS foes.
Chattanooga had a league-best 11 preseason all-conference selections, while Samford had nine and Furman eight. Chattanooga, Samford and ETSU each had five first-team picks, while the Mocs and Paladins shared league-best honors with six second-team selections.
The Citadel, ETSU and VMI had six total selections each, while Wofford had five and VMI had two.
Eight of the nine SoCon squads had at least one first-team selection.
The SoCon’s spring season gets underway with four league games on Saturday, Feb. 20, with The Citadel idle until the following week.
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Wofford (5) 60
2. Furman (3) 56
3. Chattanooga (1) 53
4. The Citadel 39
5. Samford 34
t6. VMI 26
t6. Mercer 26
8. ETSU 20
9. Western Carolina 10
2020-21 Preseason All-Southern Conference Football Teams
Offensive Player of the Year: Reece Udinski, QB, Sr., VMI
Defensive Player of the Year: Willie Eubanks III, LB, Sr., The Citadel
First team offense
QB Reece Udinski, Sr., VMI
RB Quay Holmes, R-Jr., ETSU
RB Devin Wynn, Sr., Furman
OL Haden Haas, R-Jr., The Citadel
OL Tre’mond Shorts, R-Jr., ETSU
OL Mike Williams, Sr., Samford
OL Cole Strange, R-Sr., Chattanooga
OL Nick Hartnett, R-Sr., VMI
TE Nate Adkins, Jr., ETSU
WR Montrell Washington, Sr., Samford
WR Bryce Nunnelly, Sr., Chattanooga
First team defense
DL Blake Bockrath, R-Sr., ETSU
DL Armond Lloyd, Sr., Samford
DL Devonnsha Maxwell, R-Jr., Chattanooga
DL Jordan Ward, Sr., VMI
DL Jayden Pauling, Jr., Western Carolina
DL Michael Mason, So., Wofford
LB Willie Eubanks III, Sr., The Citadel
LB Adrian Hope, R-Jr., Furman
LB Ty Boeck, Jr., Chattanooga
DB Chris Beverly, Jr., The Citadel
DB Tyree Robinson, Jr., ETSU
DB Brandon Dowdell, Sr., Chattanooga
DB A.J. Smith, Sr., VMI
First team specialists
PK Mitchell Fineran, Jr., Samford
P Matthew Campbell, Jr., The Citadel
RS Montrell Washington, Sr., Samford
Second team offense
QB Hamp Sisson, R-So., Furman
RB Jay Stanton, So., Samford
RB Ailym Ford, So., Chattanooga
OL Jordan Harris, R-Sr., Furman
OL Evan Jumper, So., Furman
OL McClendon Curtis, R-Jr., Chattanooga
OL Harrison Moon, Sr., Chattanooga
OL Chad Gardner, Jr., Wofford
OL Zak Kurz, Jr., Wofford
TE Chris James, Sr., Chattanooga
WR Raleigh Webb, R-Sr., The Citadel
WR Jakob Herres, Jr., VMI
Second team defense
DL Dalton Owens, R-Jr., The Citadel
DL Cameron Coleman, R-So., Furman
DL Jay Person, R-So., Chattanooga
DL Tanner Barnes, So., Wofford
LB Braden Gilby, R-So., Furman
LB Nathan East, Jr., Samford
LB Ty Harris, Sr., Western Carolina
DB Travis Blackshear, R-So., Furman
DB Ty Herring, Sr., Samford
DB Jordan Jones, R-Sr., Chattanooga
DB Darron Paschal, Sr., Wofford
Second team specialists
PK Tyler Keltner, So., ETSU
P Bradley Porcellato, Jr., Samford
RS Korey Bridy, Jr., VMI
NOTE: Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players
2020-21 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Furman (16) 246
2. Wofford (10) 228
3. Chattanooga 192
4. The Citadel (3) 164
5. Samford 142
6. Mercer 118
7. VMI 91
8. ETSU 75
9. Western Carolina 49