SoCon announces superlatives ahead of spring season

Southern Conference

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.

2020-21 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll

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

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