The Freedom from Religion Foundation has asked the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to refrain from having what it called "unlawful university sponsorship of Christian prayer," prior to football games.
University associate vice chancellor Chuck Cantrell said last week, "the university is looking at the request."
Mocs football coach Russ Huesman isn’t getting involved in that imbroglio, but if his team can avoid the bad breaks it endured last season it may have some Southern Conference teams thinking of taking up praying.
Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford are the big dogs in the SoCon with Eagles picked defend the championship they won last year.
However, but for an incredible run of close losses the Mocs could have been in the championship mix last year, and they will be a factor in this year’s race.
"If they had gotten into the playoffs last year they were good enough to have won it all," Wofford Coach Mike Ayers said. "They were a very good football team. It’s unbelievable the way things went for them."
To recap the Mocs were 5-6, 3-5 in the SoCon, and the losses came by a total of 12 points. The worst was 14-7 to Furman. Appalachian beat them by two while Georgia Southern, Wofford and The Citadel managed one point victories, all by the score of 28-27..
The loss to the Bulldogs was especially gut-wrenching as Chattanooga led 27-0 in the third quarter. The Mocs lost to the Eagles, 28-27 when Huesman elected to go for two points when his team scored with 1:44 to play and came up short.
Wofford rallied from a 27-14 fourth quarter deficit to get win that propelled it into the playoffs.
Huesman, entering his fourth season, isn’t making any predictions, but he believes his team has a shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 1984 when it made its only playoff appearance after winning the conference.
The Mocs return eight starters on offense headed by sophomore quarterback Terrell Robinson who was the SoCon Freshman of the Year. He played in eight games, starting three, and finished with 417 yards rushing and 336 passing
Leading the running game will be senior Chris Awuah, and the offensive line has five players who started eight or more games last year.
Defensively Huesman said, "I’m concerned about that…we’re probably one or two players short on defense. We’ve got to keep getting people better, and get them playing and making plays."
Appalachian State started showing a few chinks in the armor last year, going 8-4, 6-2 in the league. That ended a run of six straight SoCon championships equaling Georgia Southern’s record. This year marked the first time since 2005 App State was not the preseason pick to win the league.
The Mountaineers earned a playoff bid, but took a nose dive, losing to Maine, 34-12.
Coach Jerry Moore is in his 24th season at Appalachian and he has five starters returning on offense, and nine on defense. The Mountaineers also have seven new assistant coaches.
Heading the offensive returnees is junior quarterback Jamal Jackson who threw for 2,001 yards and 15 touchdowns. Wide receiver Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington are back.
The Mountaineers will be big up front. The 10 linemen who make up the two deep average 6-foot-3 inches, and 295 pounds.
Linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier, defensive backs Demetrius McCray and Troy Sanders anchor the defense which returns nine starters.
Offensively the Mountaineers’ projected starters include one senior, two redshirt freshmen, three sophomores and five juniors.
Wofford has the top offensive player in the SoCon in fullback Eric Breitenstein who ran for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns as the Terriers led the nation in rushing with 365 yards per game.
Junior quarterback Brian Kass replaces Mitch Allen, but he has Breitenstein, a veteran offensive line and the confidence of his coach so there will be little dropoff offensively.
"Brian has been in the system," Ayers said. "He’s at a point now where he understands the scheme. Is he Mitch? No. At least not yet. But, Brian has his own strengths, and we plan to major in what he does well."
The Terriers lost three starting defensive linemen, but linebackers Mike Niam and Alvin Scioneaux and cornerback Blake Wylie head up a group of solid performers.
Furman hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006, but second-year head coach Bruce Fowler has the Paladins (6-5 5-3) going in the right direction.
"I like our front seven (defense), and (quarterback) Dakota Derrick has handled our offense well in preseason," Fowler said. "We need depth. Our first unit offensive line, while not close to perfect, at times looks like they are making some progress."
The Paladins’ defense, with eight starters back, will have to carry the load in the early going. The offense has six returning starters headed by senior running back Jerodis Williams who ran for 1,055 yards.
Tight end Colin Anderson had 40 catches for 696 yards, the most yardage of any tight end in FCS.
The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins is starting his eighth season with the Bulldogs, and he has never been more optimistic about his team’s chances.
The Dogs (4-7, 2-6) are in their third season in the triple option offense, and Higgins said the pieces are starting to come together. He has a veteran quarterback in Ben Dupree, and an emerging running back in Dalton Trevino to pair with Darien Robinson.
Trevino played only four games last year due to injury while Robinson ran for 862 yards.
The Dogs lost four conference games by 20 points, but in the season finale led South Carolina early before losing, 41-20.
"We got a lot of confidence in that game," Higgins said. "We knew when we came off the field we were moving the ball. It felt good. Everyone is very optimistic."
The Bulldogs return nine starters on offense, and six on defense for what Higgins believes can be a turnaround year for his program.
Samford is 13-19 in four years in the SoCon, but Coach Pat Sullivan’s teams have played most opponents close, and seldom beat themselves.
This year figures to be no exception as the Bulldogs try to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1999-2000. Samford has eight starters back on offense headed by quarterback Andy Sumerlin, running back Stanley Robinson, and wide receiver Kelsey Pope.
Defense, however, will be a problem with six starters returning from a unit which gave up 365 yards per game. Kicker Cameron Yaw is one of the best in FCS.
Elon had a rough year under first year coach Jayson Swepson who replaced the highly successful Pete Lembo.
The Phoenix (5-6, 3-5) will be playing with a chip on their shoulder as they considered it a sign of disrespect that they were picked to finish eighth in the conference.
All America wide receiver Aaron Mellett, and quarterback Thomas Wilson are outstanding players, but a weak offensive line, and a defense which gave up 32.6 points per game could make the Phoenix a popular homecoming opponent.
Western Carolina has finished last in the league five of the last six years, and this year doesn’t figure to be any different.
The Catamounts (1-10, 0-8) have a new coach in Mark Speir who had been an assistant at Appalachian State for nine seasons.
Speir put his team through what he called, "a brutal preseason by design," as part of a plan to change the culture and mindset.
Linebacker Rock Wilson, a second-team pick, was the only Cat on the preseason all-conference team, and Western returns only one player who was in the top 10 in individual statistics. Wide receiver Jacoby Mitchell had 26 catches for 388 yards.