In any competitive activity, one way to improve is to play better opponents. The better the competition, the better you as a team, or individual, depending on the sport, become. Ferrum has a schedule this year that I believe to be one of their toughest in recent years.
While it is true that Ferrum is only playing one team that they did not play last year...Hampden- Sydney, Overall they are facing some very improved teams.
Ferrum starts things off at Emory and Henry. While I expect the Wasps to again be a capable team, I think the loss of their running back Caleb Jennings to graduation will leave them far less effective offensively. They do return last years starting QB, but lose a lot of talent on their offensive line, along with three players listed as Defensive linemen.. This may prove to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Wasps.
Ferrum will travel to Hampden-Sydney for the first time meeting between the two schools. In the past two seasons, Hampden-Sydney has reached the NCAA playoffs both years, and has only lost one regular season game. They are 1-2 in the playoffs over this same time period.
Look for the Tigers to be led by Pre-Season All America quarterback (Honorable Mention by Consensus Draft Services) Travis Lane. Last year, Lane was 272 of 420 passing with 16 interceptions for 3338 yards and 28 touchdowns. Lane also had three rushing touchdowns.
Joining Lane with All America accolades is David Prizzia (K) who was named to the first team of the D3football.com preseason team.
HSC will be very strong, and should crack the top 25 at some point in the season.
Ferrum will have to bring their A+ game for this one.
Bridgewater is another team that will give Ferrum all they want. The Eagles are not ranked in the preseason polls, but too are also capable of cracking the top 25 during the season. Bridgewater however lost 21 Seniors from the 2010 squad to graduation. This included QB Hagan Driskell. Both the offensive and defensive lines have most of their personnel returning, and according to Bridgewater Coach Michael Clark, they will have one of the best fullbacks in the country. Look for the Eagles to be plenty potent, and a contender for the ODAC title.
Within the conference Ferrum will have plenty of competition in the fight for the NCAA AQ bid. As usual, Christopher Newport will be looking to return to the playoffs, and while they have suffered losses on both sides of the line of scrimmage, they will again be regarded as on of those teams that could be playing in week 12. Look for the Captains to dominate the early part of their schedule, but will have trouble with Salisbury.
They will be regarded as one of the main teams to beat in the USA South.
North Carolina Wesleyan will have a lot of holes to fill left by graduation, but the Bishops are known for their depth. I would expect this team to again be in contention, but they open the season against Ohio Northern. The Polar Bears lost one regular season game last season.... to Mount Union. They won their first round playoff game, and lost in the second round to end the season 10-2. I would imagine this will be a David vs. Goliath type contest. Week two has Hampden Sydney College on their slate. Again this will be a tough game for NCW. Look for the Bishops to have the kinks worked out when conference play begins.
Shenandoah is going to be another team that will be in the mix for the championship. With very few lost to graduation, look for SU to be the sleeper of the conference. They can and may pull an upset or two. I expect the Hornets to cause problems for all of their opponents, and to be in the fight for the championship.
While these teams will provide plenty of competition, no team in this conference is a pushover. Ferrum must guard against the upset. They cannot take anyone on their schedule too lightly.