For the first time in several years, the USA South could have a horse race to the championship. Traditionally, one sees Christopher Newport and North Carolina Wesleyan as the front runners. This year started out the same. The coaches poll from the USA South Media Day had CNU finishing first, and NCW second. The rest of the poll shaped up like this:
Well after four weeks of play, and as all teams have finished their non conference schedule, 5 of the 8 teams are 1-2, and the other three are 0-3
Averett, Christopher Newport, Ferrum, Methodist, and Shenandoah each have one win, while Greensboro, Maryville, and North Carolina Wesleyan are winless. To this point, much of this has to do with the strength of the schedule, but regardless, it seems like this conference race has more than two horses in it.
First place pick Christopher Newport has, to me, struggled to get their wheels under them. After an opening 12-7 win against Waynesburg, the Captains lost to first year program Stevenson, and then lost to #24 Salisbury, in a game that they led by 10 in the fourth quarter. The Captains open conference play on the road against Methodist.
North Carolina Wesleyan, who is 0-3, has played a fairly difficult schedule, Opening against Ohio Northern, playing a tough Hampden Sydney team, and closing out their non conference schedule against LaGrange College (who will be a member of the USA South next season). Those first two games were against top 30 opponents.The Bishops will open conference play in Danville Va., against Averett.
Ferrum (1-2) started out with a loss against a stronger than expected Emory and Henry team, and followed that with a decent showing but a loss against # 23 Hampden-Sydney. This past week the Panthers secured Coach David Harper's first win by beating the Eagles of Bridgewater 37-6. Ferrum will open conference play on the road against Maryville.
Shenandoah is, to me, one of the teams to watch out for in the USA South. With this as their last year in the conference, they are looking to make a statement, and I think things are setting up to where they will have a big influence on the conference championship. The Hornets opened play against Stevenson and won 49-21. ( Stevenson is the same team that beat CNU the next week) After this win, Shenandoah fell to Bridgewater 28-23, and then they lost to Randolph Macon, 36-29.
After three weeks Shenandoah led 8 of 17 categories in conference team statistical rankings. Among those are Total Offense, and Total Defense. Shenandoah opens conference play at home against Greensboro.
Averett ended their non conference schedule with a win over Guilford. That followed losses to Hampden-Sydney, and Randolph Macon. The Cougars are a difficult team to read. They may be better than they have shown thus far, but their statistical rankings have them in the middle of the pack.
Maryville has yet to find the "W" column to this point in the season, but have played some really good competition. The Scots opened against Huntingdon, losing 35-7. Then on a 5 day turnaround, they played FCS opponent Tennessee Tech, losing 56-7. They followed that up with 13-10 loss to LaGrange, to close their non conference schedule. LaGrange beat NCW 24-17, and Huntingdon defeated Hampden-Sydney.) Something tells me that this team may be flying under the radar just a bit, and is probably capable of several conference wins.
Methodist is another team that, to this point has had some impressive games. At 1-2, they opened with a 43-7 loss to Randolph Macon, and then defeated Guilford 40-22. They closed their non conference schedule against Emory and Henry, losing 34-24. (The same E&H team that beat Ferrum 41-12.) They have made some adjustments since week one as evidenced by the points they are now scoring. Look for this team to surprise some people. Possibly starting this weekend..
Greensboro has struggled in most all phases of their game. After an 0-3 start, Greensboro needs a confidence booster to get them ready for conference play. That may have come in the form of an open week, as they did not play last week. The road does not get any easier as they open conference play on the road at Shenandoah. I look for this to be a tough season for the Pride.
So after this is all said and done, I think you will see some upsets this year. Although I will stick with my predictions, it is still anyone's race to win.