Once again, I have poured over numbers, rosters, schedules, and tried to incorporate any recruiting information I could find, in an effort to put together my predictions for this season. What I have learned is that there is very little separating the #1 team from the #9 team. I think there will be upsets, and I think that likely the championship will be decided in the last week of the season. It will be exciting.
So here we go. Here are my 2014 predictions for the USA South.
9. Averett- For the Cougars, it's a new day, with a new head coach, and hopefully a new direction. With only one win last season, Averett replaced their head coach with former Ferrum player, and defensive coordinator Clieve Adams. I do think Averett will grow as a team, and will likely improve in the near future, but I see this season holding similar results as last year.
8. Greensboro- The Pride should show a noticeable improvement this year, but the one thing that may make their season an uphill climb, is that all of the teams are expected to be better. With only eight gone from last year's roster, their depth and experience will be a definite plus. Look for the Pride to be close on many games, and could pull an upset.
7. North Carolina Wesleyan- While the Bishops had an apparently weak 2-8 record in 2013, They were in many of the games that they played. Their offense was quite capable both on the ground, and in the air, but too many times their defense struggled. This is a young team, stronger than you may think, and with a lot of potential. Look at this team to pull off an upset or two.
6. Ferrum- In what appears to be a rebuilding year for the Panthers, I would say that this year will be an "iffy" one for Ferrum. With many changes on the sideline, and what seems to be a fruitful recruiting campaign, I have not given up hope that this could be a promising season. If the offensive line can dominate their role in the offensive scheme, and if the defense can show a pronounced improvement and consistency, and if the special teams is solid in all areas, then Ferrum will be in the mix. Time will tell, and they will have to pull more than one upset, but this team has some strong players, and may just be a dark horse.
5. LaGrange- With a strong core of returning players, LaGrange will try to build on a season that showed a lot of promise, but finished short of where they wanted to be. 5-3 in the conference, and 5-5 overall, look for this team to be a strong contender for the conference championship. The month of October will tell the tale for the Panthers. If they can play solid in October, they may be in the mix to make the playoffs. It is important to note that this team lost fewer players to graduation (7) than any other team in the conference.
4. Huntingdon- This team, like LaGrange, will try to bounce back from what ended up being a disappointing season. The Hawks suffered an unexpected loss at the hands of LaGrange, and also fell to Methodist before ending the season with a win over Maryville. Look for them to again field a strong team, especially on offense as they ended the season with the #1 ranked offense in the country. They will have to start fast as their first two conference games are at Methodist, and at Maryville.
3. CNU- The Captains will begin their final year in the USA South, and will look to rebound from their non championship season of last year. This was indeed a rare occurrence, and I am sure the Captains will look to go out on top. The possibility of their hopes coming to fruition may be told in their first 5 games as they face a gauntlet of talented teams which include Salisbury, at Hampden-Sydney, at North Carolina Wesleyan, Methodist, and Ferrum. Look for them to right in the mix, and could close out on top.
2. Methodist- The Monarchs will look to pick up right where they left off, and could be a dominate team in the conference this year. With their star quarterback returning, look for their offense to be solid.(Their offense ended the season ranked #2 nationally) They will have challenges, among them is that their defense will have to step up in a big way. The defense was ranked 235th nationally of 242 teams. Without improvement on the defensive side of the ball, they could struggle. I do believe their D will improve to keep them in the hunt.
1. Maryville-The Scots are looking to make a return trip to the playoffs, but the numbers lost to graduation may make this difficult. I am certain that the depth of this team will fill the holes nicely, but may leave this team somewhat younger and inexperienced. Look for the Scots to be in the mix throughout the season, and expect a shootout for the title in the last week against Methodist.
In all honesty, the separation of talent between all of the teams is razor thin. I expect the margin of victory to closer than ever for almost all results, and I expect more overtime games this year than probably ever before, and lastly, I expect that the team with a strong special teams program, will be in the mix at the end.
Any of these teams could win, but the top five teams listed will likely have the best shot. It should be a really fun season to be a fan.