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Chattanooga Leads Way In SoCon Power Rankings

The out of conference slate is nearly complete. What better time to take stock on where all the SoCon teams stand at this point.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With out of conference play almost complete, the Southern Conference has been fairly impressive this season.

Four different schools have come up with a total of five wins over football's Power Five conference teams. ETSU beat Georgia Tech, Samford beat Nebraska, Mercer beat Arkansas and Chattanooga beat Illinois and Georgia. This does not include the Mocs win over highly regarded Dayton from the Atlantic 10.

The SoCon currently has a conference RPI of 16, which is a huge leap from where they were just two years ago, when they were 29th. The conference is as strong as it has been in years. The conference race ought to be as entertaining as any race in recent seasons, with enough good teams to keep everyone on their toes all season long.

This is the perfect time to take an assessment on where we are so far this year. These power rankings are not predictions for the future (I think Wofford will wind up higher than this) but a current ranking based on what has happened so far.

  1. Chattanooga- The Mocs are 10-2 with three high quality wins (Illinois, Georgia and Dayton). No other SoCon team can boast that kind of resume. Their RPI currently hovers in the mid to upper twenties, so they are actually in position to contend for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if they were to need it. They even beat Dayton without Casey Jones, the preseason SoCon Player of the Year. If he comes back productive, this Mocs team really could be even better.

  2. Mercer- The Bears have not been tested like the Mocs out of conference. They are 9-3, with their lone losses to Davidson, Auburn and Ohio State. Their best win is at Arkansas. This team is one of the top defensive and rebounding teams in the country, and with their efficient offense, should be very tough to beat. Phillip Leonard may be the Bears most important player. We'll know where Mercer stands right off the bat in conference play. They open at home against Samford and then at Chattanooga

  3. Samford- Bulldogs fans are trying to keep expectations down, but when you go on the road and beat Nebraska, it makes it difficult to keep the enthusiasm down. They have lost to Louisville and Texas, and in close ones to Austin Peay and South Alabama. Darius Jones-Gibson and Christen Cunnigham continue to impress and look really good. The Bulldogs pressure defense will cause trouble for other teams in the league. That trip to Mercer on the first Saturday of conference play will be a battle.

  4. ETSU- The Bucs have been a bit of a mystery so far this season. They are just 5-6 in Steve Forbes first season. But if you have watched them play, you know that for long stretches of games, they can look really good. Against Green Bay in the 6 AM game for the Tip Off Marathon, the Bucs rolled to a 103-90 win, and looked really good doing so. Blowout losses to UNC-Asheville and UNC-Wilmington raised some questions though. It's hard to know where this team fits in the conference race, but no team lower than them has done more.

  5. Western Carolina- This is where things get really tricky. How do you separate the teams from here down?  I am giving a lot of credit to Western Carolina for their strength of schedule. It is currently ranked #1 according to the RPI. That is really solid. This Catamounts team is unbeaten at home, but winless away from home, which is how you wind up 4-8. But the losses include single digit losses to High Point, College of Charleston, Morehead State and Pittsburgh. Also, they lost by just twelve at Illinois. This is a small team that will have to have good shooting nights to win.

  6. Wofford- Call this a place holder. Very similar to Western Carolina, it is difficult to differentiate the teams from this spot down. I give Western Carolina credit for their #1 ranked schedule, and I give the Terriers a lot of credit for their schedule as well. Losing at Missouri, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Vanderbilt is nothing to complain about. Also, the Terriers lost at home to Coastal Carolina. With so many of last year's key pieces gone, this out of conference schedule was always about figuring things out. They have mostly figured out that Eric Garcia is their most important player (if there was any question about that before the season). The Terriers are not to be taken lightly. They've won too much in recent seasons.

  7. Furman- The Paladins 2-0 start has long been forgotten in Greenville. The offseason was full of optimism after the run to the SoCon Tournament Championship Game a year ago, but there was always the risk that that had been one hot weekend. Was it? Hard to say. This team beat Liberty by 23, but then lost at home to Gardner-Webb by 20. They also lost to Charlotte and Navy. Stephen Croone has been battling back from a preseason injury, and if he gets healthy this team may be very good yet, but they haven't shown that yet. They are not an easy out by any means, but the preseason hope of winning the regular season title and winning 20+ games seems like a distant memory.

  8. The Citadel- Duggar Baucom went from VMI to The Citadel as head coach during the offseason and took the fast paced offense with him. The Bulldogs offense has certainly been improved. Their projected out of conference SOS is 344th out of 351 teams according to RPI Forecast. That's not good. But they are 7-5. The last three seasons, this team had won 11, 7 and 8 games. So regardless of how easy the schedule is, they are clearly better than recent seasons. With Chattanooga, Samford, Mercer and Wofford as their first four SoCon games, we will know quickly if this team should jump up a tier or not.

  9. UNCG- The Spartans lost some close games along the way to Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Navy, IPFW, North Carolina A&T and Elon. So this team may not be quite as far away as they appear to be when you see their 1-8 record against D1 teams. The Spartans look a little lost and the fan grumbling about coach Wes Miller only seems to be getting louder. Still, this club has some talented players like Kayel Locke and RJ White. They are too talented to be this low and may win some games in SoCon play. The Spartans could really use some early confidence in conference play. Playing at Wofford and Furman at home gives them a chance to build some. No team in the conference may be playing two more important early conference games. Two blowouts and this team could just collapse completely.

  10. VMI- It has been hard to find many early seasons positives for the least until they beat Gardner-Webb this week. That win was the second D1 win of the season for VMI. With QJ Peterson back after missing the second half of last season, VMI has to feel better about where they are. Still, the precious few bright spots in the out of conference have left a mark on this team. They have not only won just two D1 games, but they also have just kept two of their losses within single digits- a one point loss to Campbell and a six point loss to Navy.