ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Southern Conference Media Day was a solid 8-hour day. An hour of it was in Asheville traffic. I got 23 miles per gallon uphill and 26 downhill home. For some reason, I’ve been paying attention to gas mileage lately.
Asheville’s a lovely city, at least theoretically. The last time I was there I watched basketball games around the clock. The Omni Grove Park Inn had a magnificent view of a golf course below and mountains rising in this distance. The media gathering of the nations occurred on the 8th floor, where each of the SoCon’s 9 football members set up backdrops, preferably so that all the scribes could identify to whom they were speaking. Head coaches obligingly dressed in school colors.
Clay Hendrix and I go way back. He was playing when I was publicizing. Most of the familiar faces were from way back, before the 20 years when I watched race cars. Geoff Cabe, the SoCon associate commissioner, was there in the 1980s. Richard Johnson, the Wofford athletics director, was an assistant under Les Robinson at The Citadel. I once saw Terrell Owens, the guest speaker, play for Chattanooga, but it was in a basketball, not a football, game, at Memorial Auditorium.
I made friends but did not influence people. I’m on the verge of becoming a quaint relic.
Everyone came to learn about all the football teams, and what we learned is that every single one is great. Everyone is always great in late July.
One way to define a great conference is to produce national champions in the Football Championship Subdivision, and as the year progresses, using anything other than FCS becomes rare. A Furman history professor taught me to use “fufn.” First Usage Full Name. Another way is top-to-bottom competitiveness. It’s hard to get through the SoCon unscathed.
The Paladins were 6-5 last year. They lost some close ones. They closed well. The media and coaches alike picked them 4th. Chattanooga was 1st. East Tennessee State, now coached by familiar Furmanite George Quarles, won it last year. VMI won it the season before (that season was in the spring of 2021 on account of COVID, Year 1).
Someone is going to step up the way Furman did in the time of three trips to the national championship game and a victory in 1988. At various times, the SoCon has witnessed the rise of other powers such as Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Marshall. They’re not around now. They took their delusions of grandeur to Division I Original Recipe, where now they slug it out through the regular season seeking a berth in the Arby’s We Have The Meat Bowl.
In a college football world of near-anarchy, the SoCon is a stable, competitive coat from the cold.
I love the SoCon because no one is intent on joining the B1G or the Securities and Exchange Commission (oh, wait, it’s the Southeastern Conference, or is that the NASDAQ?).
I, meanwhile, am as bullish about Furman’s prospects as Merrill Lynch. It’s an honest view. It’s also a jaded view. I see the Paladins embarking on a crusade to either the Holy Land, Paydirt, the Promised Land or the Lost Horizon. There’s something magical out there.
I got a feelin’ / Something that I can’t explain / Like dancin’ naked / In that high Hill Country rain. – Jerry Jeff Walker
Over the next month, Hendrix and staff are to polish the swords and temper the steel. Then they answer the question posed in behalf of Richard Boone.
Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?