Mercer’s first football team since 1941 had an incredibly successful season with 10 wins and battling for a conference championship.
That was the Bears’ first and only season in the Pioneer Football League, which is a non-scholarship FCS conference, so they were on more even terms with the PFL’s other teams.
That changes now.
Mercer is transitioning to the Southern Conference, which boasts scholarship players and a history of strong football programs, including Furman, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. App State and Georgia Southern also are moving up, going to the FBS’ Sun Belt Conference.
“We were outsized last year in several games, but the low man wins in football,” Mercer coach Bobby Lamb said. “The speed of the game will be the biggest difference in the Southern Conference. Those teams have speed players at every position. Linebacker. The interior line. It’s more than just the skill positions. The players are faster and the games move at a faster tempo.”
Lamb knows all about the SoCon.
He led Furman to a 67-40 record in nine seasons as coach and took the Paladins to four FCS playoffs. They reached the quarterfinals in 2004 and the semis in ‘05.
Lamb and his staff recruited specifically last year to make that jump, signing players in February who are stronger, faster and potentially better than the players who started on last year’s team. He said many of those players who made significant contributions in 2013 might not play again for Mercer because they don’t have the skills or ability to play on a higher level like the Southern Conference.
Scholarship money was up for grabs during spring practice, which ended Saturday. Players from last year competed with one another for funds from what Lamb called a “scholarship kitty.”
“We’ll have a different dynamic this fall when the guys who were here on their own accord mesh together with the guys recruited for scholarships,” he said.
Mercer’s 2014 football schedule:
Reinhardt, Aug. 28
Furman, Sept. 6
at Stetson, Sept. 13
Ave Maria, Sept. 20
at VMI, Sept. 27
at Samford, Oct. 4
Austin Peay, Oct. 11
Western Carolina, Oct. 18
at Chattanooga, Oct. 25
The Citadel, Nov. 1
Warner, Nov. 15
at Wofford, Nov. 22
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