After not fielding a football team for more than seven decades, Mercer decided to return to the college football landscape in 2013.
The Bears spent a year in the Pioneer League before joining the Southern Conference and have acquitted themselves nicely. Although they have yet to make the postseason, the Bears have gone 17-17 during their three seasons in the SoCon.
Finishing with a winning record last season in a conference that sent four teams to the playoffs was the most impressive showing yet for the Bears and gives this team confidence heading into 2017.
2016 Mercer Football Season In Review
The Bears lost to all four of the SoCon’s postseason representatives last year, but they were competitive in each game and showed that there wasn’t that much separating them from the best teams in the conference.
Mercer took a lead into the fourth quarter against The Citadel in its season opener and stayed within 10 points of both Wofford and Samford. Only Chattanooga blew the Bears out of the water, racing out to a 52-10 lead before Mercer made it more respectable at the end.
John Russ was the signal caller for last season’s offense that averaged 27.1 points per game. He ended just one yard short of 3,000 total yards. He was the team’s leading rusher and made defenses respect his ability to tuck it and pick up yards with his feet.
Marquise Irvin was named to the All-SoCon second-team after leading the Bears with 766 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He was the main receiving threat and used his frame to outmuscle the smaller defensive backs in the conference throughout the year.
The defense was the main problem for the Bears in 2016, though. The run defense wasn’t half-bad, but the secondary had some major issues. Mercer allowed 8.4 yards per attempt through the air, one of the worst averages in the country. Those numbers are especially awful when you consider that the two best teams in the SoCon last season ran the triple option.
2017 Mercer Football Season Preview
Defensive improvements are a must if the Bears want to make their first-ever postseason appearance. Six starters return, including three of the top four leading tacklers from 2016. However, the defensive backs are still very undersized and can be exploited by bigger receivers.
A quality pass rush would help tremendously, but last year’s leader in sacks has graduated. A lot of pressure will be on the shoulders of Will Coneway, Lee Bennett and LeMarkus Bailey to get to the passer, but the trio of linebackers only tallied a combined 5.5 sacks last season.
Mercer must rely on another quarterback for the first time in quite some time as well. Russ is gone and into the void steps redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley. He was considered a big “get” for the program when he signed last season and looks to have beaten out Tanner Brumby for the starting job.
Riley will have two good targets to throw to in Irvin and tight end Sam Walker, who was named to the SoCon’s preseason all-conference team and will give Riley a dependable target to throw to over the middle.
The running game will get a big boost in the form of Georgia Tech transfer CJ Leggett. He was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2014 who never was able to see the field for the Yellow Jackets. Leggett has big-play potential and could be a real steal for the Bears.
2017 Mercer Football Schedule
August 31: Mercer vs. Jacksonville
September 9: Mercer vs. Wofford
September 16: Mercer at Auburn
September 23: Mercer at East Tennessee State
September 30: Mercer vs. VMI
October 7: Mercer at The Citadel
October 14: Mercer vs. Chattanooga
October 21: Mercer at Furman
November 4: Mercer vs. Samford
November 11: Mercer at Western Carolina
November 18: Mercer at Alabama
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Mercer had a lot of seniors on the team last season and replacing them is going to be tough. However, there is still quite a bit of talent left and some things working in its favor.
The Bears host three of their four toughest conference opponents, and they are mostly spaced over the course of their schedule. An early season matchup against Wofford will be a good test for them. If Mercer can knock off the Terriers, look to back them in FCS Pick ‘Em Contests later in the year.