Chris Hatcher’s Samford Bulldogs are looking to get out of the first round of the FCS playoffs for the first time in 25 years when they take the field in 2017.
The program has made the postseason in two of the last four campaigns, but it hasn’t fared especially well in playoff action. The school from Birmingham was hammered by Jacksonville State back in 2013 and thumped by Youngstown State, 38-24, last season.
Can the Bulldogs finally find postseason success this season?
2016 Samford Football Season In Review
Samford finished the season at 7-5, but it could have won a couple more games if everything had gone their way. The Bulldogs showed they could go toe to toe with the best in the Southern Conference, knocking off Wofford and taking The Citadel to overtime. The loss to Youngstown State doesn’t look so bad in retrospect either considering where the Penguins finished the year.
The Bulldogs had the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Devlin Hodges, who completed over 70 percent of his passes for 4,000-plus yards and 36 touchdowns against just eight interceptions.
Hodges had one of the top targets in the country in Karel Hamilton. The wide receiver hauled in 111 receptions for 1,389 yards and 14 touchdowns, earning first-team FCS All-American honors as a result of his connection with Hodges.
Defense was an issue, though, for Samford in 2016. The Bulldogs allowed 420.7 yards per game, a figure that placed them 91st in the country in total defense. A lot of the defensive woes were the result of an offense that didn’t emphasize the run. Samford was dead last in the country in time of possession, and that helped opponents wear down the defense on the ground over the course of the game. The Bulldogs were the only team in the country that saw 600 rushing attempts from opponents on the season.
2017 Samford Football Season Preview
Hodges is back and primed to build off of a strong campaign. He was one of a handful of FCS quarterbacks given an invite to the prestigious Manning Academy in the offseason and will take those lessons with him this fall.
Unfortunately, he won’t have Hamilton as a top receiving option. However, he will have his second-favorite target from last season in Kelvin McKnight.
McKnight was a second-team all-conference selection and was ranked as the ninth-best receiver at the FCS level, according to Athlon. He is a small target that relies on his quickness to get open, but he can be devastating in the open field.
Only two offensive linemen return from last year’s starting group and that could be an issue. The team relies on Hodges in a big way and doesn’t have much of a running game. Starting tailback K’rondis Larry is just 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds and isn’t the type to carry the ball 20 times or more per game.
The defense should be able to improve upon last year’s performance, but it still needs some help from the offense in staying off of the field. The Bulldogs return seven starters, and talented players like Shaheed Salmon, Ahmad Gooden and Omari Williams lead each of the position groups.
2017 Samford Football Schedule
August 31: Samford vs. Kennesaw State
September 7: Samford vs. West Alabama
September 16: Samford at Georgia
September 23: Samford at Western Carolina
September 30: Samford vs. The Citadel
October 7: Samford at VMI
October 21: Samford at Wofford
October 28: Samford vs. Chattanooga
November 4: Samford at Mercer
November 11: Samford vs. East Tennessee State
November 18: Samford vs. Furman
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The Southern Conference isn’t the strongest it has been, which is good news for Samford. The Bulldogs have an interesting test against Kennesaw State to start the season, but it won’t start conference play until the fourth week.
A two-game stretch will go a long way in determining whether or not Samford has any chance of winning the conference. The Bulldogs play at Wofford and home against Chattanooga in back-to-back weeks, games against two of the top teams in the SoCon. They also have very different offensive strategies, complicating things for Samford’s defense.
Taking the Bulldogs against Wofford is a sharp idea in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests. They have a bye week before they take on the Terriers, while Wofford has to take on The Citadel on the road the week prior. It will be a traditional letdown game.