Overview: Elon head coach Jason Swepson entered last fall, his first as coach of the Phoenix, with varying expectations. Former head coach Pete Lembo had moved on to Ball State and the team was coming off a successful season (6-5, 5-3 SoCon) in which they won the final four games of the schedule.
Supporters hoped to build off the positive finish to 2010, but with the coaching change came inconsistency. The Phoenix won four of their first six games, but struggled down the stretch and lost four of their final five. In the only matchup against an FBS opponent, Vanderbilt soundly defeated Elon 45-14.
Expectations are much higher entering Swepson's second season due to the return of numerous key pieces on offense. Quarterback Thomas Wilson (279-of-411 passing, 3057 yards, 23 TD, 21 INT) and wide receiver Aaron Mellette (113 rec, 1639 yards, 12 TD) both return following stellar 2011 campaigns. Mellette, a rising senior from Sanford N.C., was named an All-American last season, leading the FCS in receiving yards per game (149) as well as receptions per game (10.27). Behind the duo of Wilson and Mallette, Elon led the SoCon and was 14th out of 120 FCS schools in passing (281.45 ypg).
One notable addition to the Elon roster is running back Karl Bostick. The Akron transfer will likely play a vital role in the ground game, as Elon does not return another running back that has recorded a carry in their career. Overall, the offense returns seven starters, including three along the offensive line.
The Phoenix defense was somewhat of an enigma last fall. While the unit finished fourth in the SoCon in total defense (344.91 ypg), they struggled to keep opponents off the scoreboard and ranked near the bottom of the FCS in scoring defense (32.64 ppg). Specifically, Elon struggled against the run (191.36 ypg) and had a poor turnover margin (-2.0), which was the worst in FCS. The Phoenix only recovered six fumbles and forced nine interceptions while they lost 14 fumbles and threw 22 interceptions of their own. Elon returns nine starters on defense, including everybody upfront in their 4-3 defensive scheme.
Quotable: "Opening at North Carolina provides our program an incredible opportunity for our students, alumni and fans to support us and helps us recruit in-state." – Swepson
Matchup to Watch: Last November, Elon defeated No. 17 Furman 41-34 in a game that likely knocked the Paladins out of contention for the FCS playoffs. This season, Furman will be looking for revenge as they travel to Elon on Oct. 17. With road games against FCS powerhouses Appalachian State and Georgia Southern this fall, the Phoenix must hold serve at home against rival Furman if they want to make a run at the FCS playoffs.
Rivalry Connection: Don't be alarmed if you recognize Swepson's name. Before taking the head coach position at Elon in 2011, Swepson was the running backs coach at N.C. State for four seasons under Tom O'Brien. In fact, Swepson was on O'Brien's staff at Boston College dating back to 1999.
Sept. 1 @ North Carolina
Sept. 8 North Carolina Central
Sept. 15 West Virginia State
Sept. 22 @ Georgia Southern
Sept. 29 Wofford
Oct. 6 @ Appalachian State
Oct. 14 OPEN DATE
Oct. 20 Western Carolina
Oct. 27 Furman
Nov. 3 @ The Citadel
Nov. 10 Samford
Nov. 17 @ Chattanooga
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