Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
February 7: at North Carolina; February 14: Lehigh; February 21: v. Canisius; February 22: at Denver; February 28: Air Force; March 7: Mount St. Mary's; March 14-April 30: Southern Conference Opponents
Furman will play an independent and teams from six leagues next spring (the Paladins are only missing opponents from the America East, Big Ten, THUNDERDOME!, and Ivy League). I can only assume that the Paladins are going through a phase in college, trying out new things that they'll eventually pretend never happened.
February 7: at North Carolina; February 14: Lehigh; February 21: v. Canisius; February 22: at Denver; February 28: Air Force
That's three NCAA Tournament teams from 2014 (including a team that will enter the season in one of the top two polling positions in both the preseason coaches and media polls and another team that will likely reside in the top five), a conference tournament finalist from last season, and a team that returns boatloads of contributors from a season ago including a potential All-American in Tim Edwards. [This is where you do that googly eye thing.]
Mind the Gap
March 14: Bellarmine; March 21: Mercer; March 28: at High Point; April 4: at Richmond; April 11: VMI; April 25: at Jacksonville
There was a big difference between the way that Furman competed in the Atlantic Sun last season and what it did against its nonconference opponents (for the purposes of this piece I'm treating Bellarmine as a conference foe even though the Knights played in the ECAC in 2014):
|OPPONENT||RESULT||OPP. LP RANKING||OPPONENT||RESULT||OPP. LP RANKING|
|High Point||7-15 (L)||48||Lehigh||6-13 (L)||17|
|Richmond||10-13 (L)||56||North Carolina||4-19 (L)||5|
|at VMI||13-12 (OT) (W)||66||at Air Force||6-15 (L)||23|
|at Mercer||8-9 (OT) (L)||61||v. Army||2-12 (L)||20|
|Jacksonville||11-13 (L)||52||Michigan||9-11 (L)||49|
|at Bellarmine||7-13 (L)||37||at Georgetown||9-16 (L)||47|
|TOTAL||56-75 (1-5)||TOTAL||40-105 (0-7)|
This is exactly why the Southern Conference is so important to Furman: It provides an opportunity, and not just an impossible to focus opportunity. The Paladins were significantly more competitive against peer programs last spring, moving from losing by an average of nine goals per game against nonconference competition to falling by an average of only three goals per contest against programs that will comprise the SoCon in 2015 (if you pull out the Bellarmine defeat, the team's average margin of defeat against conference opponents drops to only about two goals per game). This is important in a myriad of ways, but it's probably best illustrated by the way that Robert Ebert used to review movies: You don't judge Spider-Man against Citizen Kane; you judge Spider-Man against Daredevil.
And that's the real key to the Paladins' existence: What will Furman do against the Southern Conference in the program's second year of varsity competition? Taking boots to the teeth against non-league competition doesn't mean anything to a Paladins program that is still emerging from primordial goo. Where Furman goes after having its mouth rearranged through amateur surgery does matter: The curve that the Paladins need to follow comes from internal forces in the SoCon rather than external ones.