- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Samford’s season should have extra meaning to coach Pat Sullivan, even beyond trying to defend the Bulldogs’ first Southern Conference championship.

Samford’s schedule is bookended by the opener at TCU, where Sullivan was head coach from 1992-97, and the finale at his alma mater Auburn. He won the 1971 Heisman Trophy as the Tigers quarterback and spent six years there as an assistant under Pat Dye.

The Bulldogs face other challenges, too.

Samford must replace its two biggest offensive stars, quarterback Andy Summerlin and running back Fabian Truss, from a team that went 8-5 and made the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1992.

Samford tied with Furman in preseason voting, behind only Chattanooga. Those three teams shared the 2013 SoCon title with 6-2 league records.

“It meant a lot to the program, momentum-wise,” running back Jeremiaha Gates said. “But also, in my opinion, it laid the foundation for what’s to come for the program.”

The Bulldogs return five starters on offense and eight on defense.

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5 things to watch in Samford’s season:

WHO’S THE QB? Carson Barnett and Arizona State transfer Michael Eubank are vying to replace Summerlin, the 2013 SoCon offensive player of the year. Eubank, a fourth-year junior, was 38-of-59 passing for 400 yards with seven touchdowns rushing and four passing the past two seasons at Arizona State. Barnett hasn’t attempted a pass for Samford.

RUNNING BACKS: Without Truss, Samford could have a running back-by-committee approach with Gates and Stanley Robinson both getting some carries last season. Denzel Williams moved over from defensive back in the spring.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Truss also leaves a void in the return game, where he ran two kicks back for touchdowns. Placekicker Warren Handrahan and punter Greg Peranich are both preseason all-conference picks.

DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS: Free safety Jaquiski Tartt returns after leading the team with 69 solo tackles and racking up 98 total stops. No. 2 tackler linebacker Bobby Wilson and cornerback James Bradberry also are back. The Bulldogs must replace leading tackler Justin Shade at linebacker.

NEW COACHES: Sullivan hired three new assistants during the offseason: Running backs coach Kodi Burns, a former Auburn player; defensive line coach Chris Boone and Bobby Blick, who will work with tight ends and slot receivers.