After three straight weeks on the road, the Eagles will return to Mossy Creek and to the friendly confines of Burke-Tarr Stadium to face off with Mars Hill. The Eagles have won two consecutive against the Lions ever since they denied Ken Sparks a first chance at his 300th win to close out the 2011 season.
The Lions' offense has the potential to be one of the more potent in the South Atlantic Conference with two first team all-conference linemen, a first team all-conference receiver and a first team all-conference running back. The Lions are the only team in the league who can make a claim at all those positions.
Arguably, the most explosive wide receiver in the league, Dimitri Holmes is back for Mars Hill after gaining 1,561 yards through the air a year ago to go along with 15 touchdowns. Holmes ripped the Eagles for 10 catches, 191 yards and three scores in C-N's 43-27 road victory last year.
He was the South Atlantic Conference's leading receiver a year ago; the Lions also have the league's leading rusher in Shaikel Davis. Davis rushed for 1,254 yards last year, a clip of 125 per game. In addition, Davis also found the end zone eight times.
However, the Eagles were largely able to shackle Davis. C-N held him to a season low 59 yards rushing on 24 carries. His 2.5 yards per touch were the lowest of his season by a yard. He also didn't have a run longer than 15 yards, something only the Eagles did to him.
Regardless, Davis still had five, 150-yard games, including 213 yards in a near upset-bid of Lenoir-Rhyne – one of the nation's top defenses.
Trent Miller returns at QB after throwing for more than 2,700 yards last season. He touched the Eagles for 341 yards last year.
Up front, Nick Allison and Denzel Goode both return to lead a veteran offensive line. With the offensive firepower the Lions return, it's a bit of a surprise that they finished 1-6 in league play a year ago.
On the defensive side of the football, the Lions must cope with the loss of All-American defensive end Troy Harris and All-American linebacker Sammy Siasia. Siasia had 150 tackles a year ago.
In spite of their individual efforts, defense is where MHU lacked the most last year. The Lions surrendered 34.5 points per game a year ago, second to last in the league. On top of that, MHU allowed teams to score 89 percent of the time when they entered MHU's red zone. That percentage puts the Lions in the bottom 10 nationally for the stat.
Those things, couple with a defense that only forced 15 turnovers last year have the Lions looking for ways to stop teams. The return of Jasper Mason at linebacker should help some. Mason led the Lions with 19 tackles in a 35-17 playoff berth-clinching win for C-N two years ago. That game finished off a 109-tackle season for Mason.
The return of Mason, Robert Green, who had 105 tackles a year ago, and six other starters should have the Lions vastly improved on defense from a year ago.
Carson-Newman's Better Know The Opponent series returns Thursday with a preview of week seven opponent Tusculum.