Both Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois reached the FCS national quarterfinals in what was a breakout season for the OVC a year ago.
Head coach Bill Clark turned his one season at Jacksonville State - though a big one - into the top job at UAB. Dino Babers' two big seasons at EIU, including back-to-back conference crowns, led to his taking over at Bowling Green.
This year, Jacksonville State, behind new coach John Grass, is a slight favorite over EIU, which brought back Kim Dameron as its head coach.
"You started out last year talking about playoffs and national championships, our guys didn't really know what you were talking about. You were talking about an unknown," said the 46-year-old Grass, JSU's offensive coordinator last season. "I think this year, we're going in with the success of 2013. Our guys are kind of hungry for (more success)."
Said Dameron, 54, who has made adjustments with EIU's dynamic offense: "The way we approached it schematically, we will do some things differently because that's what we're most comfortable with. But as far as the kids, the leadership, the camaraderie and all that stuff, this is their football team. And all we're trying to do is get them to a place where they can't go by themselves. When I first got there, I said, 'Look, this is your team, not mine.'"
The new coaches at the two schools make Tennessee State's Rod Reed look like a head coaching veteran. He's led his alma mater over the last four seasons, starting with a 3-8 campaign in 2010 and building toward last year's 10-win season and the Tigers' highest finish in the OVC (second) since 1999.
Unlike Jacksonville State and EIU, Tennessee State's title hopes are built around its defense.
"I think the experience level of having 58 guys or so coming back on our football team will carry us, hopefully deep into November," Reed said. "And all we want to do is be in position in November to win a conference championship."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 Ohio Valley Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Jacksonville State
2. Eastern Illinois
3. Tennessee State
4. UT Martin
5. Eastern Kentucky
6. Tennessee Tech
7. Murray State
8. Southeast Missouri State
9. Austin Peay
1. JACKSONVILLE STATE GAMECOCKS
LOCATION: Jacksonville, Alabama
STADIUM: JSU Stadium
COACH: John Grass (first season)
LAST SEASON: 11-4 overall, 5-3 OVC (Tie/3rd); No. 10 TSN final ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: LB Rashad Smith (69 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FF); LB Ketrick Wolfe (68 TT, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF); FS Pierre Warren (76 TT, 5 INT, 12 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK); LB Robert Gray (67 TT, 8 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 3 FF); SS Brandon Ender, Jr. (101 TT, 3 TFL, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 3 FF); PK Griffin Thomas (24-of-32 FG, 134 points)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB DaMarcus James, Sr. (292 carries, 1,477 yards, 29 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Caleb Lawrence, Sr. (46 TT, 10.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Eli Jenkins, So. (74-for-124, 887 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT); 137 carries, 953 yards, 8 TD)
QB Max Shortell, Sr. (114-for-200, 1,608 yards, 6 TD, 7 INT)
QB Christian LeMay, Jr. (Georgia transfer)
RB Troymaine Pope, Jr. (145 carries, 633 yards, 8 TD)
WR/RS Telvin Brown, Jr. (34 receptions, 441 yards, 2 TD; 26.1-yard KO return average)
WR Anthony Johnson, So. (35 receptions, 416 yards, 4 TD)
WR Josh Barge, So. (58 receptions, 885 yards, 2 TD)
OT Adam Wright, Sr.
C Max Holcombe, Sr.
OG Blake Burks, Sr.
DE LaMichael Fanning, Jr. (Alabama transfer)
DE Omari Jones, Sr.
DE Chris Landrum, Jr. (38 TT, 10.5 TFL, 5 INT, 4 QBH)
LB Ben Endress, Sr.
CB Rashod Byers, Sr. (49 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 10 PBU)
CB Jermaine Hough, Jr. (51 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FF)
P Hamish MacInnes, Jr. (73 punts, 42.9 ypp)
OUTLOOK: A second straight year with a head coaching change (Grass was promoted from offensive coordinator after Bill Clark became UAB's head coach) shouldn't be felt in a big way because the Gamecocks are a veteran team coming off a big postseason run. National quarterfinalists last season, the Gamecocks feature an embarrassment of riches in the skills positions, including Jenkins (returning starter), Shortell (second-team All-OVC) and LeMay (Georgia transfer) at quarterback. The ball will still flow throw All-American RB James, their big-bodied touchdown-maker. The defense suffered more losses than the offense, including FS Warren with early entry to the pro ranks, but Fanning transferred in from Alabama to be part of a dominant defensive line with fellow DE Landrum and DT Lawrence. The Gamecocks, who also must replace an outstanding place-kicker in Thomas, face the tough task of visiting Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois within their OVC schedule.
Aug. 29 - at Michigan State
Sept. 6 - at Chattanooga
Sept. 20 - West Alabama
Sept. 27 - at Murray State
Oct. 4 - UT Martin
Oct. 11 - at Tennessee State
Oct. 25 - Tennessee Tech
Nov. 1 - Austin Peay
Nov. 8 - at Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 15 - Eastern Illinois
Nov. 22 - at Southeast Missouri State
2. EASTERN ILLINOIS PANTHERS
LOCATION: Charleston, Illinois
STADIUM: O'Brien Stadium
COACH: Kim Dameron (first season)
LAST SEASON: 12-2 overall, 8-0 OVC (1st); No. 4 TSN final ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Jimmy Garoppolo (375-for-568, 5,050 yards, 53 TD, 9 INT); WR Erik Lora (123 receptions, 1,544 yards, 19 TD); OT Dominick Pagliara; DE Pat Wertz (38 TT, 10.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 5 QBH, 5 FR, 2 FF, 1 BLK); LB Antonio Taylor (56 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR); LB LeQuince McCall (55 TT, 7 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF); LB Alex Helms (49 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FR); DB Pete Houlihan (68 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU); DB Alex McNulty (52 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF); DB Nick Beard (48 TT, 1 sack, 9 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/RS Shepard Little, Jr. (217 carries, 1,551 yards, 15 TD; 21 receptions, 182 yards, 2 TD; 23.5-yard punt return average, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Dino Fanti, Jr. (45 TT, 14.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 4 PBU, 5 QBH, 3 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Andrew Manley, Sr.
QB Jalen Whitlow, Jr. (Kentucky transfer)
RB Taylor Duncan, Sr. (217 carries, 988 yards, 10 TD; 31 receptions, 243 yards)
WR Adam Drake, Sr. (85 receptions, 1,305 yards, 13 TD)
WR Keiondre Gober, Jr. (48 receptions, 894 yards, 9 TD)
TE Jeff LePak, Sr. (51 receptions, 723 yards, 8 TD)
OG Collin Seibert, Sr.
C Nick Borre, Jr.
OT Jimmy Lowery, So.
DE Fedney Delphonse, Jr.
LB Robert Haynes, Sr. (79 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF)
LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, Jr.
LB Adam Gristick, Sr. (64 TT, 7 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)
S Jourdan Wickliffe, Sr. (91 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 8 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 4 FF)
DB D.J. Bland, Sr.
DB Anthony Standifer, Jr.
DB Cedric Julius, So.
PK Taylor Kerr, Sr.
OUTLOOK: The Panthers' nine playoff appearances since 2000 rank fourth among FCS schools, and they have no thoughts of anything less this season despite the head coaching change (Dino Babers to Dameron) and player losses which include 2014 Walter Payton Award winner Garoppolo and a two-time first-team All-American wide receiver in Lora. Their seven players on the All-OVC preseason team still rank highest in the conference. Manley and Whitlow, the Kentucky transfer, are battling to succeed Garoppolo and work with many of his other weapons, including a Drake/Gober/LePak triumvirate that combined on 30 touchdowns. Little's name doesn't reflect his all-around production and Duncan was a mere 12 yards shy of EIU having two 1,000-yard rushers. There's no doubt the Panthers will remain an explosive team (they topped the FCS with 48.2 points and 589.5 yards per game last season). A lot was lost on defense, meaning the Panthers will have to win some shootouts. Fanti stuffs the middle of the D-line, and LB Haynes and S Wickliffe will help settle a unit that has to be more physical. Overall, the Panthers aren't as good as last season, but they still have an outstanding team.
Aug. 28 - at Minnesota
Sept. 6 - Southern Illinois
Sept. 13 - at Illinois State
Sept. 20 - Austin Peay
Sept. 27 - at Ohio University
Oct. 11 - at Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 18 - at Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 25 - Tennessee State
Nov. 1 - at Tennessee Tech
Nov. 8 - Murray State
Nov. 15 - at Jacksonville State
Nov. 22 - UT Martin
3. TENNESSEE STATE TIGERS
LOCATION: Nashville, Tennessee
STADIUM: LP Field and Hale Stadium
COACH: Rod Reed (26-21 in four seasons at Tennessee State)
LAST SEASON: 10-4 overall, 6-2 OVC (2nd); No. 17 TSN final ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: RB Tim Broughton (237 carries, 1,146 yards, 6 TD); TE A.C. Leonard (34 receptions, 441 yards, 5 TD); LT Kadeem Edwards; DE Antonio Harper (49 TT, 13 TFL, 7 sacks, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 BLK); DE Marquaveus Jackson (30 TT, 12 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 QBH); DB Andrew Taylor (45 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU); S David Van Dyke (58 TT, 4 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF); PK Jamin Godfrey (18-of-29 FG, 97 points)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RT Robert Myers, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Anthony Bass, Sr. (34 TT, 14.5 TFL, 10 sacks, 4 PBU, 6 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF, 2 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ronald Butler, So. (135-for-230, 1,405 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT)
QB Michael German, Sr. (84-for-140, 1,168 yards, 13 TD, 0 INT)
RB Telvin Hooks (146 carries, 688 yards, 5 TD)
RB Tom Smith, Jr.
RB Tevin Spells, So.
RB Darion Hall, Sr.
WR Lavatiae Kelly, So. (31 receptions, 360 yards, 1 TD)
WR Chris Sanders-McCollum, So.
WR Ryan Mitchell, Sr. (35 receptions, 632 yards, 7 TD)
LT Jessaman Dunker, So.
RG Derek Sibley, Sr.
DL Samquan Evans, Sr. (40 TT, 10 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
NT Dinsdale Jackson, Jr.
DE Detorrius Shipley, Sr.
LB Nick Thrasher, Sr. (110 TT, 12 TFL, 2 QBH, 3 FR, 3 FF)
DB Ronnie Vinson, Sr.
DB/RS De'Ante Saunders, Sr. (39 TT, 4 TFL, 4 INT, 9 PBU)
DB Bernell Brooks, Jr.
S Daniel Fitzpatrick, Sr. (75 TT, 5.5 TFL, 8 INT, 8 PBU)
OUTLOOK: Reed was rewarded with a five-year extension during the offseason. His team has improved by at least two wins in each of the last three seasons, but the next step would be to win the OVC title. The defense is the backbone of the team, with a potential All-American in all three units - DE Bass, the 2013 OVC defensive player of the year; LB Thrasher; and S Fitzpatrick, whose eight interceptions were the national high. On offense, the Tigers have two excellent quarterbacks in German, who made the OVC preseason team, and Butler, who made 10 starts last season. An ACL tear by Hooks in the offseason set back the running game (maybe he will provide a push in November?), but the starting wideouts (Kelly and Mitchell) are back and the offensive line, though a little more unproven this season, is always strong. The Tigers don't have a particularly tough non-conference schedule, and they can ease into OVC play before their season could hinge on an October run of games (Jacksonville State, UT Martin and at Eastern Illinois).
Aug. 30 - Edward Waters
Sept. 6 - at Alabama State
Sept. 13 - Jackson State (at Memphis, Tennessee)
Sept. 20 - Tennessee Tech
Sept. 27 - Florida A&M
Oct. 4 - at Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 11 - Jacksonville State
Oct. 18 - UT Martin
Oct. 25 - at Eastern Illinois
Nov. 1 - Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 8 - at Austin Peay
Nov. 22 - at Murray State
4. UT MARTIN SKYHAWKS
LOCATION: Martin, Tennessee
STADIUM: Graham Stadium
COACH: Jason Simpson (52-39 in eight seasons at UT Martin)
LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 5-3 OVC (Tie/3rd)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)
BIG LOSSES: RB D.J. McNeil (239 carries, 1,092 yards, 7 TD); WR/PR Jeremy Butler (90 receptions, 1,203 yards, 10 TD); WR Chris Thompson (39 receptions, 502 yards, 3 TD); LB Ben Johnson (102 TT, 12.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 QBH); DE D.J. Roberts (53 TT, 11 TFL, 4 sacks, 9 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); CB Camaren Harris (51 TT, 4 INT, 12 PBU); CB Kevin Barfield (33 TT, 13 PBU); S Thad Williams (80 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU); S J'vontez Blackmon (70 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 8 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF, 2 BLK)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Charles Sweeton, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Tony Bell, Sr. (80 TT, 15 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 8 QBH, 3 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dylan Favre, Sr. (101-for-142, 1,081 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT; 79 carries, 191 yards, 1 TD)
QB Jarod Neal, Jr. (128-for-223, 1,529 yards, 9 TD, 7 INT)
RB Abou Toure, Sr. (87 carries, 509 yards, 2 TD)
WR Kyle Kerrick, So.
WR/PR Kevin Anderson, Sr.
WR/KR Corey Jordan, Sr. (13 receptions, 128 yards, 1 TD)
WR Ronald Carswell, Jr.
WR Tyriq Patrick, Jr.
WR William Tanner, Sr.
C Matt Axline, Sr.
RT Jackson Roberts, Jr.
RG Kenneth Crenshaw, So.
DT Ryan Isom, Sr. (31 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FF)
DT Matt Murphy, Sr.
LB Nick Dance, Jr.
S Taino Fears-Perez, Jr. (35 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DB Leon Carlton III, Sr. (40 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FF)
DB Jordan Landry, Sr.
PK Jackson Redditt, Jr. (12-of-17 FG, 69 points)
P James Satterfield, Sr. (58 punts, 42.2 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The top teams can't afford to overlook the Skyhawks, who have an experienced team with 17 seniors and 23 juniors. It's a group that knocked off both Chattanooga and Central Arkansas in two of its first three games last season. But this year's road schedule is brutal, including the three OVC teams ranked ahead of them in the conference's preseason poll and two SEC opponents. QBs Favre and Neal will battle each other for snaps, and they need to mesh quickly with a receiving corps that lost its top four pass catchers, including an All-American in Butler. Toure will pick up big chunks of yards running behind an offensive line which returns four starters, including the anchor Sweeton. The team's big playmaker is LB Bell, a Buck Buchanan Award candidate who is always all over the field. Simpson always does a great job at UTM, but the road schedule might be too much for the Skyhawks to overcome this season.
Aug. 30 - at Kentucky
Sept. 6 - at Central Arkansas
Sept. 11 - Cumberland
Sept. 20 - Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 27 - Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 4 - at Jacksonville State
Oct. 9 - Tennessee Tech
Oct 18 - at Tennessee State
Oct. 25 - Austin Peay
Nov. 1 - at Murray State
Nov. 8 - at Mississippi State
Nov. 22 - at Eastern Illinois
5. EASTERN KENTUCKY COLONELS
LOCATION: Richmond, Kentucky
STADIUM: Roy Kidd Stadium
COACH: Dean Hood (40-29 in six seasons at Eastern Kentucky)
LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 OVC (Tie/5th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR Ike Ariguzo (20 receptions, 256 yards, 5 TD); OL Travon Carter; OL Justin Meredith; DL Anthony Brown (46 TT, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 7 QBH, 2 FR); DL Shawn Shupperd (45 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FF); DL David Carter (42 TT, 9 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 QBH); LB Tyler Horn (54 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF); LB Ichiro Vance (52 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 5 QBH); DB Christian Albertson (49 TT, 5 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF); P Jordan Berry (60 punts, 43.3 ypp)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Jared McClain, Sr. (128-for-228, 1,535 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT; 116 carries, 414 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Brandon Stanley, Sr. (61 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB J.J. Jude, So. (160 carries, 637 yards, 6 TD)
RB Jared Sanders, So. (110 carries, 368 yards, 2 TD)
RB Dy'Shawn Mobley, Jr. (Kentucky transfer)
HB Channing Fugate, Sr.
WR Devin Borders, So. (34 receptions, 509 yards, 6 TD)
WR Jeff Glover, Jr. (34 receptions, 420 yards)
WR Tranard Chester, R-Fr.
TE Matt Lengel, Grad-Student
LT Brett Eyckmans, Jr.
RT Josh Minor, Jr.
C Dustin Crane, Sr.
DT Bryce Krebs, Jr.
DE Marquise Piton, Jr. (50 TT, 3 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DE Daryl Taylor, So.
MLB Tyrelle Johnson, Sr. (32 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
OLB Chris Owens, Sr. (51 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FF, 1 BLK)
CB Johnny Joseph, Jr. (38 TT, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR)
CB/S Kiante Northington, So.
CB/RS Stanley Absanon, Jr. (25 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
PK Andrew Lloyd, Sr. (8-of-10 FG, 43 points)
OUTLOOK: Motivation came for the Colonels last November in the form of three straight blowout losses to end the season, and that kept them from having a winning OVC season for the first time since 2000. The defense is the question mark this year after it lost numerous standouts. A strong secondary will have to hold up while the front seven retools following the loss of five starters. Stanley, a safety, has led the team in tackles for two straight seasons, and Hood likes his cornerbacks. The offense likes to run the ball and Jude had a terrific freshman campaign a year ago and Mobley is a touted transfer from the University of Kentucky. QB McClain, who's quick of feet as well, will spread around his passes, including to Borders, the 2013 OVC freshman of the year. The Colonels will play two FBS opponents for the first time since 2009. With a road win at UT Martin to open their OVC schedule, they might find themselves in the title race.
Aug. 28 - at Robert Morris
Sept. 6 - at Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 13 - Morehead State
Sept. 20 - at UT Martin
Oct. 4 - at Austin Peay
Oct. 11 - Eastern Illinois
Oct. 18 - at Tennessee Tech
Oct. 25 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
Nov. 1 - at Tennessee State
Nov. 8 - Jacksonville State
Nov. 15 - Murray State
Nov. 22 - at Florida
6. TENNESSEE TECH GOLDEN EAGLES
LOCATION: Cookeville, Tennessee
STADIUM: Tucker Stadium
COACH: Watson Brown (41-39 in seven seasons at Tennessee Tech; 126-197-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 2-6 OVC (Tie/7th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (10 offense/9 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR Zack Ziegler (30 receptions, 180 yards, 2 TD); OT Wesley Sherill; DE Malcolm Mitchell (47 TT, 13 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF, 1 BLK); LB Blake Adams (66 TT, 3 TFL); P Chad Zinchini (75 punts, 45.7 ypp)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Q/W Darian Stone, Sr. (94-for-176, 1,008 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT; 143 carries, 536 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: S Marty Jones, Sr. (98 TT, 5 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jared Davis, So. (95-for-169, 935 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT)
QB Brock McCoin, So.
RB/RS Ladarius Vanlier (54 carries, 365 yards, 1 TD)
RB Radir Annoor, Jr.
RB Stephen Bush, Sr. (62 carries, 306 yards, 7 TD)
WR Cody Matthews, Sr. (22 receptions, 331 yards, 3 TD)
WR Krys Cates, Jr. (28 receptions, 390 yards, 3 TD)
LT Matthew Smith, Sr.
RG Jibrin Linge, Jr.
RT Matt Martin, So.
C Charles Mouton, Jr. (Victor Valley College transfer)
TE Dametris Watson, So.
DE Harrison Reid, Jr.
DE Midoho Okpokowuruk, Jr.
DT Kevin Robinson-White, So.
LB Tra'Darius Goff, Sr. (101 TT, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FR, 3 FF)
LB Jay Rudwall, Jr. (59 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
CB James Huguely, Sr. (43 TT, 5 PBU)
CB Demario Donnell (54 TT, 11 PBU, 1 FF)
SS Austin Tallant, Sr. (65 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 5 FF, 1 FF)
Rover Bill Dillard (63 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR)
P Jonathan King, So.
OUTLOOK: With 31 returning players who have started multiple games, the Golden Eagles feel they can be a big surprise after last year's 2-6 OVC season. They could be one of the tougher teams to defend because of the new QW position in which two quarterbacks will be on the field at the same time, usually Davis under center and Stone (3,175 career total yards) split out to the end of the line but with the ability to throw, catch and run the ball. Plus, WRs Matthews and Cates could be outstanding if they remain healthy and RB Vanlier is a playmaker, so the offense will be fun to watch this season. On defense, safeties Tallant and Jones and LB Goff each has over 200 career tackles. The schedule is difficult, though, as Brown enters in his 30th season as a head coach.
Sept. 6 - at Indiana State
Sept. 20 - at Tennessee State
Sept. 27 - at Northern Iowa
Oct. 4 - Murray State
Oct. 9 - at UT Martin
Oct. 18 - Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 25 - at Jacksonville State
Nov. 1 - Eastern Illinois
Nov. 8 - Southeast Missouri State
Nov. 15 - Chattanooga
Nov. 22 - at Austin Peay
7. MURRAY STATE RACERS
LOCATION: Murray, Kentucky
STADIUM: Roy Stewart Stadium
COACH: Chris Hatcher (24-22 in four seasons at Murray State; 118-48 overall)
LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 OVC (Tie/5th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Maikhail Miller (219-for-327, 2,221 yards, 18 TD, 11 INT; 119 carries, 429 yards, 5 TD); RB Jamaal Berry (128 carries, 668 yards, 5 TD; 29 receptions, 200 yards); RB Duane Brady (87 carries, 471 yards, 6 TD); WR/RS Walter Powell (66 receptions, 837 yards, 13 TD); LB Sam Small (76 TT, 3 TFL); LB Qua Huzzie (40 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 QBH); DB Brandon Wicks (98 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 3 FF); DB Corey Addison (64 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH); DB Darrell Smith (62 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR); CB Darian Yahyavi (45 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 10 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Jeremy Harness, Jr. (40 receptions, 353 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Travis Taylor, Sr. (59 TT, 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Parks Frazier, Sr. (85-for-127, 666 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT)
RB Marcus Holliday, So. (40 carries, 219 yards, 3 TD)
RB Pokey Harris, Jr.
WR Jesse Blackburn, So.
WR Paul Rice, Jr. (32 receptions, 343 yards)
WR Jordon Gandy, Fr.
WR Janawski Davis, Jr.
LT Drew Kelley, Sr.
RT Kamalie Matthews, Sr.
LG Robert Olive, Jr.
NT Demetrius Mason, Jr.
DE Zach Dean, Jr. (40 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 BLK)
LB Perry Cooper, Sr. (54 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH)
LB Jonathan Jackson, So.
LB Anthony Hayes, Sr.
CB Cadarious Sanders, Sr.
CB D'Montre Wade, R-Fr.
CB Shawn Samuels-Connell, Jr.
DB DeQuinten Spraggins, Jr.
OUTLOOK: This will be a rebuilding season at Murray. After some key senior losses following last season, Miller, the Racers' starting quarterback, left the program in April. Hatcher won't have nearly as much offensive firepower as in recent seasons, but he can play a lot of young players and build toward next season. QB Frazier, a senior who made two starts last season, will want to get the ball in the hands of Harness early on, but some other playmakers must emerge quickly. Harris and Holliday could both be productive at running back. The Racers defense has more size and it always has solid linebackers. This year, Taylor and Cooper will lead the way. The secondary has all new starters. The Racers' non-conference schedule has two FBS opponents and two sub-Division I opponents.
Aug. 28 - Union
Sept. 6 - at Louisville
Sept. 20 - at Western Michigan
Sept. 27 - Jacksonville State
Oct. 4 - at Tennessee Tech
Oct. 11 - Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 18 - at Austin Peay
Oct. 25 - Kentucky Wesleyan
Nov. 1 - UT Martin
Nov. 8 - at Eastern Illinois
Nov. 15 - at Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 22 - Tennessee State
8. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI REDHAWKS
LOCATION: Cape Girardeau, Missouri
STADIUM: Houck Stadium
COACH: Tom Matukewicz (first season at Southeast Missouri State; 1-0 overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 2-6 OVC (Tie/7th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Scott Lathrop (99-for-175, 1,049 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT; 139 carries, 532 yards, 2 TD); WR D.J. Foster (33 receptions, 364 yards, 3 TD); SS Ben Kargbo (74 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FF); DB Cantrell Andrews (60 TT, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB DeMichael Jackson, Jr. (170 carries, 977 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Austin Black, So. (52 TT, 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kyle Snyder, Sr. (49-for-105, 617 yards, 6 TD, 4 INT)
QB Alex Niznak, Jr. (Central Michigan transfer)
RB Lewis Washington, Jr. (44 carries, 375 yards, 1 TD)
FB Ron Coleman, Sr. (85 carries, 269 yards, 6 TD)
WR/RS Spencer Davis, Sr. (35 receptions, 302 yards, 3 TD; 23.5-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
WR Paul McRoberts, Jr. (44 receptions, 646 yards, 9 TD)
C Corey Porter, Sr.
OL Garret Baker, So.
OT Ben Schmidt, Sr.
DE Selwyn Carrol, So.
DT Travis Sanders, Jr. (39 TT, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF)
DT Marlon Hampton, So.
NT Jon Slania, Jr. (43 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU)
LB Wisler Ymonice, Sr. (66 TT, 5 TFL, 1 QBH)
ILB Roper Garrett, So. (65 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
ILB Terrance Hill, So.
LB Matt Starks, Sr. (63 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
S Ron Davis, Sr. (64 TT, 1 INT, 2 FR)
CB Reggie Jennings, Sr.
CB Tim Hamm-Bey, Sr.
CB David Coley, Jr.
PK/P Alex Knight, So.
OUTLOOK: Matukewicz helped lift the Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois programs as an assistant, and now the 41-year-old hopes to do the same in his first head coaching job. His new program at SEMO has suffered through three straight three-win seasons after winning the OVC title in 2010. Lathrop (eight starts last season) is no longer in the QB picture, leaving Snyder and Niznak, who are both transfers from Mid-American Conference teams, to try to take command of the new spread attack. The offense will lean on Jackson, who nearly had 1,000 rushing yards in a breakout sophomore campaign, but there are plenty of quality wide receivers, led by Davis and McRoberts. Both the offensive and defensive lines feature veteran players, making it an even better year for Matukewicz to break in with the Redhawks. DEs Black and Carrol and LBs Garrett and Hill - all sophomores - will show that the future is now for the Redhawks.
Aug. 28 - Missouri Baptist
Sept. 6 - at Kansas
Sept. 13 - at Southern Illinois
Sept. 20 - Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 27 - at UT Martin
Oct. 4 - Tennessee State
Oct. 11 - at Murray State
Oct. 18 - Eastern Illinois
Oct. 25 - at Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 8 - at Tennessee Tech
Nov. 15 - Austin Peay
Nov. 22 - Jacksonville State
9. AUSTIN PEAY GOVERNORS
LOCATION: Clarksville, Tennessee
STADIUM: Governors Stadium
COACH: Kirby Cannon (0-12 in one season at Austin Peay; 35-98 overall)
LAST SEASON: 0-12 overall, 0-8 OVC (9th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (4 offense/5 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Andrew Spivey (76-for-147, 674 yards, 4 INT); RB Omar Williams (157 carries, 636 yards); RB Tim Phillips (100 carries, 497 yards, 2 TD); WR Darryl Clack (28 receptions, 398 yards, 2 TD); WR/RS LaDarius Chatman; DB Leron Eaddy (60 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU); LB Craig Salley (55 TT, 4 TFL, 1 FR); CB Tyreon Clark (54 TT, 2.5 TFL); SS EnRique Perry (54 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 FR, 3 FF)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/WR Rashaan Coleman, So. (17 carries, 109 yards, 3 TD; 30 receptions, 214 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Antonio Turner, So. (67 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Trey Taylor, Jr. (Central Arkansas transfer)
QB Timarious Mitchell, So. (37-for-98, 310 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT)
RB Justin Roberson, So.
RB Kendall Morris, Fr.
WR Jermer Braswell, Fr.
WR Wesley Thomas, Fr.
WR Javier Booker, Sr.
TE Samuel Cooper, So.
OL Travis Williams, Sr.
OG Nathan Sanders, Sr.
OG Tyler Miles, So.
C Isaiah Tuisasosopo, Sr.
DE Neil Lartey, Sr.
DT Malcolm Goines, Sr.
DT John Huston Jr., Jr.
DT Gino Roberson, Jr.
LB A.J. Gray, So. (54 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 PBU)
CB Montez Carlton, Sr. (48 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF)
CB Buddy Mitchell, Sr.
S Johnathan Shuler, Sr. (76 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FF)
FS Jalen Miller, So. (39 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT)
SS Mikhail Creech, Sr.
PK Dakota Vincil, Fr.
P/TE Ben Campbell, Sr. (87 punts, 38.8 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The sinkhole that formed inside Governors Stadium this past winter said a lot about the status of the Austin Peay program. But the Governors have every reason to think this year's team will be improved. There's really no other direction to go after they were one of three winless teams in the FCS (along with Columbia and Davidson) and outscored, 476-90, last season. Cannon, seeking his first win at Austin Peay, will have a young squad (only 28 juniors and seniors). WR Clack was suspended for the 2014 season and QB Spivey transferred out of the program during the offseason. Taylor, who sat out last season after transferring in from Central Arkansas, won the starting QB job in the spring. Coleman, the Governors' offensive standout, will be more of a running back than wide receiver in his second season, but the O-line wasn't good last season. Turner, only a sophomore, and Shuler figure to lead the defense. Cannon has had four winless seasons in his 12 years (11 at Missouri S&T). He's hoping to put some Ws on the board this year.
Aug. 30 - at Memphis
Sept. 13 - Chattanooga
Sept. 20 - at Eastern Illinois
Sept. 27 - at Illinois State
Oct. 4 - Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 11 - at Mercer
Oct 18 - Murray State
Oct. 25 - at UT Martin
Nov. 1 - at Jacksonville State
Nov. 8 - vs. Tennessee State
Nov. 15 - at Southeast Missouri State
Nov. 22 - Tennessee Tech
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