Nashville, TN (Sports Network) - An empty ring finger serves as a reminder to Jacksonville State's All-America cornerback T.J. Heath of what could have been last season ... and what still could come this season.
Last season, the Gamecocks had the best record in the Ohio Valley Conference, but were ineligible for the conference title and the FCS playoffs because of academic progress rate penalties.
"Just knowing that we should have a ring on our finger right now, it's kind of annoying," Heath said. "But, at the same time, it lets us know that there's a chance to win it this year."
Jacksonville State's $47 million of renovations at Burgess-Snow Field will make it a place to be this season, but the Gamecocks, favored in the OVC preseason poll, have to go on the road to face the teams picked second through fourth, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech. Winning the title will be difficult.
The team picked first in the OVC's last seven preseason polls has gone on to win the title only once. Factor in that for the second straight season, five of the conference's nine teams received first-place votes from the 18 selectors and the title race appears competitive again.
Preseason OVC All-Conf Team
QB- Matt Scheible, Southeast Missouri
RB- Ryan White, Austin Peay
RB- Terrence Holt, Austin Peay
WR- Tim Benford, Tennessee Tech
WR- Marcus Harris, Murray State
TE- Cory Freeman, Jacksonville State
C- Willie Henderson, Eastern Illinois
G- Tylor Chambers, Jacksonville State
G- Slade Adams, Tennessee Tech
T- Curt Porter, Jacksonville State
T- Malcolm Jones, Tennessee Tech
DL- Andrew Soucy, Eastern Kentucky
DL- Perry Burge, Eastern Illinois
DL- J.J. Sanchez, Southeast Missouri
DL- Donte'e Nicholls, Tennessee State
LB- Josh Bey, UT Martin
LB- Jordan Dalrymple, Eastern Kentucky
LB- Nick Nasti, Eastern Illinois
DB- Eugene Clifford, Tennessee State
DB- T.J. Heath, Jacksonville State
DB- CJ James, Eastern Illinois
DB- Jeremy Caldwell, Eastern Kentucky
PK- Kienan Cullen, Murray State
P- Kienan Cullen, Murray State
"I think that's just college football," Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood said. "Anybody could win this league, anybody win the ACC. I mean, pick who's going to win the ACC, pick who's going to win the Big Ten. I just think that anybody can win on any given day. You know, Purdue beats Ohio State. Call it out, over and over and over again every week, anybody can beat anybody. Our league is no different. You have to be ready to play every week. When you've got 18-, 19- and 20-year-old guys and you're telling them that and they're not believing you, you're going to go out and get your butt kicked on Saturday."
Jacksonville State has the best record in OVC games (43-13) since it joined the conference in 2003, but hasn't won the title since winning two straight in '03 and '04. It led the OVC in scoring offense and defense last season, but is replacing quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who gave the Gamecocks much of the swagger last season, when they were 8-3 overall and 6-1 in conference games.
Junior Marques Ivory is taking over as the starting quarterback and benefits from the return of four starting offensive linemen plus tight end Cory Freeman and the two-headed rushing attack of Calvin Middleton and Jamal Young.
"You can't go forward looking backwards," JSU head coach Jack Crowe said. "We've tried to stay a forward-thinking team. But I would be less than perfectly honest if I didn't say we were scarred a little bit maybe from the last two years (when) we were kept out of the playoffs.
"We're talented enough to play with everybody on our schedule."
The OVC's big game could occur Sept. 25 when JSU travels to Eastern Illinois. Coach Bob Spoo's Panthers (8-4, 6-2) won last year's matchup in Alabama and went on to win the conference title. Spoo, the dean of OVC coaches who is in his 23rd season, is seeking his 10th trip to the FCS playoffs.
Like a lot of OVC teams, EIU lacks an experienced quarterback, with redshirt sophomore Brandon Large trying to hold on to the top job that he won in spring practices. He will be surrounded by a veteran cast, including top running back Mon Williams.
"We've got a good mixture of experience and age and depth at a lot of positions. I feel good," Spoo said. "And their attitude has been outstanding. We've ended up the year always on that last game and gotten beaten badly in the playoffs. We want to get by that; we want to get over that hump. I think that's been the focus of our football team."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2010 Ohio Valley Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Eastern Illinois
2. Jacksonville State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Tennessee Tech
5. Tennessee State
6. UT Martin
7. Austin Peay
8. Southeast Missouri
9. Murray State
Offensive Player of the Year: Terrence Holt, RB/KR, Austin Peay
Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Bey, LB, UT Martin
1. EASTERN ILLINOIS PANTHERS (8-4 overall; 6-2 OVC)
COACH: Bob Spoo (140-113-1 in 22 seasons at Eastern Illinois)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Mon Williams, Sr. (191 carries, 870 yards, 9 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB C.J. James, Sr. (44 TT, 5 INTs)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Brandon Large, So.
QB Shadonta Travis, So.
RB Chevron Walker, Sr. (66 carries, 326 yards, 1 TD)
RB Jimmy Potempa, Sr. (58 carries, 222 yards; 32 receptions, 238 yards, 2 TDs)
WR/KR Lorence Ricks, Jr. (19 receptions, 381 yards, 3 TDs; 30.6-yard KO return, 1 TD)
WR Kenny Whitaker, So. (29 receptions, 358 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Erik Lora, So. (23 receptions, 320 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Charles Graves, Sr. (24 receptions, 333 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Sam Hendricks, Fr.
C Willie Henderson, Jr.
OG Eric Zink, Jr.
DE Perry Burge, Jr. (31 TT, 7 TFL, 5 sacks)
DE Colin Luczynski, Sr. (22 TT)
DT Spyros Bazigos, Sr. (27 TT, 5.5 TFL)
LB Nick Nasti, Sr. (83 TT, 2 FF)
LB Gordy Kickels, Jr. (62 TT, 4.5 TFL)
LB Cory Leman, Jr. (63 TT, 3 FF)
LB Sean Campbell, Sr. (41 TT)
CB/RS Rashad Haynes, Sr. (46 TT, 11 PBU; 22.4-yard KO return average)
S Nick Beard, R-Fr.;
PK/P Kevin Cook, Sr. (42-yard punt average)
OUTLOOK: This is one of Spoo's more experienced teams, although the Panthers are breaking in a new quarterback, likely Large, who was a redshirt last season after transferring in from Scottsdale Community College. He will get the ball from an all-conference center (Henderson) and then has excellent options with Williams at RB and a veteran receiving corps. Defensively, the Panthers return a lot, including a pair of standout cornerbacks in James and Haynes. All of the key linebackers return to the 4-3, led by Nasti, their aptly named leading tackler. The special teams will be a strength. What isn't particularly friendly is the road schedule (Iowa, UT Martin, Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State and Illinois State), but the Panthers appear to be an FCS playoff squad again. On Sept. 11, EIU will retire the number 18 worn by alumnus Sean Payton, the head coach of the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
2. JACKSONVILLE STATE GAMECOCKS (8-3 overall; 6-1 OVC)
COACH: Jack Crowe (65-45 in 10 seasons at Jacksonville State; 79-75 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Curt Porter, Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB T.J. Heath, Sr. (34 TT, 6 INTs, 10 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Marques Ivory, Jr.(39 of 60 for 315 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT)
TB Calvin Middleton, Jr. (126 carries, 629 yards, 6 TDs)
TB Jamal Young, Sr. (100 carries, 523 yards, 4 TDs; 15 receptions, 147 yards, 2 TDs)
WR La'Ray Williams, Sr. (15 receptions, 270 yards, 1 TD)
WR James Shaw, Jr. (19 receptions, 281 yards, 2 TDs)
TE Cory Freeman, Sr. (6 receptions, 42 yards)
LG/C Tylor Chambers, Jr.
RT/RG Justin Kay, Sr.
DE Monte' Lewis, Jr. (21 TT, 5.5 TFL)
DT Jamison Wadley, Jr. (30 TT)
LB Kevin Dix, Sr. (49 TT, 4.5 sacks, 2 FF)
LB Morrell Jones, Sr. (40 TT)
LB Antonio Bonner, Sr. (32 TT)
LB Rodney Garrott, Jr. (14 TT, 4 sacks)
LB Rashad Smith, Fr.
CB A.J. Davis, Jr. (23 TT)
S Keginald Harris, So. (25 TT)
PK Jason Esco, Jr. (Florida State transfer)
PR Alan Bonner, So. (13.9-yard punt return average, 1 TD)
OUTLOOK: Crowe has a "help wanted" sign out for playmakers. The Gamecocks lost QB Ryan Perrilloux and their two leading receivers. Ivory should be a solid replacement, having started the season opener at Georgia Tech last season when Perrilloux served a team suspension. Ivory went 30-0 as a starter in high school, leading back-to-back Georgia state champions. Middleton and Young fuel a strong rushing attack to help ease Ivory's transition. As flashy as the offense was last season, the defense led the OVC in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and total defense (283.9 ypg). The strength is the cornerbacks, Heath and Davis, who shut down wide receivers and allow the other defenders to be more aggressive. Crowe says the Gamecocks' renovated stadium changes the university, so he's telling his team that it must stay on a high level now that it has regained eligibility for the conference title.
3. EASTERN KENTUCKY COLONELS (5-6 overall; 5-3 OVC)
COACH: Dean Hood (13-10 in two seasons at Eastern Kentucky)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB T.J. Pryor, So. (169 of 291 for 2,153 yards, 6 TDs and 8INTs; 105 carries, 269 yards, 4 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/RS Jeremy Caldwell, Jr. (48 TT, 7 INTs; 24.5-yard KO return average)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
RB H.B. Banjoman, Jr. (43 carries, 220 yards, 3 TDs)
RB Bruce Frieson, Sr. (53 carries, 280 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Orlandus Harris, So. (31 receptions, 432 yards, 1 TD)
WR Shannon Davis, Sr. (18 receptions, 343 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Justin Williams, R-Fr.
TE Matt Lengel, Fr. (Northeastern transfer)
C Josh Miller, Jr.
LG Kevin Brown, Jr. (Hofstra transfer)
LT Derek Moore, Jr. (Hofstra transfer)
RG Chris Krack, Sr.
DT Andrew Soucy, Sr. (49 TT, 9.5 TFL, 5 blocks)
DT Emory Attig, Jr. (43 TT, 8 TFL)
DE Yameen Thomas, Sr. (39 TT, 5.5T FL)
LB Jordan Dalrymple, Sr. (85 TT, 3.5 sacks)
LB Antonio Fredrick, Sr. (54 TT, 5.5 TFL)
LB Zavier Foster, R-Fr.
S Patrick McClellan, Jr. (64 TT, 3 INTs)
S Robert Dees, Sr. (61 TT)
CB Marcus Williams, Sr. (20 TT)
PK Logan O'Connor, Sr. (8 of 15 FG)
OUTLOOK: Despite not playing a home game until Oct. 2, the Colonels get matchups versus Eastern Illinois and Jacksonville State at Roy Kidd Stadium. That will be important while their program tries to overcome last season's first losing record since 1972. Pryor can run and throw the ball and should get better after being the OVC Freshman of the Year last season. His offensive line would have been in poor shape had it not added Hofstra transfers Brown and Moore. The defense was young last season and now its top six tacklers are back, led by Dalrymple. Soucy is a dominator on the defensive line and Caldwell is perhaps the OVC's most dynamic player. EKU, which has won an OVC- best 20 titles, should challenge for another one this season.
4. TENNESSEE TECH GOLDEN EAGLES (6-5 overall; 5-3 OVC)
COACH: Watson Brown (13-21 in three seasons at Tennessee Tech; 107-172-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (6 offense/10 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RG Slade Adams, So.
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Caleb Mitchell, So. (63 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Tre Lamb, So. (8 of 18 for 113 yards)
RB Dontey Gay, Jr. (100 carries, 556 yards, 6 TDs)
RB Tremaine Hudson, Jr. (70 carries, 309 yards, 3 TDs
RB/RS Henry Sailes, Sr. (25 carries, 162 yards, 2 TDs; 15 receptions, 80 yards)
RB Jocques Crawford, Jr. (Kansas transfer)
WR Tim Benford, Jr. (33 receptions, 580 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Demetrous Garrett, So.
WR Colin Allen, Sr. (15 receptions, 268 yards, 3 TDs)
TE Doug Page, Fr.
RT Scott Schweitzer, Jr.
C Malcolm Jones, Jr.
DE Dwight Evans, Jr. (30 TT)
DE Charlie Seivers, Sr. (19 TT)
NG Justin Hillard, Sr. (26 TT, 6.5 TFL)
NG Dedrick Miley, Sr. (39 TT, 4 sacks)
DE Travis Adkins, Jr. (29 TT)
LB Justin Vann, Jr. (46 TT)
LB Kelechi Ordu, Jr. (55 TT, 5.5 TFL)
LB Howard Griffin, Jr. (57 TT, 4.0 TFL)
LB Jake McIntosh, Jr. (62 TT, 4.5 TFL)
CB Richmond Tooley, Jr.(44 TT, 3 INTs, 9 PBU)
SS Dustin Dillehay, Sr. (78 TT, 3 INTs)
FS Marty Jones, So. (43 TT)
PK Timothy Donegan, So. (3 of 8 FG)
P Jason Lennartz, Sr. (37.7-yard punt average)
OUTLOOK: Brown has the Golden Eagles program on the rise, as last fall it climbed out of last place (3-9, 1-7 in 2008) to notch its first winning season since 2004. In doing so, they went unbeaten against Austin Peay, UT Martin and Tennessee State to hoist the Sgt. York Trophy - which isn't easy considering how heavy it is - for the first time. They will open with losses at Arkansas and TCU, but then have a chance to get on a mini-roll. The defense has the most returning starters in the OVC, but it must improve against the run. It's probably not a good sign that last year's two top tacklers - Dillehay and Mitchell - are part of the secondary. The offense has to replace QB Lee Sweeney, and Lamb, last year's backup, is set to do that. He has a big-play threat in Benford, who is among the conference's best wide receivers. The 6- foot-6, 315-pound Adams is seeking to have an all-conference season after being the offensive line's anchor as a freshman last season.
5. TENNESSEE STATE TIGERS (4-7 overall; 3-4 OVC)
COACH: Rod Reed (first season)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Joseph Hills, Sr. (39 receptions, 538 yards, 3 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SS/PR Eugene Clifford, Sr. (60 TT, 2 INTs; 5.8-yard punt return average)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Dominic Grooms, Sr. (29 of 66 for 279 yards and 4 INTs)
QB Michael German, Fr.
RB Preston Brown, Sr. (128 carries, 474 yards, 4 TDs)
SE/QB Calvin McNairl, Jr. (125 carries, 628 yards, 6 TDs; 78 of 147 for 920 yards, 8 TDs and 8 INTs)
RB Donte Thomas, Jr. (83 carries, 378 yards, 1 TD)
RG Alex Davis, Sr.
C Sherman Carter, So.
OT Justin Ridgeway, Sr.
NT Donte'e Nichols, Jr. (35 TT, 5.5 TFL)
DT Malcolm Crawford, Sr. (25 TT)
DE Sidney Tarver, Sr. (33 TT, 1 INT)
DE Lamar Wallace, Jr. (20 TT)
MLB Rico Council, Jr. (63 TT, 7 TFL)
CB Marquez Hall, Sr. (41 TT, 9 PBU)
FS Justin Bather, Sr. (17 TT)
P Taylor Cisneros, Sr. (38.4-yard punt average)
OUTLOOK: Reed, who turns 44 in September, was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach and has been preaching consistent play, which the Tigers have lacked in recent seasons. Since 2000, they have had at least a four-game swing in their overall record six times. Offensively, Grooms will be the quarterback after he was injured last season. That allows McNairl to switch from QB to wide receiver, and he will give the offense a dangerous pair with Hills, a former transfer from South Carolina. Brown returns at running back, but the line is replacing four starters, though the lone returnee, Davis, is a four-year starter. The defense returns only five starters, but it has depth. Council has been a standout linebacker in his first two seasons and will take on an even bigger role after John Jones Jr. was lost to academic eligibility. The secondary boasts the All-America Clifford and Hall. The Tigers are confident that they can sneak into the conference title race.
6. UT MARTIN SKYHAWKS (5-6 overall; 4-4 OVC)
COACH: Jason Simpson (26-20 in four seasons at UT Martin)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (5 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Stephen Shiver, Jr. (33 receptions, 479 yards, 3 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Josh Bey, Sr. (107 TT, 16.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Derek Carr, Jr. (10 of 21 for 127 yards and 1 TD)
RB/RS Jason McNair, So. (61 carries, 292 yards, 4 TDs; 20.5-yard KO return average)
FB Kenny Jones, Jr. (15 receptions, 131 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Bryant Milligan, Sr. (18 receptions, 222 yards, 1 TD)
WR Cameron Harris, Fr.
TE Kelton Hall, Jr.(Brigham Young transfer)
LT Rodney Irvin, Jr.
LG Taz Tillery, Sr.
RT Jeremy Buchanan, Sr.
DE Josh Cody, Jr. (23 TT, 5 TFL)
NG Darrin Nalls, So. (17 TT)
NT Ray Teamer, Jr. (26 TT)
DE Tim Cox, Sr. (18 TT, 4.5 TFL)
MLB Jonathan Utley, Sr. (48 TT, 9.5 TFL, 5 PBU)
OLB Jett Howard, Jr. (28 TT, 5 TFL)
SS Kendal Harper, Jr. (49 TT, 2 FF)
CB T.J. Drakeford, Jr. (Marshall transfer)
CB Brandon Neal, Fr.
P Joe Hook, Jr. (36.7-yard punt average)
OUTLOOK: The OVC's top-ranked passing offense has a new pilot in Carr, who was the backup to starter Cade Thompson (2,546 yards and 15 TDs last season). Shiver is a quality receiver and McNair is coming off making the OVC All- Newcomer Team, but there's not enough back offensively for the Skyhawks to factor into the title race. Still, Simpson has worked magic since arriving at UT Martin, and his squad returns the OVC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in Bey, who was all over the field a year ago. He had more than twice as many tackles as any teammate. The defensive line is experienced. The schedule, which starts with a first-ever game against Tennessee on Sept. 4, is difficult through mid-October.
7. AUSTIN PEAY GOVERNORS (4-7 overall; 3-5 OVC)
COACH: Rick Christophel (13-20 in three seasons at Austin Peay)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (9 offense/3 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR Terrence Holt, Sr. (147 carries, 793 yards, 13 TDs; 25.4-yard KO return, 1 TD; 12.4-yard punt return average; 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Amius Smith, Jr. (88 TT, 6 TFL, 6 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Jake Ryan, So. (47 of 124 for 593 yards, 1 TD and 10 INTs)
QB Trent Caffee, Sr. (19 of 38 for 242 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs)
RB Ryan White, Jr. (230 carries, 1,081 yards, 4 TDs)
FB Jontaimion Forrest, Jr.
WR Adrian Mines, Sr. (26 carries, 395 yards, 1 TD)
WR Scott Thomas, Jr. (13 receptions, 180 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Tee Howell, Fr.
TE Brad Williams, Jr.
LT James Barker, Jr.
LG Kelvin Little, Sr.
C Tim Schmid, Jr.
DT Steven Johnson, Sr. (20 TT)
DT Antonio Faulkner, Sr. (26 TT, 5 TFL)
LB Ricky Thomas, So. (23 TT, 3 blocked kicks)
LB Zac Burkhart, So. (17 TT, 2 INTs)
SS Jeremy Ross, So. (52 TT, 4.5 TFL)
CB Steven Ragin, Fr.
CB Sheldon Wade, Fr.
PK Stephen Stansell, So. (9 of 15 FG, 52 long)
OUTLOOK: There wasn't a more puzzling team in the OVC last season than the Governors. They had a 26-member senior class, White was the OVC's only 1,000- yard rusher, Holt led the FCS with 215.7 all-purpose yards per game and the two became the first pair of running backs from the same school to make the conference first team since 1990. The problem was quarterback play, with Ryan throwing for only one touchdown against 10 interceptions out of the pro spread. He figures to improve this season, and Holt and White will be dynamic again. This season, the defense may be the puzzle as only three starters return to their 4-2-5 system. Smith is the leader, a free safety with 6-2, 226-pound size. The Governors will have to win their home games because they have Jacksonville State, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky on the road, as well as a pair against FBS teams (Middle Tennessee and Wisconsin).
8. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI REDHAWKS (2-9 overall; 1-7 OVC)
COACH: Tony Samuel (13-32 in four seasons at Southeast Missouri; 47-89 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Matt Scheible, Jr. (141 of 284 for 1,596 yards, 11 TDs and 13 INTs; 129 carries, 487 yards, 4 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Bryan Blanfort, Sr. (79 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
RB Henry Harris, Sr. (151 carries, 720 yards, 7 TDs)
RB/FB Mike Jones, Sr. (96 carries, 463 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Chantae Ahamefule, Jr. (28 receptions, 365 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Miles Edwards, Sr. (26 receptions, 368 yards, 4 TDs)
LT Evan Conrad, So.
LG Frank Knights, Sr.
RT Brandon Harris, Sr.
C Sean Middleton, Sr.
NT J.J. Sanchez, Sr. (46 TT, 4.5 TFL)
DT Maurice Lyles, Sr. (29 TT, 3 FR)
DE Justin Love, So. (30 TT, 5.5 TFL)
OLB Phillip Klaproth, Jr. (66 TT)
ILB Justin Woodlief, Sr. (93 TT, 5 PBU)
OLB Joshua Jackson, Sr. (53 TT)
MLB Blake Peiffer, So. (32 TT)
SS Aris Bowen, Sr. (65 TT, 2 INTs)
SS Tylor Brock, So. (11 TT)
PK/P Drew Geldbach, R-So. (Missouri transfer)
RS Spencer Davis, Fr.
OUTLOOK: After finishing in last place a year ago, the Redhawks will be much improved. They figure to play in a lot of shootouts behind a veteran offense which features Scheible, their OVC preseason selection at QB. Scheible, Harris and Jones combined to rush for 1,670 yards and 14 touchdowns, and the Redhawks were 16th in the FCS in rushing offense (183.6 ypg). The offensive line returns three starters, so there won't be much of a dropoff. The Redhawks need improvement defensively, and each unit has a standout - Sanchez (NT), Woodlief (ILB) and Blanfort (FS). The Redhawks have to play better in the fourth quarter and weather the storm of playing four of their first five games on the road. It's probably a mistake to not forecast improvement in the OVC standings.
9. MURRAY STATE RACERS (3-8 overall; 2-6 OVC)
COACH: Chris Hatcher (first season at Murray State; 94-27 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (4 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/KR Marcus Harris, Sr. (45 receptions, 417 yards, 2 TDs; 26.8-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Jamal Crook, Jr. (42 TT, 11 TFL, 3 sacks)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Casey Brockman, So. (50 of 91 for 543 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs)
QB Jeff Ehrhardt, Sr. (45 of 84 for 501 yards, 3 TDs and 4 INTs)
RB Prince Nwagbara, Jr. (42 carries, 163 yards, 1 TD)
RB Justin Woodard, R-Jr.
RB Duane Brady, Fr.
WR Patrick Robertson, Jr. (19 receptions, 173 yards, 1 TD)
WR Rashad Daniels, Sr. (19 receptions, 206 yards, 1 TD)
RG Dylan Mundella, Jr.
LT Raymond Hopson, Jr.
RT Roderick Tomlin, So.
DT Lamar Theus, Jr. (39 TT, 6 TFL)
DE Blake Booth, Sr. (39 TT in 2008; injured last season)
LB Harry McCall, Sr. (43 TT, 7 TFL)
LB Zach Kutch, Sr. (48 TT)
LB Mark Oliver, Jr. (38 TT, 5.5 TFL)
LB Justin Clark, Sr. (35 TT)
CB Nathan Brinkley, Jr. (23 TT, 2 INTs)
CB John Jean-Baptiste, Sr. (25 TT, 2 INTs)
S Erik Fennell, Jr. (67 TT)
S Lamar Hall, Jr.(37 TT)
S Josh Brown, Fr. (Iowa transfer)
PK/P Kienan Cullen, Jr. (14 of 17 FG, 22 of 22 PAT; 41-yard punt average)
OUTLOOK: The "Hatch Attack" spread offense arrives with Hatcher, who struggled to a 18-15 record in three seasons at Georgia Southern after going 76-12 in seven seasons at Valdosta State, where he won the 2004 NCAA Division II title. QBs Brockman and Ehrhardt both figure to get their opportunities directing the offense, and Harris is one of the better playmakers in the OVC. The Racers are looking to find someone to replace All-America Austin Lane on the defensive line, and that figures to be Crook, an active defensive end. The defense is seeking playmakers because the Racers were minus-10 in turnover ratio last season. Where the Racers have a leg up on the conference - literally - is in the kicking game. Cullen was the OVC's preseason place-kicker and punter.
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director