Jacksonville State football players will have their share of fun.
Even at their dreaded 5 a.m. summer workouts on campus.
Before one of the workouts, incoming freshman Jakari Kinnie fell asleep on a couch outside the team's weight room. Nobody bothered to wake him as they passed him on the way to the practice field.
Mercifully, Kinnie's teammates later sent in someone to wake up what had to be a panicked first-year player.
The truth with the Gamecocks, though, is they are very business-like toward their upcoming season. They let an 8-0 start to last season slip away with three losses in their final four games.
This season, they not only are favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference for the first time since 2004, but they could make a deep run in the FCS playoffs.
"The past two or three years, we've been picked to win the conference," said senior co-captain Jamison Wadley, a defensive tackle. "I don't feel like we had the pressure on us that we have this year. We haven't been able to live up to the expectations in the past, but we've got a real solid group of seniors - 22, 23 seniors. We've got a lot of two-year, three-year, four-year starters, so that's going to be huge.
"We've got a lot of guys with preseason credentials, but everybody is willing to work. There's not really any selfish players on our team. Everybody shows up every day, everybody works every day."
"Without a doubt, it is the most talented team that we've had," 11th-year head coach Jack Crowe said.
Jacksonville State's squad was bolstered by several FBS-level transfers, including junior Washaun Ealey, who led the University of Georgia in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
Veteran teams abound in the OVC, so the Gamecocks will probably play in more tight games. Last season, they won six times by a touchdown or less, including a two-point squeaker over surprising OVC champion Southeast Missouri State, and they lost to Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech within conference play to sabotage a conference championship.
The OVC is full of veteran quarterbacks. The teams not just hoping to be hot on Jacksonville State's heels include Murray State, which features an explosive offense led by quarterback Casey Brockman and running back Mike Harris, and Eastern Kentucky, whose veteran roster includes signal-caller T.J. Pryor and cornerback and return specialist Jeremy Caldwell.
"Our goal is to be No. 1," said Murray State second-year coach Chris Hatcher, voicing the thought of his OVC brethren. "I don't know whether we're deserving of a high ranking right now, but what has been nice is in one year our perception among the region has changed dramatically. And that's definitely a step in the right direction."
"I think this league has turned into one anybody absolutely can win," Tennessee Tech senior linebacker Jake McIntosh. "I think Southeast Missouri showed that last year. They had a great year, a great group of guys, a great team. We see it every week; you can't really tell who's going to win. The little things set a team apart."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2011 OVC race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Jacksonville State
2. Murray State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. UT Martin
5. Tennessee Tech
6. Southeast Missouri State
7. Eastern Illinois
8. Tennessee State
9. Austin Peay
Offensive Player of the Year: Casey Brockman, QB, Murray State
Defensive Player of the Year: Rico Council, LB, Tennessee State
1. JACKSONVILLE STATE GAMECOCKS (9-3 overall; 6-2 OVC)
COACH: Jack Crowe (74-48 in six seasons at Jacksonville State; 88-78 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Washaun Ealey, Jr. (Georgia transfer; 157 carries, 811 yards, 11 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Monte Lewis, Sr. (37 TT, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Marques Ivory, Sr. (181 of 309 for 2,248 yards, 18 TDs and 9 INTs) QB/P Coty Blanchard, So. (27 of 41 for 296 yards, 8 TDs and 2 INTs; 42 punts, 39.5 ypp) RB Calvin Middleton, Sr. (118 carries, 514 yards, 7 TDs; 11 receptions, 85 yards) WR James Shaw, Sr. (25 receptions, 316 yards, 6 TDs) WR Alan Bonner, Jr. (17 receptions, 245 yards, 5 TDs) WR Kevyn Cooper, Jr. (13 receptions, 225 yards, 2 TDs) WR/TE Trey Smith, So. (Western Michigan transfer) LT Odie Rush, Sr. RT Tori Mobley, Jr. LG Matt Jones, Sr. (injured last season) RG Michael Ellis, Sr. C Max Holcombe, R-Fr. DT Jamison Wadley, Sr. (46 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR) NT DiMetrio Tyson, Jr. (31 TT, 4 TFL, 1 FF) LB Brannon Byrd, Sr. (53 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 QBH) LB Clarence Jackson, So (Ole Miss transfer) LB James Powell, So. (25 TT, 3 TFL, 2 FF) LB Rashad Smith, So. (24 TT, 2 TFL) CB A.J. Davis, Sr. (34 TT, 3 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 blocked kick) CB Jawaan Booker, Sr. (36 TT, 4 PBU, 1 FR) FS Jason Horton, Sr. (65 TT, 3 PBU) SS Keginald Harris, Jr. (49 TT, 5 INTs, 5 PBU) SS Brooks Robinson, Jr. (17 TT, 1 INT) PK James Esco, Jr. (13 of 20 FG, 45 long; 41 of 43 PAT)
OUTLOOK: Strong crowds came out to see the expanded Burgess-Snow Field last season. This season, the attention clearly will be on the team playing inside it. The Gamecocks have loaded up for a huge season. If suspended running back Darius Barksdale doesn't play, it might not matter because Middleton is the returning starter and Ealey should be a dominant runner after two strong seasons at Georgia. Speaking of tandems, Ivory should be improved as the No. 1 quarterback, but Blanchard will rotate in as well. Crowe is most concerned about the offensive line solidifying after it lost three starters. Defensively, he says his 4-3 unit is as stocked as any in the FCS. Chris Boone has come aboard as defensive coordinator after five seasons at UT Martin. Lewis and Wadley form a potentially devastating interior up front, while the linebackers should roam the field freely. Harris headlines the secondary. The OVC doesn't have a FCS playoff win since 2000 (14 straight losses), but the Gamecocks, who were an at-large selection last year, should change that this season.
2. MURRAY STATE RACERS (6-5 overall; 5-3 OVC)
COACH: Chris Hatcher (6-5 in one season at Murray State; 100-32 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (10 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Casey Brockman, Sr. (213 of 320 for 2,442 yards, 15 TDs and 6 TDs; 79 carries, 292 yards, 7 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/RS Dontrell Johnson, Sr. (67 TT; 7.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 8 PBU, 2 blocked kicks; 22.8-yard punt return average, 2 TDs)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB/KR Mike Harris, Sr. (139 carries, 904 yards, 10 TDs; 28 receptions, 166 yards, 1 TD) RB Duane Brady, So. (79 carries, 288 yards, 7 TDs) WR Arthur Brackett, So. (62 receptions, 617 yards, 3 TDs) WR Dexter Barnett, Sr. (38 receptions, 332 yards, 4 TDs) WR Walter Powell, So. (3 receptions, 16 yards, 1 TD) C Brock Rydecki, Jr. RG Andy Mahoney, Jr. LG Elbert Ojendis, Sr. LT Raymond Hopson, Sr. RT Roderick Tomlin, Jr. DE Jamal Crook, Sr. (20 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QBH) DE Richard Biers, Sr. (12 T, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) DT Joe Gamsky, Sr. (28 TT, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 2 FF) NT Ryan Walker, Sr. (21 TT, 5.5 TFL DL Lamar Theus, Sr. (30 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 blocked kick) LB Blake Salter, So. (21 TT, 1 PBU) LB Brandon Wicks, So. (73 TT, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF) LB Darrell Davis, Sr. (19 TT, 2 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF) LB Andre Clarke, Sr. (29 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 QBH) LB T.J. Denson, So. (22 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF) CB Darrien Skinner, So. (5 TT, 1 PBU) FS Erik Fennell, Sr. (60 TT, 1 PBU) SS Nathan Brinkley, Jr. (62 TT, 4 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) SS Darius Buck, Jr. (SW Mississippi CC transfer) PK/P Kienan Cullen, Sr. (15 of 23 FG, 43 long; 44 of 48 PAT; 48 punts, 40.8 ypp) KR Hannibal Beauford, Sr. (23.4-yard KO return average)
OUTLOOK: Expectations in Murray, Ky., are soaring like the Racers' offense. In Hatcher's first season last year, the Racers won five of their final six games to finish with their first winning record since 2004. Their spread attack is lethal - 72 points against Missouri State; 36.1 ppg - with no-huddle, four- receiver sets. At the controls is Brockman, who started the final six games and threw for 570 yards and seven touchdowns in the win over against Missouri State. Among the wideouts is Brackett, who had Murray State's best-ever freshman campaign. The Racers use only one running back, but it's a great one in Harris, who averaged over 100 yards rushing in nine games. The Racers have good defensive players, but overall they didn't tackle well last season while allowing 30.4 ppg. Wicks, at 5-11, 180 pounds, is moving to linebacker after leading the team in tackles as a true freshman at strong safety. The special teams are among the nation's best with outstanding returners and Cullen returning as the All-OVC first-team place-kicker and a reliable punter.
3. EASTERN KENTUCKY COLONELS (6-5 overall; 5-2 OVC)
COACH: Dean Hood (19-15 in three seasons at Eastern Kentucky)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB T.J. Pryor, Jr. (118 of 122 for 1,613 yards, 12 TDs and 12 INTs; 146 carries, 505 yards, 9 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/KR Jeremy Caldwell, Sr. (32 TT, 3 INTs, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF; 33.7-yard KO return average, 2 TDs; 15.0-yard PR average, 1 TD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Kyle Lumpkin, Sr. (42 carries, 214 yards, 1 TD) RB H.B. Banjoman, Sr. (94 carries, 423 yards, 5 TDs; 7 receptions, 37 yards) RB Matt Denham, Jr. (25 carries, 279 yards, 2 TDs) WR/KR Orlandus Harris, Jr. (56 receptions, 940 yards, 7 TDs; 20.7-yard KO return average) WR Tyrone Goard, Jr. (20 receptions, 315 yards, 5 TDs) TE Matt Lengel, So. (4 receptions, 42 yards) LT Joe Arnason, Sr. C O.J. Enabosi, Jr. RT Derek Moore, Sr. LG Patrick Moore, Jr. RG Kevin Brown, Sr. DT Emory Attig, Sr. (35 TT, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF) DE Anthony Brown, So. (59 TT, 12.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 FF) DE Robert Knowles, Jr. (21 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR) DE Shawn Shupperd, So. (27 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF) LB Tyson Patrick, Sr. (43 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FF) LB Ichiro Vance, So. LB Kevin Hamlin, Jr. (Iowa State transfer) LB Tyrelle Johnson, R-Fr. CB Justin Bell, Jr. (sat out last season) SS Patrick McClellan, Sr. (68 TT, 1 INY, 5 PBU) FS Brooklyn Fox, Jr. (39 TT, 3 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR) FS Zavier Foster, So. (41 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 FF) PK Austin Delpont, R-Fr. P Jordan Berry, So. (54 punts, 42.9 ypp)
OUTLOOK: A veteran team returns, but the Colonels have a new offensive coordinator, Dane Damron, and defensive coordinator, Tony Hatmaker. They won their final four games last year, including back-to-back triumphs over Jacksonville State and Murray State at home. The defense stands out despite the loss of defensive tackle Andrew Soucy, the 2010 OVC Defensive Player of the Year. The secondary could be dominant, with CBs Caldwell (13 career interceptions) and Bell forming a shutdown pair and McClellan the team's tackle leader last season. The secondary will allow the four-man defensive front to get into opposing backfields. Offensively, Pryor, the 2009 OVC Freshman of the Year, was the first EKU quarterback since 1963 to lead the team in rushing. He needs to cut down on his interceptions, but he has a top- notch receiver in Harris, who had back-to-back 200-yard games last season. The running back stable is deep, although Lumpkin is coming off a season-ending knee injury last October. Having to go to Murray State (Oct. 29) and Jacksonville State (Nov. 5) in back-to-back weeks is a daunting task.
4. UT MARTIN SKYHAWKS (6-5 overall; 5-3 OVC)
COACH: Jason Simpson (32-25 in five seasons at UT Martin)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Derek Carr, Jr. (191 of 328 for 2,543 yards, 13 TDs and 12 INTs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Darrin Nalls, Jr. (28 TT, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB/PR Jason McNair, R-Jr. (125 carries, 547 yards, 2 TDs) RB D.J. McNeil, So. (52 carries, 262 yards) RB Tevin Barksdale, Jr. (82 carries, 479 yards, 3 TDs) WR Stephen Shriver, Sr. (36 receptions, 634 yards, 5 TDs) WR Chris Thompson, R-So. (19 receptions, 239 yards, 1 TD) WR Dylan Davis, Jr. (Hinds CC transfer) TE/FB Kenny Jones, Sr. (16 receptions, 248 yards) TE Ben Everett, Sr. (10 receptions, 133 yards) C Tyler Eady, Jr. RG Michael Mancini, R-Jr. LG LaDarrius Stallings, Sr. LT Charles Sweeton, R-Fr. DE Josh Cody, Sr. (22 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR) DE Dean Wathen, So. (10 TT, 2 TFL, 3 QBH, 2 blocked kicks) DT D.J. Roberts, R-So. (17 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH) LB Jonathan Utley, Sr. (36 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 2 QBH) LB Jarvis McCann, Jr. (Pearl Rive CC transfer) LB Jett Howard, Sr. (56 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 FF) CB T.J. Drakeford, Sr. (35 TT, 6 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF) CB/PR C.J. Estelle, Sr. (23 TT, 7 PBU, 1 QBH) SS Kendal Harper, Sr. (42 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INTs, 6 PBU, 2 FR) FS Joe Dunavant, R-Sr. (18 TT, 1 PBU) FS Obi Nwankwo, So. (35 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU) PK Cody Sandlin, Jr. (11 of 14 FG, 42 long; 28 of 29 PAT) P Joe Hook, Sr. (52 punts, 40.5 ypp)
OUTLOOK: UT Martin won its first Sgt. York Trophy last season by sweeping the OVC's other three Tennessee teams. But the Skyhawks are trying to get back to the levels of their 2006 and '08 squads, which went a combined 12-3 in conference games. Junior Derek Carr, who led the OVC in passing yards last season, should get better with his experienced group of running backs and receivers. He says being picked sixth in the OVC preseason poll will motivate the team. Their title candidacy could be determined by September conference games at Jacksonville State (Sept. 1) and against Murray State (Sept. 22). Add in a Sept. 15 game against Union (Ky.) and their first three games are on Thursday nights. Much of the defensive coaching staff has moved on to other schools, with Lytrell Pollard taking over as the new coordinator. The Skyhawks have to overcome the big loss of LB Josh Bey. At linebacker, Howard had a solid junior season and Utley is capable of much more than last year's production. Nalls, Harper and Drakeford have to post big seasons for the Skyhawks to lead the conference in total defense again.
5. TENNESSEE TECH GOLDEN EAGLES (5-6 overall; 4-4 OVC)
COACH: Watson Brown (18-27 in four seasons at Tennessee Tech; 111-178-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 20 (11 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Tim Benford, Sr. (50 receptions, 812 yards, 10 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Marty Jones, Jr. (87 TT, 3.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Tre Lamb, Jr. (72 of 136 for 974 yards, 11 TDs and 4 INTs) RB Dontey Gay, Jr. (63 carries, 429 yards, 3 TDs) RB/WR Zack Ziegler, Jr. (26 carries, 74 yards, 1 TD; 16 receptions, 174 yards, 2 TDs) WR Demetrous Garrett, Jr. (11 receptions, 115 yards) WR Charlie Stevens, Sr. TE Adam Hunter, Jr. RG Slade Adams, Jr. RT Hunter Beedle, Jr. RT Wesley Sherrill, So. C Michael Baker, Jr. LT Malcolm Jones, Sr. LT James Normand, So. LG Scott Schweitzer, Sr. DE Travis Adkins, Sr. (24 TT, 4 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FR) DE Jamere Hogue, Sr. (29 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 blocked kick) DE Marcus Edwards, Jr. (29 TT, 9 TFL, 7.5 sacks) DT Jordan Johnson, So. (6 TT) LB Dwight Evans, Sr. (53 TT, 10.5 TFL, 1 PBU) LB Howard Griffin, Jr. (injured last season) LB Jake McIntosh, Sr. (72 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 FR, 2 FF) LB Matt Moran, Jr. (27 TT) LB Tommie McBride, So. (24 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks) SS Will Johnson, So. (49 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 QBH, 2 FF) CB Caleb Mitchell, Jr. (31 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 FF) CB Richmond Tooley, Sr. (54 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 INTs, 8 PBU, 1 FF) PK Matthew Barker, Jr. (9 of 16 FG, 46 long) P Nick Campbell, Sr. (39 punts, 39.7 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The starting lineup returns nearly intact and the Golden Eagles are switching to a multiple spread offense as Brown seeks to energize his floundering program. The proclaimed "Fastest 60 Minutes in Football" will please Benford, who has 151 career receptions, needs only six to move into the Top 10 in OVC history and should rewrite the Tech record book by the end of the season. QB Lamb hopes to be efficient in the offense and benefits from a veteran line, which features guards Slade and Schweitzer. The Golden Eagles surrendered 31.7 ppg, which bettered only Austin Peay in the OVC. DE Edwards gets to quarterbacks, but the defensive line seeks improvement overall. It will be helped by the veteran secondary locking down receivers. FS Jones is coming off an especially strong sophomore campaign. With only 10 games because of open dates on Oct. 8 and 22, the Golden Eagles will be rested for the brutal stretch of games at Jacksonville State (Oct. 29), against Murray State (Nov. 5) and at Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 12)/
6. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE REDHAWKS (9-3 overall; 7-1 OVC)
COACH: Tony Samuel (22-35 in five seasons at Southeast Missouri State; 56-92 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 8 (3 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Matt Scheible, Sr. (109 of 182 for 1,246 yards, 8 TDs and 3 INTs; 169 carries, 887 yards, 7 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Tylor Brock, Jr. (56 TT, 6 INTs, 3 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Renard Celestin, R-Jr. (4 carries, 15 yards) RB Lennies McFerren, R-Fr. RB Lewis Washington Jr., Fr. FB Ron Coleman, R-Fr. WR Chantae Ahamefule, R-Sr. (26 receptions, 357 yards, 1 TD) WR Matt Bell, R-So. (1 reception, minus-2 yards) WR D.J. Foster, R-So. (3 receptions, 30 yards, 1 TD) TE Art Mueller, R-So. (1 reception, 18 yards) LT Evan Conrad, Jr. C/RG Chris Duggins, Sr. C Ben Fulghum, Jr. (Butler County CC transfer) C Josh Jourdan, R-Jr. (LA Harbor College transfer) RG Pete Niggemann, Jr. (Glendale CC transfer) DE Justin Love, Jr. (42 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) DE Johnnie Morgan, Sr. (10 TT, 2 QBH) DT Steve Hendry, R-Sr. (18 TT, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH) NT Quinn Perry, Jr. (Laney College transfer) LB Blake Peiffer, Jr. (59 TT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR) LB Philip Klaproth, Sr. (38 TT, 2.5 TFL) LB Wisler Ymonice, So. (15 TT) LB Darrick Borum, R-Jr. (48 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 3 FR, 2 FF) SS Bryan Blanfort, R-Sr. (injured last season) CB Kweku Arkorful, R-Sr. (19 TT, 1 INT, 2 FF) CB Cory Holmes, R-Sr. (3 TT) CB Bradley Montgomery, R-So. PK Drew Geldbach, R-Jr. (12 of 17 FG, 53 long; 33 of 38 PAT) P/PK Joe Vucic, R-So. (46 punts, 37.2 ypp) RS Spencer Davis, R-Fr.
OUTLOOK: After last year's dream season in which the Redhawks overcame a two- win campaign in 2009 and won the OVC title, they have by far the fewest returning starters (eight) in the conference. Samuel won the 2010 Eddie Robinson Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) as FCS coach of the year, but he is reminding others that he can't last season into this year. In an unusual move, five-year defensive coordinator Tim McGuire has moved over to offensive coordinator. He doesn't have running back Henry Harris, the 2010 OVC Offensive Player of the Year, but QB Scheible (24 straight starts) is a threat as both a runner and passer. Three All-OVC first-team offensive linemen are gone, but one is back in Conrad. Defensively, Brian Mohnsen ("Coach Moose") is the new coordinator. His unit led the conference in scoring defense (21.5 ppg) and forced turnovers (29) last season, but it won't be as strong this year. There is a standout in each unit: DE Love; LB Borum; and SS Brock, an athletic force.
7. EASTERN ILLINOIS PANTERS (2-9 overall; 2-6 OVC)
COACH: Bob Spoo (142-122-1 in 23 seasons at Eastern Illinois)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: FL/PR Erik Lora, Jr. (50 receptions, 478 yards, 2 TDs; 15 carries, 109 yards, 2 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Cory Leman, R-Sr. (95 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, So. (124 of 211 for 1,639 yards, 14 TDs and 13 INTs) RB Jake Walker, R-Jr. (53 carries, 180 yards) RB Jimmy Lera, R-Fr. RB Shepard Little, Fr. SLOT Kenny Whitaker, Jr. (42 receptions, 382 yards, 1 TD) SE Chris Wright, Jr. (21 receptions, 557 yards, 6 TDs) SE/KR Lorence Ricks, R-Sr. (20 receptions, 285 yards, 3 TDs; 24.8-yard KO return average) TE Von Wise, R-Jr. (11 receptions, 138 yards, 2 TDs) LT Mike Garrity, R-Jr. LG Eric Zink, Sr. RG Alex Pierce, R-So. RT Dominic Pagliara, R-So. C Kevin Kapellas, R-Jr. C Mike O'Neill, R-Jr. DE Artavious Dowdell, Jr. (52 TT, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 4 QBH, 3 FR, 3 FF) DT Roosevelt Holliday, So. (36 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH) DT Mike Letton, Sr. (22 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 QBH) LB Gordy Kickels, Sr. (72 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR) LB Antonio Taylor, R-So. (14 TT, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) CB Randolph Tribble, Jr. (1 TT) CB Deonte Jackson, So. (Harper College transfer) FS Carlos Reyna, Sr. (42 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) FS Nick Beard, R-So. (38 TT, 2 PBU) SS Nick Martinez, R-Sr. (74 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 3 FF) PK Cameron Berra, So. (8 of 11 FG, 43 long, 19 of 20 PAT) P Scott Weatherford, R-So.
OUTLOOK: This is Spoo's 25th season at EIU (24th on the sideline) and 50th and final season as an eventual Hall of Fame coach. The season starts with the 100th anniversary game against Illinois State and the Panthers, the 2009 OVC champions, hope it ends much better than last season's injury-filled struggle, which began with eight straight losses. The Panthers' offensive woes started with a subpar running game, but QB Garoppolo did a credible job as a true freshman. He will do a lot more passing this season because of the deep receiving corps, which is among the OVC's best. FL Lora had a breakout season a year ago and Ricks will star as a receiver and kickoff returner. The defense lost some key leaders, but returns its No. 2 (Leman), 3 (Martinez) and 4 (Kickels) tacklers. Teams might prey on the new cornerbacks, though. The Panthers lead the OVC with seven FCS playoff appearances since 2000, but this team doesn't seem ready to return to the postseason. The first half of the schedule is particularly tough.
8. TENNESSEE STATE TIGERS (3-8 overall; 0-7 OVC)
COACH: Rod Reed (3-8 in one season at Tennessee State Tigers)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Dante' Thomas, R-Sr. (155 carries, 793 yards, 6 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Rico Council, Sr. (79 TT, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jeremy Perry, Gr. (131 of 244 for 1,469 yards, 9 TDs and 6 INTs) FB Johntae Gleaves, R-Jr. (1 carry, 0 yards) WR Jeremy Pryor, R-So. (27 receptions, 288 yards) WR Calvin McNairl, R-Sr. (34 receptions, 429 yards, 4 TDs) WR Travis James, Jr. (16 receptions, 211 yards) TE London Davis, R-Jr. (7 receptions, 102 yards) LT Sherman Carter, R-Jr. LG Justin Ridgeway, Sr. RT Kadeem Edwards, So. RG Anthony Woods, Jr. DE Lamar Wallace, Jr. (47 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF, 2 blocked kick) DE Antonio Harper, R-So. (23 TT, 9 TFL) DT Donte'e Nichols, R-Sr. (25 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QB, 1 FF) LB Wilson Robinson, So. (24 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH) LB John Jones Jr., R-Sr. (sat out last season) FS Justin Bather, R-Jr. (35 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 9 PBU, 1 FF) SS Joe Wylie, Sr. (33 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH) CB/KR Rayshawn Weatherspoon, R-Jr. (8 TT, 5 PBU; 24.8-yard KO return average) CB Dare Ayoola, R-Fr. CB Andrew Taylor, R-So. (21 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) PK/P Jamin Godfrey, So. (9 of 18 FG, 42 long; 21 of 24 PAT) PK Matt Moseley, Fr.
OUTLOOK: Failing to win all five games that were decided by a touchdown or less helped send the Tigers to their first winless record in 25 seasons in the OVC. In fact, the Tigers were off to a 3-2 start and then ended the season with six straight defeats. Reed hopes to get his squad right back on track, starting with a very winnable opener against Southern University on Sept. 3. Although the defense suffered a huge loss in strong safety Eugene Clifford, it should be a strong unit. The Tigers are stacked at linebacker, where Council was selected as the OVC's preseason defensive player of the year and Jones, the team's tackle leader in 2009, returns to the lineup after sitting out last season. In addition, DEs Harper and Wallace should do damage on the edge. Bather and Wylie will steady the secondary in the wake of losing Clifford. Offensively, there are four returning starters on the line, which is welcome news to QB Perry and RB Thomas, the latter of whom was a preseason all- conference choice. Expect considerable improvement from the Tigers.
9. AUSTIN PEAY GOVERNORS (2-9 overall; 1-7 OVC)
COACH: Rick Christophel (15-29 in four seasons at Austin Peay)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Ryan White, Sr. (156 carries, 769 yards, 4 TDs; 9 receptions, 103 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: WS Amius Smith, Sr. (82 TT, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 6 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jake Ryan, R-Jr. (107 of 212 for 1,120 yards, 7 TDs and 11 INTs) RB Wesley Kitts, Jr. (33 carries, 152 yards, 1 TD) FB Cody Tucker, Jr. WR Devin Stark, Jr. (19 receptions, 253 yards, 2 TDs) WR Scott Thomas, Sr. (18 receptions, 223 yards) WR Robert Lemon, Jr. (11 receptions, 98 yards, 1 TD) LT J.P. Washington, Sr. LG Jacob Langston, Jr. C Tim Schmid, Jr. RG Chris Hartman, So. RT Ben Stansfield, So. DE Preston Gilbreath, R-So. (23 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FF) DT Anthony Marion, R-Jr. (20 TT, 1 QBH) LB Darrick Dillard, Jr. (84 TT, 4.5 TFL) LB Zac Burkhart, R-Jr. (52 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FR) LB Zach Lane, So. (29 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT) FS Antwaun Majors, R-Jr. (84 TT, 1.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick) SS Enriques Perry, So. (31 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FF) CB/S Jeremy Ross, Jr. (51 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 FR, 1 FF) CB Tyreon Clark, So. (51 TT, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF) CB Steven Ragin, So. (33 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INTs, 6 PBU) CB Sheldon Wade (22 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR) PK Stephen Stansell, Jr. (12 of 18 FG, 51 long; 21 of 22 PAT) P Scott Graves, R-Fr. RS Tee Howell, So.
OUTLOOK: No one is paying attention to the Governors, and they won't be either after they open the season with losses at FBS opponents Cincinnati and Memphis, so they might be able to sneak up on the OVC to a small degree. Three of their first four conference games are in Clarksville, Tenn. Above all, their defense has to improve considerably. Last year's unit allowed 451.7 yards per game, which was fifth-worst in the FCS, and 38.2 points, which was sixth-worst. The 4-2-5 defense returns eight of its top 10 tacklers, led by LB Dillard and FS Majors with 84 each and WS Smith with 82. Offensively, Ryan comes back as an experienced quarterback, but he needs to be more efficient with the ball. The son of former NFL QB Pat Ryan has thrown for 21 interceptions and only eight touchdowns over the Governors' last 17 games. There's no doubt they will get the ball to White, who ranks fifth in school history with 504 carries and 2,450 rushing yards. To limit wear and tear on the 5-8 White, Kitts should get touches as well. The line they will run behind features a 323-pound center in Schmid. There's really no replacing the kick return skills of Terrence Holt, the NCAA's all-time leader.