Nashville, TN – It's easy to point toward what teams have a good starting quarterback returning in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Too easy, defensive coordinators are saying with a frown.
All but one of the nine OVC teams, Southeast Missouri, returns an experienced quarterback in what should be an explosive year offensively for the conference.
"I think the point of separation is not between the quarterbacks ... it's who's got the defense that can do something about it," Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said astutely on Monday at the conference's football media day.
Crowe and his Gamecocks were looking up at only one team in the OVC preseason poll, Eastern Kentucky, which returns a fourth-year starting quarterback in T.J. Pryor.
Of course, Eastern Kentucky surrounds Pryor with plenty of other talented players. The Colonels claimed 10 of the 26 spots on the conference's preseason team and were installed as the preseason favorite for the 12th time in the last 25 years. They have won 21 conference titles in their history.
Murray State senior Casey Brockman, a two-time Walter Payton Award candidate, was the OVC's preseason choice at quarterback, but the returning talent under center runs deep.
In addition to Brockman and Pryor, there's UT Martin's Derek Carr, who matched Brockman for a conference-high 25 touchdown passes; Tennessee State's Tre Lamb; the Jacksonville State duo of Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard; Tennessee State's Michael German, the conference's 2011 freshman of the year; Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo; and Austin Peay's Jake Ryan.
The only new quarterback is at Southeast Missouri, but Redhawks coach Tony Samuel isn't feeling too badly about it. He's excited about turning over the keys to the offense to Ohio University transfer Kyle Snyder, a student of the game who can run and throw in the way Matt Scheible did in recent seasons.
"It's different," Brockman said, "just because how many leagues can say they bring back nine quarterbacks, or however many it is. They're all talented - Carr, Lamb, Ivory, Blanchard, all those guys you can name top to bottom, everybody's got talent. It's exciting."
OVC signal-callers might be licking their lips over the season ahead, but a lot of the coaches are thinking like Crowe, now the dean of conference head coaches following the retirement of Bob Spoo at Eastern Illinois.
Defense is the trump card.
"Usually it becomes an offensive league," Austin Peay coach Rick Christophel said. "Most of the time, when you do have an offensive league, what ends up happening is somebody's defense ends up taking over and helps dominate the league. We have a lot of experienced quarterbacks in this league. It's going to be a job for our defensive staff to figure out how to defend them."
"There are some really good quarterbacks out there," Samuel said. "I think that puts a little more pressure on defenses and special teams.
The OVC could use a big season out of its quarterbacks. The conference hasn't had a team win an FCS playoff game since 2000, a span of 17 games which includes losses by Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky last season. Both teams fell at home in the first round after sharing the conference title a three-way tie with Jacksonville State.
"College football is almost becoming like college basketball," Hood said. "It's coming down to that last possession. That's on the quarterback.
"The most critical component of who has a chance to win the thing is who's got a quarterback coming back. Who's got a quarterback who's got 'it.' It's hard to define it, but if they don't have it, you know it."
OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
(Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors)
1. Eastern Kentucky (12 first-place votes), 124 points
2. Jacksonville State (6), 117
3. Murray State, 85
4. Tennessee Tech, 83
5. Tennessee State, 69
6. UT Martin, 67
7. Southeast Missouri, 44
8. Eastern Illinois, 42
9. Austin Peay, 17
PRESEASON ALL-OVC TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - Casey Brockman, QB, Murray State
Defensive Player of the Year - Blake Peiffer, LB, Southeast Missouri
QB - Casey Brockman, Murray State, Sr.
RB - Matt Denham, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
RB - Washaun Ealey, Jacksonville State, Sr.
WR - Tyrone Goard, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
WR - Quentin Sims, UT Martin, Sr.
TE - Von Wise, Eastern Illinois, Sr.
C - O.J. Enabosi, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
OG - Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State, Jr.
OG - Tori Mobley, Jacksonville State, Sr.
OT - Aaron Adams, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
OT - Patrick Ford, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
DL - Marcus Edwards, Tennessee Tech, Sr.
DL - Artavious Dowdell, Eastern Illinois, Sr.
DL - Antonio Harper, Tennessee State, Jr.
LB - Anthony Brown, Eastern Kentucky, Jr.
LB - Ichiro Vance, Eastern Kentucky, Jr.
LB - Blake Peiffer, Southeast Missouri, Sr.
LB - Qua Huzzie, Murray State, Jr.
LB - Sam Small, Murray State, Sr.
DB - Will Johnson, Tennessee Tech, Sr.
DB - Austin Tallant, Tennessee Tech, So.
DB - Justin Bell, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
DB - Brooklyn Fox, Eastern Kentucky, Sr.
K - Cody Sandlin, UT Martin, Sr.
P - Jordan Berry, Eastern Kentucky, Jr.
RS - Weldon Garlington, Tennessee State, So.