Philadelphia, PA – The coaches were motioning toward Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at Ohio Valley Conference media day last month.
You might say that Garoppolo's ability as a Walter Payton Award finalist - he ranked second in the FCS in passing yards last year - was the reason.
The point the coaches were making about Garoppolo, though, was that EIU, the defending conference champion, had a veteran quarterback returning this year. Many of the coaches could not make the same claim.
The year of the QB is over for the so-called Offensive Valley Conference, the highest-scoring conference in the FCS last season.
Among the nine teams, only EIU and Southeast Missouri State with Scott Lathrop are sure they will return their full-time quarterback from last season.
Darian Stone impressed, though, when he started the final four games at Tennessee Tech, so he gives the Golden Eagles continuity. Tennessee State, which has championship aspirations, is anxiously awaiting word on two-year starter Michael German's future status after he received an indefinite suspension this offseason.
The uncertainty under center could make for another wild season in the OVC, or it can give Eastern Illinois a huge advantage.
It's a conference that has a chip on its shoulder, having had three 8-3 teams (Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee State and UT Martin) denied at-large bids to the FCS playoffs last year.
It's also a conference that hasn't had an FCS playoff win since 2000.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Eastern Illinois
2. Tennessee State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Jacksonville State
5. UT Martin
6. Southeast Missouri State
7. Tennessee Tech
8. Murray State
9. Austin Peay
1. EASTERN ILLINOIS PANTHERS
LOCATION: Charleston, Ill.
COACH: Dino Babers (7-5 in one season at Eastern Illinois)
LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 6-1 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STARS: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Sr. (331-of-540, 3,823 yards, 31 TD, 15 INT), and WR Erik Lora, Sr. (136 receptions, 1,664 yards, 12 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: S Nick Beard, Sr. (85 TT, 3 TFL, 9 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Taylor Duncan, Jr. (117 carries, 466 yards, 8 TD)
WR Keiondre Gober, So.
LT Dominic Pagliara, Sr.
LG Collin Seibert, Jr.
RG Alex Pierce, Sr.
DE Pat Wertz, R-Sr.
NT Dion Fanti, So.
LB LeQuince McCall, Sr. (82 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 QBH)
LB Robert Haynes, Jr. (101 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
LB Adam Gristick, Jr.
LB Alex Helms, Sr.
CB D.J. Bland, Jr.
CB Pete Houlihan, Sr. (78 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
S Alex McNulty, Sr.
S Jourdan Wickliffe, Jr. (76 TT, 2 INY, 3 PBU)
PK Cameron Berra, Sr. (12-of-13 FG, 44 long; 84 points)
P Scott Weatherford, Sr.
BIG LOSSES: RB Jake Walker (232 carries, 1,133 yards, 12 TD) and DE Artavious Dowdell (58 TT, 13.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 4 PBU, 8 QBH)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 136 (76 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Passing Offense, 334.92 (6 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Total Offense, 470.92 (7 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 36.50 (8 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 170.25 (71 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Passing Defense, 264.83 (112 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Total Defense, 435.08 (102 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 36.17 (108 in FCS, 6 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: EIU's sixth OVC title since 2001 was its most surprising last year because the Panthers were coming off back-to-back 2-9 seasons. But Babers turned the program around quickly in his first season with a confident attitude from the start. The Panthers face a difficult schedule in the first month of the season, but its lone OVC game in that stretch is at home, and winning another conference title is still the way to get back to the FCS playoffs. The Garoppolo-to-Lora connection was unstoppable in EIU's no-huddle attack last season, with Lora setting an FCS single-season record with 136 receptions. But overshadowed in their exploits was Walker rushing for 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns, so the Panthers likely need Duncan to at least double his production as a junior. The defense is fortified by the return of eight starters, so Babers clearly expects the unit to lower the 36.2 points it surrendered each game. Having an experienced secondary is a good start. It's hard to beat Berra's consistency on field goals - 27-for-33 in his career. Despite the tough early stretch, the Panthers are the team to beat in the OVC.
Aug. 31 - at San Diego State
Sept. 7 - at Southern Illinois
Sept. 14 - vs. Illinois State
Sept. 21 - at Northern Illinois
Sept. 28 - vs. Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 10 - at Austin Peay
Oct. 19 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 26 - at Tennessee State
Nov. 2 - vs. Tennessee Tech
Nov. 9 - at Murray State
Nov. 16 - vs. Jacksonville State
Nov. 23 - at UT Martin
2. TENNESSEE STATE TIGERS
LOCATION: Nashville, Tenn.
COACH: Rod Reed (16-17 in three seasons at Tennessee State)
LAST SEASON: 8-3 overall, 4-3 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (7 offense/11 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TE A.C. Leonard, Jr. (51 receptions, 733 yards, 6 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Steven Godbolt III, Jr. (45 TT, 6 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Michael German, Jr. (215-of-358, 2,751 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT)
QB Ronald Butler, Fr.
QB Lamar McKnight (Contra Costa CC transfer)
RB Telvin Hooks, So. (75 carries, 425 yards, 2 TD)
RB Adam Davenport, Fr. (Navy transfer)
FB Vernon Frett, Sr.
WR Devin Wilson, Sr. (17 receptions, 230 yards, 4 TD)
LT DeShawn Byrd, Sr. (Grand Rapids CC transfer)
LG Kadeem Edwards, Sr.
C Demetrius Rhaney, Sr.
RT Robert Myers, Jr.
DE Antonio Harper, Sr.
DE Anthony Bass, Jr.
DT Samquan Evans, Jr.
NT Dinsdale Jackson, So.
OLB Wilson Robinson, Sr.
MLB Nick Thrasher, Jr. (105 TT, 9 TFL)
OLB Gregory Barksdale, Sr.
CB Ronnie Vinson, Jr.
CB De'Ante Saunders, Jr. (Florida transfer)
FS David Van Dyke, Sr. (52 TT, 2 INT, 5 PBU)
SS Daniel Fitzpatrick, Jr. (61 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU)
PK/P Jamin Godfrey, Sr. (16-of-20 FG, 46 long; 81 points)
RS Weldon Garlington, Jr.
BIG LOSS: RB Trabis Ward (309 carries, 1,422 yards, 15 TD; 21 receptions, 248 yards)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 175.73 (36 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Passing Offense, 250.91 (26 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Total Offense, 426.64 (25 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 28.82 (44 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 153.09 (54 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Passing Defense, 208.55 (52 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Total Defense, 361.64 (50 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 22.82 (41 in FCS, 2 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: The Tigers won't be the same team if German, their two-year starter at quarterback, doesn't return from an indefinite suspension. They already are trying to replace Ward, who had the ball in his hands for 40 percent of TSU's plays last season. That's why Reed is planning to have both Hooks and Davenport replace Ward's production together. Leonard, a nice 6-4, 245-pound target, is an All-America tight end, but where will he be without German? The defense is a different story as it could be the OVC's best unit. Godbolt, a Buck Buchanan Award nominee who was chosen as the OVC's preseason defensive player of the year, headlines a superb secondary which has added Saunders as a Florida transfer. Thrasher is an aptly named leading tackler at middle linebacker and there are capable pass rushers. The schedule doesn't suggest the Tigers will start the season 7-0, as they did last season, but they also are focused on a closing touch to get into the FCS playoffs.
Sept. 1 - vs. Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 7 - at Florida A&M
Sept. 14 - at Jackson State (at Memphis, Tenn.)
Sept. 21 - at Tennessee Tech
Sept. 28 - vs. Central State (at St. Louis)
Oct. 5 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 12 - at Jacksonville State
Oct. 19 - at UT Martin
Oct. 26 - vs. Eastern Illinois
Nov. 2 - at Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 9 - vs. Austin Peay
Nov. 16 - vs. Murray State
3. EASTERN KENTUCKY COLONELS
LOCATION: Richmond, Ky.
COACH: Dean Hood (34-23 in five seasons at Eastern Kentucky)
LAST SEASON: 8-3 overall, 6-2 OVC; No. 23 TSN Final Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RG Justin Meredith, R-Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Anthony Brown, R-Sr. (60 TT, 12.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 6 QBH, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jared McClain, Jr. (30-of-53, 460 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT)
RB Caleb Watkins, R-Jr.
RB J.J. Jude, R-Fr.
FB Jeremy James, Jr.
WR/TE Ike Ariguzo, Sr.
WR Jeff Glover, So.
TE Matt Langel, R-Sr. (injured last season)
LT Brett Eyckmans, So.
LG Travon Carter, R-Sr.
DE Shawn Shupperd, R-Sr. (56 TT, 3 TFL, 16 QBH, 3 FR)
DT David Carter, R-Sr.
DT Bryce Krebs, R-So.
MLB Ichiro Vance, R-Sr. (56 TT, 4 TFL)
CB/KR Stanley Absanon, So. (25.6-yard KO return average)
SS Brandon Stanley, R-Jr. (81 TT, 3 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 FF)
PK Luke Pray, R-Sr.
P Jordan Perry, R-Sr.
BIG LOSSES: QB T.J. Pryor (123-of-213, 1,929 yards, 15 TD, 3 INT) and RB Matt Denham (287 carries, 1,386 yards, 14 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 205.73 (20 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Passing Offense, 220.09 (49 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Total Offense, 425.82 (26 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 31.27 (30 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 108.18 (9 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Passing Defense, 254.18 (105 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Total Defense, 362.36 (52 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 21.73 (32 in FCS, 1 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: With 21 conference titles, Eastern Kentucky has the most by far in the OVC. Adding another one this year will be difficult, though, because the Colonels suffered plenty of key graduation losses on offense. But Hood believes in the next-man-up mentality, so he's moving forward. The offense lost a four- year starter at quarterback (Pryor), a Walter Payton Award finalist (Denham) at running back and an all-conference wide receiver (Tyrone Goard). McClain has performed well behind Pryor and appears suited for the No. 1 job. But the offense boosts so many inexperienced players in the skills positions that the players must jell first. The defense returns more veterans, led by Brown and Vance at linebacker, from a unit that performed admirably in the so-called Offensive Valley Conference last season. Hood thinks the front seven might be the strongest in his tenure. In the secondary, Stanley led the team in tackles as a sophomore.
Aug. 29 - vs. Robert Morris
Sept. 7 - at Louisville
Sept. 14 - vs. Coastal Carolina
Sept. 21 - at Morehead State
Sept. 28 - at Eastern Illinois
Oct. 5 - vs. Austin Peay
Oct. 19 - vs. Tennessee Tech
Oct. 26 - at Southeast Missouri State
Nov. 2 - vs. Tennessee State
Nov. 9 - at Jacksonville State
Nov. 16 - vs. UT Martin
Nov. 23 - at Murray State
4. JACKSONVILLE STATE GAMECOCKS
LOCATION: Jacksonville, AL
COACH: Bill Clark (first seasons at Jacksonville State)
LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall, 5-3 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (4 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB DeMarcus James, Jr. (143 carries, 867 yards, 6 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Rashad Smith, Sr. (89 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kyle West, So.
QB Eli Jenkins, So.
WR/PR Telvin Brown, So.
WR/KR Gabriel Chambers, Jr.
C Max Holcombe, Jr.
RG Blake Burks, Jr.
RT Tarik Milner, Jr.
NT Caleb Lawrence, Jr. (43 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
LB Robert Gray, Sr.
LB Dustin Gayton, Jr.
LB Ben Endress, Jr. (85 TT, 3.5 TFL)
CB Jermaine Hough, So.
CB Rashod Byers, Jr. (56 TT, 2 INT, 9 PBU)
FS Pierre Warren, Jr. (51 TT, 3 TFL, 4 PBU)
PK Griffin Thomas, Sr. (10-of-19 FG, 49 long; 68 points)
P Hamish MacInnnes, So,
BIG LOSS: QB Marques Ivory (152-of-265, 2,077 yards, 16 TD, 7 INT)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 191 (27 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Passing Offense, 222.27 (47 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Total Offense, 413.27 (30 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 29.27 (40 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 187.64 (90 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Passing Defense, 250.55 (103 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Total Defense, 438.18 (105 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 32.45 (99 in FCS, 4 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: Clark, most recently the defensive coordinator at South Alabama, looks to put his stamp on the JSU program after it underperformed in its final two seasons under former coach Jack Crowe. Clark knows defensive talent when he sees it, and the Gamecocks return their top seven tacklers, led by Smith at outside linebacker. It's on offense where Clark might have problems in his first season. Ivory and his backup Coty Blanchard are gone, likely leaving the next crack at quarterback to Jenkins. The offense will be up-tempo with the Gamecocks trying to keep the ball in the hands of James, who outrushed the more touted Washaun Ealey last season. The Gamecocks have a chance to improve because of their defense, but an OVC title and playoff appearance appear out of reach.
Aug. 31 - at Alabama State
Sept. 7 - vs. Jacksonville
Sept. 14 - vs. North Alabama
Sept. 21 - at Georgia State
Sept. 28 - vs. Murray State
Oct. 5 - at UT Martin
Oct. 12 - vs. Tennessee State
Oct. 26 - at Tennessee Tech
Nov. 2 - at Austin Peay
Nov. 9 - vs. Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 16 - at Eastern Illinois
Nov. 23 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
5. UT MARTIN SKYHAWKS
LOCATION: Martin, Tenn.
COACH: Jason Simpson (45-34 in seven seasons at UT Martin)
LAST SEASON: 8-3 overall, 6-2 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Jeremy Butler, Sr. (51 receptions, 750 yards, 10 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Ben Johnson, R-Sr. (131 TT, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jared Neal, R-So.
QB Tyler Rice, Jr.
RB D.J. McNeil, Sr. (103 carries, 402 yards, 9 TD)
WR Dylan Davis, Sr. (23 receptions, 293 yards)
LT Charles Sweeton, R-Jr.
LG John Johnson, R-Jr.
C Tyler Eady, R-Sr.
RG Mathew Axline, R-So.
DE D.J. Roberts, R-Sr. (53 TT, 11.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 11 QBH)
ILB Tony Bell, Jr. (78 TT, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 QBH, 2 FF)
CB Thad Williams, Sr.
CB Camaren Harris, Sr.
CB Taino-Fears Perez, Jr.
SS J'Vontez Blackmon, Sr. (76 TT, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
P James Satterfield, R-Jr. (41 punts, 42.5 ypp)
BIG LOSS: QB Derek Carr (264-of-415, 3,276 yards, 31 TD, 8 INT)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 127.91 (85 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Passing Offense, 299.55 (10 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Total Offense, 427.45 (24 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 33.55 (18 in FCS, 3 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 183.82 (85 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Passing Defense, 285.91 (119 in FCS, 8 in OVC); Total Defense, 469.73 (113 in FCS, 8 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 29.36 (78 in FCS, 3 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: The Skyhawks were one of the FCS' best-kept secrets last season, beating Conference USA member Memphis, handing Eastern Illinois its only OVC loss and playing in some offensive slugfests. While Simpson has gotten the program on track in his tenure, he faces a transition season with the loss of many key players, including all-time passing leader Carr and NFL Draft pick Montori Hughes at defensive tackle. The Skyhawks won't score as much as last season, with Neal trying to emerge as the No. 1 quarterback, but they surely will get the ball to Butler, who scored all 10 of his touchdowns against OVC opponents last year. McNeil will have a bigger part of the run game after a strong junior campaign. Roberts and Johnson will pace the defense in its front seven. The schedule is difficult, including two FBS games.
Aug. 29 - at Chattanooga
Sept. 7 - at Boise State
Sept. 14 - vs. Central Arkansas
Sept. 28 - at Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 5 - vs. Jacksonville State
Oct. 10 - at Tennessee Tech
Oct. 19 - vs. Tennessee State
Oct. 26 - at Austin Peay
Nov. 2 - vs. Murray State
Nov. 9 - at Memphis
Nov. 16 - at Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 23 - vs. Eastern Illinois
6. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE REDHAWKS
LOCATION: Cape Girardeau, Mo.
COACH: Tony Samuel (28-51 in seven seasons at Southeast Missouri State; 61-108 overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-8 overall, 2-6 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (6 offense/3 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Scott Lathrop, So. (91-of-158, 1,025 yards, 7 TD, 5 INT; 211 carries, 824 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Daniel Siehndel, Jr. (51 TT, 3 TFL, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: WR D.J. Foster, Sr. (37 receptions, 498 yards, 5 TD)
QB Kyle Snyder, R-So.
TB Lennies McFerren, Jr.
RB Ron Coleman, Jr. (33 carries, 158 yards, 2 TD)
WR/RS Spencer Davis, Jr.
WR Paul McRoberts, So.
LT Ben Schmidt, Jr.
LG Kyle Finney, Jr. (Grossmont College transfer)
C Corey Porter, Jr.
NT Jon Slania, So.
MLB George Neuhaus, Jr.
CB Tim Hamm-Bey, Jr. (41 TT, 5 PBU)
CB Reggie Jennings, Jr.
FS Ben Kargbo, Sr.
PK/P Joe Vucic, Sr.
BIG LOSSES: RB Levi Terrell (231 carries, 1,349 yards, 6 TD) and Blake Peiffer (117 TT, 8 TFL, 2 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 262.36 (8 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Passing Offense, (96.45 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Total Offense, 358.82 (71 in FCS, 8 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 25.73 (in FCS, 8 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 192.55 (96 in FCS, 8 in OVC); Passing Defense, 245.27 (97 in FCS, 2 in OVC); Total Defense, 437.82 (104 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 33.27 (100 in FCS, 5 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: Samuel, the 2010 Eddie Robinson Award winner as FCS coach of the year, might know something that a lot of people outside Cape Girardeau aren't recognizing. He's confident in a team that lost key personnel. He believes the players in backup roles last season are ready for breakout campaigns. It's a team he can build with, too, because there are only eight seniors on the roster. After Snyder (ACL tear) was lost for the season in preseason camp last year, Lathrop took over at quarterback and came on strong as a freshman. Lathrop is a run-first threat, having led the OVC's No. 1-ranking rushing offense last season. Snyder, an Ohio University transfer, also is mobile, but more of a passing QB. Graduation decimated the front seven starters of the defense, taking all but Siehndel, their top-returning tackler. Despite Samuel's optimism, this team might be a year away from taking another big step in the OVC.
Aug. 29 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 7 - at Mississippi
Sept. 21 - vs. Southern Illinois (at St. Louis)
Sept. 28 - vs. UT Martin
Oct. 5 - at Tennessee State
Oct. 12 - vs. Murray State
Oct. 19 - at Eastern Illinois
Oct. 26 - vs. Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 2 - vs. Urbana
Nov. 9 - vs. Tennessee Tech
Nov. 16 - at Austin Peay
Nov. 23 - at Jacksonville State
7. TENNESSEE TECH GOLDEN EAGLES
LOCATION: Cookeville, Tenn.
COACH: Watson Brown (36-32 in six seasons at Tennessee Tech; 121-190-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-8 overall, 1-7 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Darian Stone, Jr. (70-of-143, 786 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT; 89 carries, 553 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Tra'Darius Goff, Jr. (101 TT, 2.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 1 BK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Bud Golden, Sr. (74 carries, 327 yards, 2 TD)
WR Zack Ziegler, Sr.
WR Cody Matthews, Jr.
WR Eric Belew, So.
LT James Normand, Sr.
LG Jibrin Linge, So.
LG/RT Wesley Sherrill, Sr.
DT Jordan Johnson, Sr.
DE/OLB Malcolm Mitchell, Sr. (44 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
ILB Blake Adams, Sr. (53 TT)
Rover Jimmy Laughlin, So.
Rover Bill Dilliard, So. (73 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
FS Marty Jones, Jr.
P Chad Zinchini, Sr.
RS/WR Ladarius Vanlier, So.
BIG LOSS: QB Tre Lamb (137-of-225, 1,872 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 165.73 (48 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Passing Offense, 241.64 (32 in FCS, 5 in OVC); Total Offense, 407.36 (37 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 31.55 (29 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 187.82 (91 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Passing Defense, 278.45 (117 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Total Defense, 466.27 (111 in FCS, 7 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 39.36 (115 in FCS, 7 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: Injuries plagued Tech last season. An injury to Lamb opened the door for Stone and, oh, did he make the most of starts in the final four games. In fact, he transfixed the Golden Eagles' offense, averaging 188 passing yards and 124 rushing yards. That dual-threat will keep opposing defenses off balance again this season. The Golden Eagles return 23 players with starter's experience, including FS Jones, who last played in 2010, and WR Ziegler, who missed much of last season. Their deep team should provide many leaders in what the Golden Eagles hope will be a turnaround season after they went from six OVC wins in 2011 to one last season. They will need improvement from the defense, but expect a better season in Cookeville.
Aug. 29 - vs. Cumberland
Sept. 7 - at Wisconsin
Sept. 14 - at Hampton
Sept. 21 - vs. Tennessee State
Sept. 28 - vs. Indiana State
Oct. 5 - at Murray State
Oct. 10 - vs. UT Martin
Oct. 19 - at Eastern Kentucky
Oct 26 - vs. Jacksonville State
Nov. 2 - at Eastern Illinois
Nov. 9 - at Southeast Missouri State
Nov. 23 - vs. Austin Peay
8. MURRAY STATE RACERS
LOCATION: Murray, Ky.
COACH: Chris Hatcher (18-16 in three seasons at Murray State; 112-42 overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/KR Walter Powell, Sr. (94 receptions, 1,213 yards, 10 TD; 905 return yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SS Brandon Wicks, Sr.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB KD Humphries, So. (8-of-11, 81 yards, 1 TD)
QB Parks Frazier, Jr.
RB Jamaal Berry, Sr. (95 carries, 675 yards, 7 TD)
RB Duane Brady, Sr. (118 carries, 589 yards, 8 TD; 35 receptions, 269 yards, 1 TD)
WR Jordan Morrow, Sr. (31 receptions, 157 yards, 2 TD)
WR Nevar Griffin, Jr.
WR Janawski Davis, So.
C Harris Biven, Sr.
LT Drew Kelley, Jr.
LG Zach Littlefield, Jr.
DE Ayo Ojolola, Sr. (42 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks)
DE Zac Ross, Sr.
NT Jeremy Brackett, Sr.
ILB Sam Small, R-Sr.
ILB Blake Salter, Sr. (69 TT, 2 TFL)
ILB Qua Huzzie, Sr. (58 TT, 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 PBU)
OLB Corey Addison, Sr.
OLB Anthony Hayes, Sr.
OLB T-Ray Malone, So.
CB Darrian Skinner, Sr. (51 TT, 5.5 TFL,
CB Cadarious Sanders, Jr.
SS Darrell Smith, Sr.
FS Brandon Hathaway, So.
PK Jordan Benton, Jr. (11-of-14 FG, 46 long; 86 points)
P Steve Mix, Sr. (50 punts, 41.1 ypp)
BIG LOSS: QB Casey Brockman (359-of-517, 3,729 yards, 28 TD, 10 INT; 102 carries, 239 yards, 7 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 135.45 (77 in FCS, 8 in OVC); Passing Offense, 348.91 (5 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Total Offense, 484.36 (5 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 39.18 (5 in FCS, 1 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 200 (101 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Passing Defense, 313 (121 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Total Defense, 513 (118 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 41.36 (118 in FCS, 9 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: The Racers are the only team to rank in the top five in the FCS in total offense over the last two seasons, but they don't have Brockman to lead the way again. They should still score in bunches in Hatcher's offense. Humphries should take off at quarterback and he's helped by the return of Berry and Brady, one of the better 1-2 running back combos in the FCS. Powell, a Walter Payton Award candidate, is a special player who racked up 193 all- purpose yards per game as a receiver and return specialist last season, ranking No. 2 in the FCS. He needs 187 yards to become the fourth receiver in Murray State history to reach 2,000 career yards. The defense has to cut down on the big numbers, especially if the offense takes a step back. The linebacking corps is deep, getting Small (the team's 2011 tackle leader) back from an injury. The Racers' road schedule is particularly tough, beginning with two FBS games.
Aug. 31 - at Missouri
Sept. 7 - vs. Campbellsville
Sept. 14 - vs. Missouri State
Sept. 21 - at Bowling Green
Sept. 28 - at Jacksonville State
Oct. 5 - vs. Tennessee Tech
Oct. 12 - at Southeast Missouri State
Oct. 19 - vs. Austin Peay
Nov. 2 - at UT Martin
Nov. 9 - vs. Eastern Illinois
Nov. 16 - at Tennessee State
Nov. 23 - vs. Eastern Kentucky
9. AUSTIN PEAY GOVERNORS
LOCATION: Clarksville, Tenn.
COACH: Kirby Cannon (first season at Austin Peay; 35-86 overall)
LAST SEASON: 2-9 overall, 1-7 OVC
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RT Ben Stansfield, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Iosua Siliva, Sr. (28 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jacob Sexton, So.
QB Timarious Mitchell, R-Fr.
RB/KR Terrence Oliver, Sr. (92 carries, 341 yards, 3 TD; 38 receptions, 328 yards, 1 TD)
RB Tim Phillips, Sr. (Central Michigan transfer)
WR Darryl Clack, Jr.
WR Mikhail Creech, So.
LT Gavin Willisson, Jr.
LG Nathan Sanders, Jr.
LG Tyler Miles, R-Fr.
C Isaiah Tuiasosopo, Jr.
RG Chris Hartman, Sr.
DT Malcolm Goines, Jr.
NT Reese Bulmash, Sr.
LB Craig Salley, Sr. (72 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 QBH)
LB Josh Carroll, Sr. (62 TT, 4 TFL)
CB Montez Carlton, Jr.
CB Buddy Mitchell, Jr. (42 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
SS Tyreon Clark, Sr.
WS EnRiques Perry, Sr. (38 TT, 4 TFL)
WS Steven Rich, Jr. (68 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
FS John Shuler, Jr. (66 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
P Ben Campbell, Jr.
BIG LOSS: QB Jake Ryan (207-of-363, 2,104 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT) and WR Devin Stark (67 receptions, 774 yards, 10 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 157.18 (53 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Passing Offense, 192.73 (74 in FCS, 8 in OVC); Total Offense, 349.91 (79 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Scoring Offense, 20.36 (94 in FCS, 9 in OVC); Rushing Defense, 180.45 (81 in FCS, 4 in OVC); Passing Defense, 268.64 (114 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Total Defense, 449.09 (107 in FCS, 6 in OVC); Scoring Defense, 39.55 (116 in FCS, 8 in OVC)
OUTLOOK: During an 11-year stint as head coach at Missouri S&T, Cannon led victories over Austin Peay in 2005 and '06. Now the 55-year-old will try to lift the Governors out of last place in the OVC (they also have a 9-31 conference record over the last five years). Cannon lost defensive end Earnest Smith, the team's defensive MVP last season, to a torn Achilles this summer, but the Governors return 10 of last year's other top tacklers. They clearly have to win as a team because the Governors lack stars. They are replacing a four-year starter at quarterback (Ryan), likely with Sexton. The running game will feature RB Oliver working behind the 6-8 Stansfield, but was dealt a big blow when sophomore Reco Williams (501 rushing yards last season) was declared academically ineligible earlier this month. Unfortunately, the first half of the schedule is impossible and the Governors won't play their home opener until Oct. 12 (against defending OVC champ Eastern Illinois). So don't expect much improvement in the win-loss column.
Aug. 31 - at Tennessee
Sept. 7 - at Vanderbilt
Sept. 14 - at Chattanooga
Sept. 21 - at Ohio U.
Oct. 5 - at Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 10 - vs. Eastern Illinois
Oct. 19 - at Murray State
Oct. 26 - vs. UT Martin
Nov. 2 - vs. Jacksonville State
Nov. 9 - at Tennessee State
Nov. 16 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
Nov. 23 - at Tennessee Tech