Philadelphia, PA – It's still a getting-to-know-you feeling across Big South Conference football.
One year after Coastal Carolina (Joe Moglia) and Liberty (Turner Gill) brought in new head coaches, Charleston Southern (Jamey Chadwell) and Gardner-Webb (Carroll McCray) have first-year skippers. And the Big South only has six teams this season with Stony Brook's departure to CAA Football.
Monmouth will spend 2013 as an FCS independent before joining the Big South next year.
Despite winning at least a share of five of the last six Big South titles, Liberty is still seeking its first trip to the FBS playoffs. With Stony Brook out of the picture, basically only Coastal Carolina stands in the way of the Flames.
All-Big South back Aldreakis Allen had a 1,000-yard season despite being only second on Liberty in carries. This season, he will be the featured back.
McCray has to figure out the offensive line at Gardner-Webb, but his D-line will be terrific with the return of ends Preston Pemasa and Maurice Dickson and tackle Matt Goods, who have each earned at least one All-Big South honor.
There are a lot of "what ifs" with the VMI offense, which was among the worst in the FCS last season. If third-year quarterback Eric Kordenbrock can become consistent. If a somewhat deep running backs corps can produce well. If Dexter Bridge can become the wide receiver that the Keydets coaches had hoped for during his freshman season in 2011.
There may not be a problem of missed tackles this season. There wasn't a senior among the top eight players in tackles per game last year. In fact, there were only two seniors (one from Stony Brook) among the top 26 in the conference. Pretty amazing.
OH, YES, THEM AGAIN
And again. And again. Gardner-Webb linebacker Tanner Burch ranked second in the FCS with 12.6 tackles per game last year.
Former Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, now with the Carolina Panthers, called his former teammate, Matt Hazel, the best wide receiver he has ever gone against. Hazel returns to build on his 19 career touchdown receptions.
Liberty would benefit greatly from the return of cornerback/return specialist Kevin Fogg and left guard Malcolm Boyd from injury.
Coastal Carolina is replacing All-Big South quarterback Aramis Hillary with Alex Ross, who subbed in for one start last season against Gardner-Webb and accounted for 404 yards of total offense and three touchdown passes.
Gardner-Webb sophomore cornerback Ivan Toomer has both size (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) and speed (4.38 seconds in 40-yard dash) to become a standout in the Big South.
A 6-foot-4 safety, Presbyterian's Nick Newton showed flashes as a true freshman in 2011. After redshirting this past season, he will take on a large role for the Blue Hose.
With Charleston Southern going to a spread option attack under Chadwell, sophomore-to-be wide receiver Larry Jones III expects to build on a 21-catch season.
Trying to win the right to run Charleston Southern's spread are senior quarterback Malcolm Dixon, who helped the Buccaneers to a .500 mark in the Big South, and sophomore Briar Van Grunt, who had the starting job until he suffered a season-ending injury.
Having lost a lot of wide receiver, Liberty needs to find multiple playmakers out of a group led by unheralded Jaquan Glover and Darrin Peterson.
Neither Tamyn Garrick nor Kaleb Griffin settled the quarterback position at Presbyterian. Incoming freshman Heys McMath hopes to jump into the mix this summer. The Blue Hose were winless in conference play this past season.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Charleston Southern: March 19-April 13
Coastal Carolina: March 15-April 13
Gardner-Webb: March 19-April 13
Liberty: March 19-April 18
Presbyterian: March 12-April 9
VMI: April 3-May 1