NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the second-straight season five different Ohio Valley Conference schools received at least one first-place vote in the OVC preseason poll while Jacksonville State picked up the most first-place votes (11) and was tabbed the 2010 OVC preseason favorites in a vote of league head coaches and sports information directors.
Those 11 votes were out of 18 total votes, putting the Gamecocks (120 points) atop the preseason poll for the third time since joining the league in 2003. Eastern Illinois, last yearâ€™s champion, picked up four first-place votes (114 total points) and were just six total points behind Jax State. Eastern Kentucky (102 points), Tennessee Tech (78 points) and Tennessee State (70 points) each received one first-place vote apiece and were picked third, fourth and fifth respectively. The preseason poll was rounded out by UT Martin (59), Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri tying for seventh (38) and Murray State (29).
Jacksonville State finished with the best record in the OVC last season (8-3 overall, 6-1 OVC) but was ineligible for the Conference crown because of a NCAA postseason ban due to an APR penalty. The Gamecocks, however, are once again eligible for the title and NCAA postseason this season and will look to win its third OVC crown with a group of 46 returning letterwinners. Jax State will have to replace All-American quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, but does have seven other offensive starters back including preseason All-OVC selections in tight end Cory Freeman and offensive linemen Tylor Chambers and Curt Porter. Defensively senior defensive back T.J. Heath will once again be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Heath was named an All-American by three different outlets last season when he ranked third nationally in passes defended (1.45/game) and 10th nationally in interceptions (0.55/game). His most memorable game was against UT Martin when he had three interceptions, including returning two of those for touchdowns. Jack Crowe, who enters his 11th season with the Gamecocks in 2010, will also have an updated stadium for his team to play in this year. The now re-named Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium will open on Sept. 11 to a new seating capacity of 24,000. That opener will mark the end of an 18-month, $47 million expansion that included a new dorm, 33 luxury skyboxes and a new press box among other things.
After a rare losing season in 2008, it was only a matter of time before Eastern Illinois rebounded and got the program back in the right direction. Bob Spoo, the OVC Dean of Coaches, needed only one year to bounce back, leading Eastern Illinois to its fifth OVC crown and 13th NCAA playoff appearance in 2009 after going 8-4 overall and 6-2 in league play. Spoo, who enters his 23rd season with the program, is now the fifth winningest coach in OVC history (88 wins while in the OVC). This season EIU has seven offensive and eight defensive starters back from its championship squad. Among the players back is senior running back Mon Williams who rushed for 870 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago. He will run behind an offensive line that must replace an All-American in Chaz Millard and two players who are now in the NFL (draft pick Otis Hudson and signee Chris Campbell). This yearâ€™s line will be anchored by Willie Henderson who is making the move to center and is a preseason All-OVC pick. Defensive lineman Perry Burge, linebacker Nick Nasti and defensive back CJ James are also preseason All-OVC picks; James is joined in the secondary by Rashad Haynes, who was a second-team All-OVC selection a year ago.
After being picked first in each of the past two seasons Eastern Kentucky was tabbed third this year. The Colonels struggled down the stretch last year losing its last three games and four of its last five contests to finish at 5-6, the first losing season for the program since 1972 (which was the second-longest streak at the Division I level when it ended). Despite the late skid, EKU was in the thick of the OVC race and would have shared the overall championship had the team topped Jacksonville State on the final weekend of the season. Eastern Kentucky will look to sophomore quarterback T.J. Pryor to lead the offensive attack. Last season Pryor picked up OVC Freshman of the Year honors after finishing fourth in the league with 2,153 passing yards and accounting for 10 total touchdowns. Despite having just five starters back on offense, Eastern has eight of 11 starters back on the defensive side of the ball, a strength under defensive-minded head coach Dean Hood. Among those starters are three preseason All-OVC selections in senior defensive lineman Andrew Soucy, senior linebacker Jordan Dalrymple and junior cornerback Jeremy Caldwell. Caldwell has been named to the Sports Networkâ€™s Buck Buchanan Watch List, an award given to the nationâ€™s top FCS defensive player. Caldwell had seven interceptions in 2009, a mark that ranked fourth nationally.
Head coach Watson Brown has turned the Tennessee Tech program around in Cookeville, leading the Golden Eagles to a winning record (6-5) in his third season on the job in 2009, only the second winning season for the program in the last eight years. In building with a young squad, Techâ€™s players have grown in the program and gained valuable experience; this season six offensive and 10 defensive starters return along with 55 total letterwinners from the team that tied for second in the OVC. Three TTU players were named to the preseason All-OVC squad, including two offensive linemen in sophomore Slade Adams and junior Malcolm Jones. Joining those two players is junior wide receiver Tim Benford, who has caught at least one pass in every game of his successful career that included being named OVC Freshman of the Year two years ago.
Tennessee State is one of two OVC teams with a new head coach this season. While Rod Reed is in his first year as the head coach, he is no stranger to the program as he was a linebacker and two-time team MVP at Tennessee State (1984-88) and has been on the Tigers coaching staff for seven years as the defensive coordinator. While the leadership has changed a lot of the pieces on the squad have remained the same, including five key defensive players from last yearâ€™s team that was third in the OVC in total defense (308.6 yards/game). That defensive unit includes senior defensive back Eugene Clifford and junior defensive lineman Donteâ€™e Nicholls (both of who were preseason All-OVC selections) and junior linebacker Rico Council, who was second on the team in tackles last year. The team also returns quarterback Dominic Grooms, who played in only four games last year due to injury, and junior Calvin McNairl who was the teamâ€™s leading rusher (628 yards) at the quarterback position a year ago and who has now moved to the split end role.
Picked sixth this season UT Martin finished fourth a year ago with a 4-4 mark in OVC contests. That marked the fifth-straight season the program has had a .500 or better Conference record after previously having only two of those marks in its first 13 years as a member of the OVC. Head coach Jason Simpson will look to senior linebacker Josh Bey, the 2010 OVC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, to lead a defensive unit that was fourth in the league in total defense a season ago (332.7 yards/game). Bey had 107 tackles, 16.5 tackles-for-loss (a mark that was 10th nationally) and 6.5 sacks in 2009. Offensively the Skyhawks will have to replace quarterback Cade Thompson who passed for 2,546 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago.
Austin Peay was picked to finish in a tie for seventh with Southeast Missouri after finishing 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the OVC a season ago. The Governors return the top rushing backfield in the Conference with junior Ryan White and senior Terrence Holt, who were each first-team All-OVC selections last season (the first time the two first-team backs were from the same team in 20 years) and preseason All-OVC picks this year. The duo combined for 1,873 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009, as White led the Conference in rushing (1,081) and Holt led the league in scoring (13 rushing touchdowns). White had some huge games a year ago, rushing for 228 yards against Southeast Missouri and 210 yards against Newberry. Holt, who also returns kicks and punts for APSU, led all FCS players in all-purpose yards a season ago (215.73 yards/game) and was named OVC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year this season. Rick Christophel, a former Austin Peay quarterback, returns for his fourth season as the Govs head coach.
Southeast Missouri will turn to junior quarterback Matt Scheible, a preseason All-OVC selection, to lead its offense in 2010. The Redhawks, who are under the direction of fifth-year head coach Tony Samuel, ranked fourth in the league in offense (239.6 yards/game) but were last in total defense (387.6 yards/game) in 2009. Scheible has passed for nearly 2,700 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first two years as Southeastâ€™s signal caller. Last season he also rushed for 487 yards and four scores. Senior running back Henry Harris returns to lead the attack that was 16th nationally in rushing offense (183.6 yards/game). Harris rushed for 720 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
The other new head coach in the league is at Murray State, where Chris Hatcher takes over after seven seasons at Valdosta State and the last three years at Georgia Southern. Hatcher will bring his spread offense known as the "Hatch Attack" to Roy Stewart Stadium and look to turn around a program that has had five-straight losing seasons. He will look to improve an offense that was last in the league a season ago (230.1 yards/game) and a defense that was next-to-last (378.1 yards/game). Although the quarterback situation is still to be decided, Hatcher does have senior wide receiver Marcus Harris, a preseason All-OVC selection, returning. Harris is set to become the Racers all-time leading receiver, as he is just 21 catches behind the record holder. Harris also returned kicks last year and was 36th nationally in all-purpose yards (120.30 yards/game). Special teams should be a strength for Murray State, as junior Kienan Cullen returns to handle the place kicking and punting duties. Cullen, a preseason All-OVC selection at both spots, was a first-team All-OVC pick as a punter last year and a second-team choice as a kicker.
2010 OVC Predicted Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State (11 first-place votes) 120
2. Eastern Illinois (4) 114
3. Eastern Kentucky (1) 102
4. Tennessee Tech (1) 78
5. Tennessee State (1) 70
6. UT Martin 59
7. Austin Peay 38
Southeast Missouri 38
9. Murray State 29
All-OVC Preseason Football Team
Austin Peay senior running back/return specialist Terrence Holt and UT Martin senior linebacker Josh Bey have been tabbed the 2010 Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in a vote on by the leagueâ€™s head football coaches and sports information directors. Eastern Illinois, Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech each had four selections apiece on the preseason team to lead the league. Eastern Kentucky had the next-most selections with three. Each of the leagueâ€™s nine teams had at least one player on the preseason squad.
Returning players who were first-team All-OVC picks last season (12 in total) were automatic selections to the preseason team this year. The squad also included seven players who were second-team selections in 2009. Of the 25 total selections, 13 were seniors, 11 were juniors and there was one sophomore.
The offensive unit is led by Holt, who was a first-team All-OVC selection as both a running back and return specialist in 2009. Holt led all FCS players in all-purpose yards last season (215.73/game) while ranking 17th nationally in scoring (8.18 points/game). Holt rushed for 793 yards and 13 touchdowns and added a score on each a kick and punt return. He is joined on the preseason squad by his teammate, junior Ryan White, who rushed for a league-best 1,081 yards a season ago. Southeast Missouri State junior Matt Scheible (1,596 yards, 11 touchdowns) was tabbed the preseason quarterback while the wide receivers were Tennessee Tech junior Tim Benford (33 catches, 580 yards) and Murray State senior Marcus Harris (45 catches, 417 yards). Jacksonville Stateâ€™s Cory Freeman was named the preseason tight end selection. The offensive line included Eastern Illinois junior center Willie Henderson, Jacksonville State junior guard Tylor Chambers and senior tackle Curt Porter and Tennessee Tech sophomore guard Slade Adams and junior tackle Malcolm Jones.
Defensively Bey ranked 10th nationally in tackles-for-loss last season (16.5), while also ranking in the top 40th nationally in tackles (1.50/game) and sacks (0.59/game). Joining Bey in the linebacking corps is Eastern Kentucky senior Jordan Dalrymple (85 tackles, 8.0 tackles-for-loss) and Eastern Illinois senior Nick Nasti (83 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 2 forced fumbles). The defensive line includes Eastern Kentucky senior Andrew Soucy (49 tackles, 9.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks, 7 quarterback hurries), Eastern Illinois junior Perry Burge (31 tackles, 7.0 tackles-for-loss, 5.0 sacks, 6 quarterback hurries), Southeast Missouri senior J.J. Sanchez (46 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks) and Tennessee State junior Donteâ€™e Nicholls (35 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss). The defensive back unit includes Tennessee State senior Eugene Clifford (60 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries), Jacksonville State senior T.J. Heath (34 tackles, 6 interceptions, 16 passes defended), Eastern Illinois senior CJ James (44 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 5 interceptions, 9 passes defended) and Eastern Kentucky junior Jeremy Caldwell (48 tackles, 7 interceptions, 13 passes defended).
Specialists selected to the preseason team include Murray State junior Kienan Cullen who appears on the team as both the kicker and punter. Cullen was a first-team All-OVC pick as a punter last season after averaging 41.0 yards/punt, and a second-team pick as a kicker after connecting on 14-of-17 field goals and being perfect on point after attempts. Holt was a first-team return specialist selection last year after averaging 25.4 yards/kickoff return last season and 12.4 yards/punt return.
2010 Preseason All-OVC Team
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Terrence Holt (RB/KR), Austin Peay
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Bey (LB), UT Martin
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 - Donteâ€™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
RS - Terrence Holt, Austin Peay
K - Kienan Cullen, Murray State
P - Kienan Cullen, Murray State