Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ohio Valley Conference 2011 Preview

Austin Peay Governors
2010 Record: 2-9
The Govs don't really have the tools to compete in this league, abut they have never been able to settle on a conference home. The time has come to make a commitment to being successful, but the tools are just not there.
Jake Ryan returns at QB, but his 7/11 TD to pick ratio was a real issue behind the losing. Ryan White returns to his RB post as a redshirt senior, and he ran for 769 yards and 4 scores last fall, but the Govs lose Terrence Holt, their leading rusher from last season. Devin Stark returns as the leading receiver from last fall, but only had 19 receptions on the season.
APSU brings back their top 3 tacklers from last fall, but the defense gave up 451 yards per game. LB Darrick Dillard is the best player in the front seven after recording 84 tackles, while DBs Amius Smith and Antwaun Majors both return after combining for 166 tackles. Smith was good for 8 TFLs last fall. Steve Ragin also returns at CB after defending 6 passes last fall.
It's probably going to be another long season for Austin Peay, but hey, basketball season will be coming before you know it.
2011 Schedule: 9/3 @ Cincinnati, 9/17 @ Memphis, 9/24 Eastern Kentucky, 10/1 Tennessee State, 10/8 @ UT-Martin, 10/15 Jacksonville State, 10/22 @ SE Missouri State, 10/29 E. Illinois, 11/5 Central State, 11/12 @ Murray State, 11/19 @ Tennessee Tech

Eastern Illinois Panthers
2010 Record: 2-9
Head Coach Bob Spoo retires after this season, but maybe he should already be gone after the Panthers recorded a 2-20 record over the last two seasons.
Jimmy Garoppolo comes back after starting 8 games at QB last fall. He passed for 1639 yards and 14 TDs, but was also picked 13 times in 8 games. That has to get fixed. The Panthers have to rebuild at RB after losing their top 2 rushers. The Panthers strength will be in the receiving corps, where they return their top 5 receivers last fall, led by Chris Wright and Erik Lora.
Cory Leman will step into the top spot at LB, but losing All-American Nick Nasti will be huge. Leman recorded 95 tackles on the season, and is solid. Gordy Kickels returns after recording 73 tackles, giving EIU a source of strength at LB. Nick Martinez will be the leader in the secondary. Artavius Dowdell will be back at DE after leading the team with 4.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs. As good as Martinez was last fall, he is going to have some issues as he will be the only real play maker in the secondary.
Spoo will go out this season and will probably show an improvement over two wins from last season, but he won't leave with anything more than a middle of the pack finish.
2011 Schedule: 9/1 Illinois State, 9/10 @ Northwestern, 9/17 Tennessee Tech, 9/24 @ Jacksonville State, 10/1 @ Southeast Missouri State, 10/8 E. Kentucky, 10/15 @ Murray State, 10/22 UT-Martin, 10/29 @ Austin Peay, 11/5 Tennessee State, 11/12 @ S. Illinois

Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2010 Record: 6-5
EKU finished in 3rd place last fall, and they are looking to exploit weaknesses amongst the leaders to try to push their way to the top. If that is to happen, then they will need more out of TJ Pryor, who tossed 12 TDs but also was picked off 12 times. Pryor also led the team with 505 yards rushing and 9 scores. RB HB Banjoman returns after rushing for 423 yards and 5 scores. Orlandus Harris was the second best receiver in the OVC last fall, and he will return after catching 56 passes for 940 yards and 7 scores. Tyrone Goard was nowhere near as productive, but he returns as the second option.
DB Pat McLellan is the only returning starter for EKU that finished in the OVC top 25 in tackles with 68. DE Anthony Brown was incredible as a freshman last season, and finished second in the league with 6.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs on the year. Tyson Patrick returns at LB after collecting 9.5 TFLs. Emory Attig recorded 8.5 on the line. The secondary will return intact, but EKU gave up 244 yards passing per game last fall.
The Colonels will try to make a push for the league title, a place that they used to rule years ago. A comeback could be in the works, but the secondary and QB position need some repairs. Still, a challenger and top 4 finisher.
2011 Schedule: 9/3 @ Kansas State, 9/10 Missouri State, 9/17 Chattanooga, 9/24 @ Austin Peay, 10/8 @ E. Illinois, 10/15 SE Missouri State, 10/22 Tennessee State, 10/29 @ Murray State, 11/5 @ Jacksonville State, 11/12 Tennessee Tech, 11/19 UT-Martin

Jacksonville State Gamecocks
2010 Record: 9-3
After carrying the top spot in our FCS PRI nationally most of the season, the Gamecocks stumbled down the stretch, and then got bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. 2011 brings some measure of unfinished business for the Gamecocks, who are currently working towards joining FBS football in the near future.
Jack Crowe split QB duties between Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard last season, and they both return for 2011. They combined to pass for 26 TDs on the season. Calvin Middleton will return at RB, with sophomore Darius Barksdale bringing depth. They combined to rush for 903 yards and 8 scores on the year. Cory Blanchard can beat you with his feet as well. James Shaw, a converted DB, and Alan Bonner return at WR, but depth is thin.
LB Rodney Garrott and DE Jamison Wadley both return up front, but the Gamecocks need consistency in tackling, as nobody rated in the OVC top 25. Keginald Harris and AJ Davis return in the secondary to lead the pass defense, but there are some depth issues spread around on the defense as a whole.
JSU, despite their depth issues on D, could be offensively deep enough to attempt to win the OVC, as that title slipped away from them a year ago. That being said, they'll face a truck load of competition.
2011 Schedule: 9/1 UT-Martin, 9/10 @ Chattanooga, 9/17 Georgia State, 9/24 E. Illinois, 10/1 @ Murray State, 10/15 @ Austin Peay, 10/22 @ Kentucky, 10/29 Tennessee Tech, 11/5 E. Kentucky, 11/12 @ SE Missouri State, 11/19 @ Tennessee State

Murray State Racers
2010 Record: 6-5
Few teams in the country finished the season as hot as the Racers, and they have positioned themselves well to make a title run in the OVC in 2011.
It all start with junior QB Casey Brockman, who came on during the season to take a stranglehold to the job. He passed for 2442 yards in 9 games with 15 TDs to just 6 picks, and also rushed for 7 more scores in the process. Brockman is a pre-season candidate not only for our OVC MVP, but also for our FCS QB of the Year. Mike Harris will return at RB as well, after having rushed for 904 yards and 10 scores. His 100.44 yard per game average was good for 21st in the country last fall, and he missed two games. If healthy, he will likely more than clear 1000 yards rushing. Sophomore WR Arthur Brackett elevates to the top of the depth chart after catching 62 passes last fall, and Dexter Barnett is a solid receiver as well. Losing Marcus Harris is a big blow, but there is enough talent leftover to make up for it.
The strength of the defense is in the secondary this fall, as Brandon Wicks (73 tackles), Dontrell Johnson (67), and Nathan Brinkley (62) all return this fall. Johnson was a real ball hawk last fall, defending 8 passes. Brinkley finished with 3 picks. The Racers also will get some experience coming back along the D line, as Arlestor McKinnon, Joe Gamsky, and Jamal Crook all return. Where the Racers need a lift in production is at LB, where their best option left last fall in Zack Kutch.
The Racers gave up 208 yards passing per game, and 190 yards rushing per game, so if they can improve on either count, it may be enough for their high powered offense to roll through the season. Murray State is my early dark horse to steal the crown from SE Missouri.
2011 Schedule: 9/1 @ Louisville, 9/10 @ Mississippi Valley State, 9/17 Tennessee State, 9/22 @ UT-Martin, 10/1 Jacksonville State, 10/8 @ Georgia State, 10/15 E. Illinois, 10/29 E. Kentucky, 11/5 @ Tennessee Tech, 11/12 Austin Peay, 11/19 @ SE Missouri State

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
2010 Record: 9-3
The Redhawks rolled to the OVC title last season, but continued the OVC playoff futility by getting bounced in the 1st round. No OVC team has claimed a win in the playoffs since 2000.
Tony Samuel did a fantastic job of putting together one of the toughest teams in FCS football last fall, redeeming himself from his New Mexico State disaster.
Matt Scheible returns to trigger the option offense for the Hawks, as he passed for 1246 yards and 8 TDs to just 3 picks all season. He added 887 yards rushing and 7 scores, but he loses hi best back in All-American Henry Harris, who rushed for 1735 yards last season. SEMS is on rebuild mode now at RB. Chantae Ahamefule will be back as the top receiver, but there is very little depth behind him.
Justin Woodlief returns to run the defense at LB after recording 77 tackles last fall. Darrick Borum joins him at LB after leading the team with 4 sacks last season. There is solid depth coming back in the secondary, led by Tylor Brock, who led the league with 6 picks in 2010. Brock returned 2 of those picks for scores.
With the lack of returning depth at the skill positions on offense, the Hawks could slip this season. It won't be a huge slip, but it may be enough to keep them from a playoff birth.
2011 Schedule: 9/3 S. Illinois, 9/17 @ Purdue, 9/24 @ Tennessee Tech, 10/1 E. Illinois, 10/8 @ Tennessee State, 10/15 @ E. Kentucky, 10/22 Austin Peay, 10/29 @ UT-Martin, 11/5 Central Methodist, 11/12 Jacksonville State, 11/19 Murray State

Tennessee State Tigers
2010 Record: 3-8
Rod Reed's first year was a nightmare, as the Tigers went winless in OVC play. It could be more of the same in 2011, as the Tigers have no clear option at QB at this time. Dante Thomas will return at RB after rushing for 793 yards and 6 scores, but there is very little depth in the backfield after that.  Calvin McNair returns at WR in the top slot after catching 34 passes last season. He will be joined by sophomore Jeremy Perry.
DB Rico Council could probably start for any team in the conference, and returns in the secondary after recording 79 tackles last fall.Justin Bather is solid as well, as he returns after defending 9 passes last fall. Brandon Bather returns as well, after picking off two passes last fall. Lamar Wallace and Steve Hendry will be the anchors of the line, but the LB corps is in rebuilding mode.
TSU is looking like a lock to anchor the bottom of the conference once again. Just not enough depth, or talent.
2011 Schedule: 9/3 Southern, 9/10 Jackson State, 9/17 @ Murray State, 9/24 @ Air Force, 10/1 @ Austin Peay, 10/8 SE Missouri State, 10/15 @ Tennessee Tech, 10/22 @ E. Kentucky, 11/5 @ E. Illinois, 11/12 UT-Martin, 11/19 Jacksonville State

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
2010 Record: 5-6
Watson Brown is still at it, trying to get the Eagles to the next level, but it has yet to happen, and the pressure is building. Tre Lamb is the front runner to take the QB job after playing in 8 games last fall, passing for 974 yards and 11 TDs to just 4 picks. Dontey Grey is ahead of the curb to be the new starting RB, after he rushed for 340 yards in relief duty last fall. Tim Benford is one of the best receivers in the league, and he returns this fall to give Lamb a leg up.
Marty Jones returns to lead the team in tackles, as he led OVC DBs last fall with 87 tackles. Jake Mcintosh will lead the LB corps, but he has some improvements to work on. Richmond Tooley was solid in the secondary, having defended 8 passes. Marcus Edwards led the conference in sacks with 7.5 on the season, and he returns as well. He finished with 9 TFLs on the season, while Dwight Evans returns after finishing with 10.5.
2011 Schedule: 9/3 @ Iowa, 9/8 Maryville, 9/17 @ E. Illinois, 9/24 SE Missouri State, 10/1 @ UT-Martin, 10/15 Tennessee State, 10/29 @ Jacksonville State, 11/5 Murray State, 11/12 @ E. Kentucky, 11/19 Austin Peay

Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks
2010 Record: 6-5
The Hawks made a major stride last season, reaching 6 wins on the season, and proving to be a general nuisance in conference play, and they defeated all three in state teams in the OVC to win the state's Sgt. York Trophy.
Derek Carr returns at QB, having passed for 2543 yards on the season. His TD to pick ratio needs help, however, as he passed for 13 TDs to 12 picks. Jason Mcnair, Tevin Barksdale, and DJ McNeill all return at RB to give UTM solid depth, which will be significant during the season. Stephen Shriver and Kenny Jones return to start at WR, but they neither player was the best receiver on the team, as Stephen Shriver leaves after graduating.
Darrin Nalls returns on the line after leading the team with 5 sacks, but there is significant talent loss in the front seven due to graduations. CJ Estelle and Kendal Harper both return in the secondary for the Skyhawks after they combined to defend 13 passes last fall. Harper finished with 3 picks.
Questions on defense keep me from placing the Hawks into the OVC race this season. They could be a day killer, however, as they are the kind of team that could bite you in the ass if not careful. A team worth keeping an eye on.
2011 Schedule: 9/1 @ Jacksonville State, 9/15 Union, 9/22 Murray State, 10/1 Tennessee Tech, 10/8 Austin Peay, 10/15 @ South Alabama, 10/22 @ E. Illinois, 10/29 SE Missouri State, 11/5 @ Mississippi State. 11/12 @ Tennessee State, 11/19 @ E. Kentucky

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