Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ohio Valley Conference 2016 Preview

The OVC had a team in the FCS final for the first time in 34 years last fall, and that could happen once again in 2016. Jacksonville State made it to the end last season before falling to North Dakota State in the championship game. There are a total of four teams that could push for playoff births this season, as Jacksonville State, Eastern Illinois, UT-Martin, and Eastern Kentucky are all looking to make a move.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State
2. Eastern Illinois
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. UT-Martin
5. Murray State'
6. SE Missouri State
7. Tennessee State
8. Tennessee Tech
9. Austin Peay

Jacksonville State Gamecocks
The Gamecocks won 13 games last season, and they look set as the odds on favorite to repeat as OVC champs in 2016.
Eli Jenkins, the QB last season, may or may not be available, as he was arrested for an alleged domestic assault in the off-season. If he cannot overcome that issue, and if a shoulder surgery that took place during the off-season is an issue as well, there could be a problem. Dalton Ethridge is the only QB returning that took snaps last season, and he is a sophomore.
Josh Barge returns at WR after catching 92 passes and scoring 11 times last fall, so whomever the QB is as we head into the schedule, that will be a plus for him. Ruben Gonzalez and and Markis Merrill are both gone at WR, so look for Dalton Screws and Anthony Johnson, both seniors, to try to fill that void.
The major issue on offense, outside of the QB situation, will be at RB, where the top four rushers outside of Jenkins are all gone. Josh Clemons, a Kentucky transfer, could be the new back.
The strength of this team could be on defense, where LaMichael Fleming could be coming back for a 6th year after injruies have largely been an issue for him. Darius Jackson is one of the best DEs in the nation.
Projected Win Total: 10

Eastern Illinois Panthers
The Panthers also have issues and questions at QB, and it looks as if they will turn the job over to one of two transfers. Look for either FIU transfer Bud Martin, or Syracuse transfer Mitch Kimble to be taking over the reins.
The rushing attack looks solid, as Devin Church, a former Illinois transfer, returns after rushing for 9 TDs last fall. Another transfer, this time from Arkansas in Korliss Marshall, will add to the depth at the RB spot this fall. He sat out last season. Malik Harrison will be conpteting for time as a junior as well this season.
The top five receivers return from last season, but it was the RB Church who led the team with 36 receptions. That may have to change if the Panthers are to push through and take the league away from JSU.
DT Dino Fonti is gone, so that leaves a void in the middle of the line on defense. LB Seth McDonald will take over the leadership reins on a unit that gave up only 19.8 points per game in OVC play, but returns only four starters.
Projected Win Total: 7

Eastern Kentucky Colonels
EKU severely under performed last fall, and the Colonels made a change at the top. Former Tennessee assistant Mark Elder is now in charge of pushing this program forward as the school expores FBS options.
Bennie Coney is back at QB after passing for 2471 yards and 23 TDs last season. He will see some competition in camp, however, as former Missouri starter and resident head case Maty Mauk will be joining the team for fall camp.
Ethan Thomas is back at RB for his sophomore year, but he was the leading rusher for EKU last fall with just 498 yards. That number will have to jump significantly if the Colonels are to push for a playoff spot this fall. With the issues at JSU and EIU, EKU could push through both, but they have to improve the run game first. Adam Lane returns as the primary backup.
The Colonels return only one of their top four receivers from last season, and that would be Devin Borders, who caught just 37 passes a year ago.
Projected Win Total: 7

Tennessee-Martin Sky Hawks
UTM made real progress last season in winning seven games, and with some breaks, they too could push through the crowd to get their first ever playoff bid in 2016. Their issues are the same as the other teams in the heap at the top, departures on offense.
Jarod Neal is gone at QB. Look for a pair of transfers to be in the mix to take the job in Florida State transfer Troy Cook and Marshall transfer Ginnar Holcombe. Cook attempted 16 passes for the Hawks last fall.
Ladevin Fair and Najee Ray, both seniors will compete in camp to take over the vacant starting job at RB as well. They combined for 111 carries last fall, so both will have lots of opportunities to play.
Caylon Weathers returns as a junior at WR after catching 62 passes for 726 yards last fall. After Weathers, depth is thin, at best.
The strength on defense is the front line, as Arkansas transfer Anthony Brown will join Damani Taylor as forces to move through in the trenches.
Projected Win Total: 6

Murray State Racers
The Racers really fell short last season with just three wins, but they return some considerable talent, and could also make a push, but they have questions as well.
One such question will not be at QB, as KD Humphries, one of the best FCS QBs in the country, returns at the helm of the offense. He passed for 3778 yards last season.
Jesse Blackburn is back at WR after catching 48 passes last fall, but the top three receivers are all gone, and four of the top five are gone in total. Jordon Gandy and Mitch Stults should be given some opportunities in camp.
Roman Clay could easily surpass his 916 yard season from last year. He also rushed for 11 TDs, another total that he could eclipse. Nick Tyler could also see increased numbers as the backup.
The Key for the Racers improving in 2016 will be shoring up the defense, which gave up 30 or more points six times in league play in 2015.
Projected Win Total: 5

Southeast Missouri State Red Hawks
The Hawks do not have much of a question at QB, but they will be looking for further development out of young QB Dante Vandeven. He had an uneven freshman campaign, but did pass for 1568 yards in nine games, with 11 TDs. He needs the passing yardage and TD numbers to grow.
Tremane McCullough is back at RB after rushing for 1028 yards last fall, but the one area where the Hawks need more from him is in rushing TDs, where he scored just five times last fall. Tay Bender and Brendan Stewart should provide depth.
Darrius Darden-Box will be expected to step up at receiver this fall, as the top two receivers have departed.
LB Roper Garrett, a senior, led the OVC in tackles last season, and will be expected to lead the defense.
Projected Win Total: 4

Tennessee State Tigers
The Tigers could push forward from a disappointing 2015, but to do so, they must learn to win close games, something they were unable to do last fall.
O'Shay Ackerman-Carter and Ronald Butler will likely have some competition in fall camp, and both had plenty of work last season. Look for Ackerman-Carter to open camp with th edge, as he showed solid flashes as a freshman last season.
Whomever wins that job will have one of the better receivers in the nation to pass to in Patrick Smith, who piled up 996 yards and 10 TDs last fall. Chris Sanders-McCollum and Isaiah Jeffries-Freeman should both be in line for big seasons as well.
Erick Evans is back as a junior, and should be in line to be the starter at RB, but this is an area that struggled last fall.
A common theme in the conference, the strength of the Tiger defense is up front, led by DE Ebenezer Ogundeko.
Projected Win Total: 4

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
Watson Brown has retired after a largely unsuccessful reign as head coach of the Eagle program. Former Temple OC Marcus Satterfield brings new blood and a fresh approach that were badly needed.
Jared Davis returns at QB, but he was not solid last fall, and I believe he could be pushed by other returnees in Colby Brown and Ty Jobe.
The RB position is a bit of a mess right now, with no depth to speak of. Dorian Carter is back as a sophomore, but he carried just 48 times last season.
Brock McCoin and Krys Cates are both back at WR, but they need to find a QB to get the back out to them.
Projected Win Total: 2

Austin Peay Governors
Largely one of the worst teams in FCS football, Austin Peay looks to settle back into the bottom of the OVC once again. They have not won a game in 16 tries.
Will Healy will be the latest coach to try to raise this wreck from the bottom of FCS football after a stint as an assistant at Chattanooga.
The Govs will be starting over at QB, as Timarious Mitchell, Darrien Boone, and Nolan chowbay are all locked into a camp battle for the starting job.
Kendall Morris is back as a sophomore at RB after rushing for 695 yards and 5 TDs last season. Julian Franklin adds limited depth.
Every single receiver who caught a pass last fall returns, so there is an area to build off of. Jared Beard and Wesley Thomas are the best of the bunch.
The defense largely has to be rebuilt after giving up less than 30 points just three times all of last season.
Projected Win Total: 0

Next Up: Patriot League

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