Originally, our Big South preview was going to be last Saturday, but our decision to not do the FBS conferences in order to keep your fearless leader from having a complete breakdown caused a schedule change. And that schedule change landed the Big South, our final FCS conference preview of the preseason, right here. Today.
On the very same day that the Sun Belt announces their invitation to the defending and expected-to-repeat Big South champions Coastal Carolina. What a world we live in.
We're going to direct you to our friends at Underdog Dynasty for all the news related to this transaction; expect further story updates today. Meanwhile, we'll quickly parse through our staff's near-unanimous picks for week twelve of the Big 12 schedule before getting to our preview of the Big South, including what this move means for them and a look at just what this brand-spanking new FBS program looks like this year.
All three of these games were 11-0 ballots for Baylor, K-State, and West Virginia. Only Baylor going 11-0 here is a surprise, as with all the hype surrouding Oklahoma State you'd have expected maybe one or two staffers to buck the tide. But no; everyone is contentedly in agreement.
On the other hand... nearly our entire staff has TCU pegged to go 12-0 this fall. But here we run into a clear display of the exceptions. Derek and Luke, both of whom had no problem picking Baylor to beat Oklahoma, have Oklahoma tabbed to upset the Horned Frogs. Unfortunately for them, TCU carries this on a 10-2 vote, and now they have to look at the following projected standings... which have our beloved Wildcats finally sliding into fifth place, where -- spoiler alert -- they will remain.
BotC's Projected Big 12 Standings after Week Twelve
Big South Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|17||Liberty University Flames||Lynchburg VA||4-1||9-5|
|5||Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers||Conway SC||4-1||12-2|
|Presbyterian College Blue Hose||Clinton SC||3-2||6-5|
|rv||Charleston Southern University Buccaneers||Charleston SC||3-2||8-4|
|Monmouth University Hawks||West Long Branch NJ||1-4||6-5|
|Gardner-Webb University Runnin' Bulldogs||Boiling Springs NC||0-5||4-8|
The biggest Big South news, of course, is today's news that Coastal Carolina is leaving the conference to move to FBS and the Sun Belt. That puts the conference back on deathwatch, and will set off either more realignment or the creation of more football programs.
The league retained its autobid last year despite only having six teams due to the grace period rule. Their problem had been solved, temporarily, with the addition of a new affiliate member: the Kennesaw State University Owls, from Kennesaw, Georgia. But now the conference is back in a very precarious position, as Coastal's departure will again cut the membership to six. So what will the Big South do now?
There is one other Big South member with football -- Campbell -- but they play non-scholarship ball in the Pioneer Football League. Campbell has the second-largest student body in the league and largest endowment; convincing them to change to scholarship football would be the simplest and most feasible step to restoring order, but it doesn't seem likely. There seems to be little impetus for the league's other non-football schools (High Point, Longwood, Radford, UNC-Asheville, Winthrop) to take up the sport, either -- although it has at least been discussed at Winthrop -- so an internal solution isn't probable either.
The only other real option for expansion would be one of the two Atlantic Sun/Pioneer members -- Jacksonville and/or Stetson -- moving to the scholarship model, or another A-Sun member deciding to add football. The best bets there would be Florida Gulf Coast or New Jersey Tech; Lipscomb, North Florida, or South Carolina-Upstate would also be possibilities. But it probably goes without saying that none of these options are likely, either.
Maybe a school or two in the southeast might contemplate a move up from Division II. But even that's a deeply problematic option. It's extremely hard to envision North Alabama (or any other Gulf South team) moving to Division I without a more prominent conference affiliation such as the Ohio Valley or SoCon. There is no way a team from either Division II HBCU conference is going to move up and join the Big South; they'd only do so for a MEAC or SWAC invite. The only other southeastern D-II conference is the South Atlantic, and while it's not entirely implausible for a team from that league to make the jump -- Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian are both former SAC members -- there's also really no groundswell of support at any SAC campus for a move up in classification.
And before you even begin to speculate, there is absolutely no Division III school in the southeast which would entertain such a move, nor any southeastern NAIA school with the necessary resources (although Ave Maria, basically bankrolled by Domino's magnate Tom Monaghan, might eventually have that aspiration).
But that's all speculation, and while you know how much we love our realignment talk here at BotC, it's time for reality. Liberty had won or shared six Big South titles in the previous seven years, but had always managed to lose out on tiebreakers to Coastal Carolina. The Flames finally got some measure of revenge last year, taking down the then-unbeaten and number one Chanticleers on the final weekend of the regular season to claim the Big South's autobid, although that didn't resign the Chanticleers to Liberty's usual fate; Coastal not only received an at-large but a first-round bye. And now they're really getting this war moving by nabbing the FBS invite Liberty so desperately craves.
Coastal received 15 of the 21 first-place votes in the Big South's combined coaches/media preseason poll, with Liberty claiming the other six and claiming the number two spot. Charleston Southern and Presbyterian were uncontested picks for three and four, and newcomers Kennesaw were largely deemed to be the last-place team. The only dissension in the poll was the relative positioning of Gardner-Webb and Monmouth; the Bulldogs edged the Hawks by four points in the poll to claim fifth place. Gardner-Webb is ineligible for the conference title due to APR violations.
All-Big South selections (total, gone/returning): 16 (9/7)
Preseason selections: 8
Key losses: OLs Kevin Hart and All-American Chad Hamilton, LBs Quinn Backus (127 tackles/10 TFL/5.5 sacks) and Brett Johnson (84 T/8.5 TFL), DB Pernell Williams (80 T/4 INT), K Alex Catron
Key returnees (preseason picks in italics): QB Alex Ross (3389 yards, 20 TD/7 INT; 691 yards/9 TD rushing), RB De'Angelo Henderson (1534 yards/20 TD), WRs Bruce Mapp (959/6), John Israel (798/6), and Tyrell Blanks (646/4), OL Voghens Larrieux, DLs Roderick Holder (12.5 TFL/6.5 sacks) and Calvin Hollenhorst (60 T/7 TFL), KR Devin Brown (27.9 avg KOR/2 TD)
Incoming FBS transfers: WR Kyle Wilson (Memphis), OL Daniel Anousheh (UAB), LB Devon Brant (Western Michigan, grad), DBs Ray Lewis III (Miami), Adam Maxie and Eric Church (both Kent State)
This was a really good team last year. A one-point loss to Liberty deprived the Chants of the #1 ranking heading into the playoffs, and a single touchdown loss on the road to North Dakota State -- a game which the Chants led with 10 minutes to play -- ended their season. But that's okay, they'll be back, even if it is just for one last fling.
The offensive line and linebacking corps are a bit depleted, and the loss of Big South Defensive POY Backus will not go unnoticed. But all the key skill position players are back on offense, and the returning talent on the other side of the ball is impressive. Throw in a raft of talented transfers, including some kid whose daddy was a pretty good linebacker, and the defense shouldn't suffer too much. Even though the non-conference schedule doesn't look that scary to the casual observer, it will look very good to computers. Yet Coastal will still have every chance of once again taking a perfect record into their regular season-ending tilt with Liberty.
All-Big South selections: 15 (7/8)
Preseason selections: 8
Key losses: WR Gabe Henderson (651/4) and Dexter Herman (442/2), OL Mitch Hanson, DLs Dominique Davis (12 TFL/7.5 sacks) and Toby Onyechi (13 TFL/9.5 sacks), DB Jacob Hagen (108 T/8 INT/15 PD)
Key returnees: QB Josh Woodrum (2947, 19/10), RB D.J. Abnar (1289/15), WRs Darrin Peterson (1379/12) and Dante Shells (560/3), OLs Jonathan Burgess and Max Sommer, DL Chima Uzowihe (14 TFL/8 sacks) and JaRon Greene (8 TFL), LB Nick Newman (79 T), K John Lunsford (19-24 FG, long 60/43-44 PAT), P Trey Turner (41.5 avg), LS Hunter Winstead
Incoming FBS transfers: OL Will Smith (Wake Forest)
The biggest difference between Liberty and Coastal this season is that Liberty lost more. Gone are two of Woodrum's key targets, half of a brilliant defensive line which was the key to their defense, and the team's leading tackler. In comparison to Coastal, not much returns defensively. Lunsford, the Big South Special Teams POY, is back, and the Flames swept the non-return portion of the special teams preseason selections. And Turner Gill, who failed so miserably at Kansas, has found his level. He was a good head coach at Buffalo; he's a good head coach in Lynchburg.
Coastal is a better team, but Liberty will still challenge; their meeting on November 19 will decide things.
All-Big South selections: 8 (4/4)
Preseason selections: 4
Key losses: RB Christian Reyes (946/8), OL Clayton Truitt, LB Gabe Middlebrook (9.5 TFL)
Key returnees: QB Austin Brown (1848, 11/11), RBs Mike Holloway (590/4) and Ben Robinson (505/4), WRs Nathan Perera (398/2) and Colton Korn (326/1), OL Erik Austell, LB Aaron Brown (81 T/9 TFL), DBs Troy McGowens and Malcolm Jackson (4 INT), PR Darius Hammond (13.8 avg PR/1 TD)
Incoming FBS transfers: DL Gerald Turner (South Carolina)
The Bucs had the best defense in the Big South last year, allowing only 325 yards per game. That didn't entirely translate to scoring defense, however, as CSU gave up 22 points a contest, over two points a game more than Coastal. Still, most of that defense returns, so the Buccaneers will be stout. CSU also had the league's best rushing attack, but that will be dulled with the graduation of Reyes, and the passing attack isn't great. CSU has been the bridesmaid for a few years, and it looks like that will continue.
All-Big South selections: 5 (3/2)
Preseason selections: 2
Key losses: QB Heys McMath (1334, 6/10), RB Demarcus Rouse (559/3), WR Tobi Antigha (529/0), LB Isaiah Lynn (8 TFL/6 sacks)
Key returnees: QB Kaleb Griffin (172, 0/1), RBs Darrell Bridges (396/2) and Blake Roberts (376/3), DL Khari Rosier (9.5 TFL), LB Donelle Williams (81 T), DB Ed Britt (72 T)
Incoming FBS transfers: none
Presbyterian was actually fairly decent at the whole football thing last year. The Blue Hose went 6-5 overall, and that was with NC State, Ole Miss, and Northern Illinois on the schedule. Obviously, those three games were blowout losses, but Presby was 6-2 against FCS competition. They are probably not repeating that effort in 2015. The Blue Hose lose their top playmakers at all three key offenseive positions and at linebacker. They couldn't pass last year, nor were they adept at stopping the run; on the other hand, their strengths in 2014 should remain so this fall. The issues in the passing game have led to redshirt senior QB Tamyn Garrick getting most of the attention in camp.
All-Big South selections: 6 (3/3)
Preseason selections: 4
Key losses: QB Lucas Beatty (2564, 16/12), RB Juanne Blount (318/2), WRs Kenny Cook (758/5) and Deonte Swinton (500/3), TE Seth Cranfill (401/3), DB Steven Cristobal (5 INT), RS J.J. Hubbard
Key returnees: TE Mike Estes (408/2), DL O.J. Mau (10 TFL), LB Aaron Cook (90 T/13 TFL), DB Ivan Toomer
Incoming FBS transfers: none
The Runnin' Bulldogs didn't do much running last year, only managing 862 yards on the ground all season. As a result, they were outgained by 100 yards per game overall despite a decent enough aerial attack. Sadly, most of the pieces there are now gone, and things look grim for the G-W offense, which will now be led by sophomore Tyrell Maxwell. The defense returns a good deal of its key talent, including the return of injured LBs Chad Geter (23 T in three games last year, 80 T/9 TFL and All-Big South in 2013) and Tanner Burch (107 T in 2013) behind Mau, the league's preseason Defensive POY. The defense will be even better as a result, but the offense is woeful and this team's going to be bad this year.
All-Big South selections: 7 (3/4)
Preseason selections: 3
Key losses: QB Brandon Hill (2396, 19/6), WR Neal Sterling (905/6)
Key returnees: RB Lavon Chaney (835/8; 359/2 receiving), WR Darren Ambush (327/3), OL Alex Thompson, DL Darnell Leslie (12.5 TFL), LB John Sieczkowski (85 T), DBs Mike Basile (78 T/4 INT) and Joe Johnson (4 INT)
Incoming FBS transfers: OLs Anthony Alosi (Penn State) and Andrew Foster (Michigan State)
Monmouth started last season 5-1 and then crumbled. They lose two of their three most important cogs in the offense, which is likely why they've been picked to finish sixth. But that may be misguided. The receiving corps is deep, though without any known individual standouts. Sophomore Cody Williams appears to have the edge in the quarterback derby, performing well in camp. The defense didn't lose anyone of real significance, with last year's Big South Freshman of the Year returning in the form of Mike Basile. A fourth-place finish is not at all out of Monmouth's reach, but if the Hawks have extended struggles at quarterback all bets are off.
Preseason selections: none
Key players: RS-Jr. QB Trey White, RBs RS-Fr. Jae Bowen and Fr. Chaston Bennett, WR RS-Fr. Justin Sumpter and RS-Sr. P.J. Stone, RS-Sr. DLs Chaz Cheeks and Mason Harris, DBs RS-Jr. Dante Blackmon and Jr. Keon Roman
Incoming FBS transfers: DLs Cheeks (Georgia Tech), Harris (South Carolina) Matt Foster (MTSU), Kingsley Ejike (UAB), and Dustyn Moore (Kent State)
White left The Citadel in during preseason camp in 2013 and committed himself to getting the Owls program off the ground. As should be no surprise, the squad is heavy on transfers, who will blend mostly with freshmen to form Kennesaw's initial 22. They may not win a bunch, but there's a great deal of excitement just outside the northeast corner of Atlanta.
Game of the Year
That would be the game which had already been rescheduled into an open national television timeslot even before today's announcement, although it would be the game of the year if it were played in a dungeon with no witnesses. Thursday night, November 19, Coastal Carolina plays their final regular-season game as a member of the Big South, visiting Liberty in a game which will air on ESPNEWS.
Oh, god, we're done. Over a month of posts, previews of every team in sixty-five different conferences. We hope you've enjoyed it, or at least learned some things.
Tomorrow, we'll hit week thirteen of our Big 12 picks, and we'll have the first part of our epilogue: a rundown of the preseason top 25 polls in the NAIA and Division III.