Ohio Valley FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Ohio Valley FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Ohio Valley FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Ohio Valley FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


Jacksonville State is expected to dominate the Ohio Valley Conference again in 2015. Last year they went 8-0 in conference play and most of the games weren’t even close. The more interesting battle could be for second place where Eastern Kentucky hopes to make amends for their first round playoff loss at home and Eastern Illinois is just trying to get back to the playoffs following a disappointing 5-7 campaign. The OVC’s performance in the playoffs could make it tough for the conference to get three teams in though. Jacksonville State was the only seeded team to lose their first game, falling 37-26 to Sam Houston State.


1. Jacksonville State

Jacksonville State dominated the OVC, going 8-0 in conference play. Their two losses came against Michigan State in their opener and against Sam Houston State in the playoffs. But that playoff game was at home in the second round following a bye. It was a tough draw with Sam Houston State, but still disappointing for quarterback Eli Jenkins and company. The defensive line is brimming with talent, led by Devaunte Sigler, LaMichael Fanning and Chris Landrum.


2. Eastern Illinois

Even with very little returning at wide receiver, EIU should have a very good offense. Quarterback Jalen Whitlow threw for 2,075 yards and rushed for 792 more. Running back Shepard Little is ready for a breakout year and Korliss Marshall and Devin Church are former FBS players from Arkansas and Illinois, respectively, who will push for carries. The defense is led by lineman Dino Fanti, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and back Jourdan Wickliffe. After finishing 5-7 last season, expect the Panthers to finish much better this time around. They do get both Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky at home.


3. Eastern Kentucky

Eastern Kentucky started 6-0, which included a win over FBS opponent Miami (Ohio). They lost two conference games after that, and a nonconference game against Florida. But they did get a home game in the playoffs and proceeded to lose badly to Indiana State 36-16. Running back Dy’Shawn Mobley is one of the best in the nation and rushed for 1,491 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. Eight starters return on defense, led by linebacker Trey Thomas and cornerback Stanley Absanon, but they also add Ohio State transfer Noah Spence and Kansas State transfer D’vonta Derricott. Spence, a junior defensive end, was a first-team All-Big player in 2013.


4. Tennessee-Martin

Tennessee-Martin has been very consistent and ended last year with a 5-3 record in OVC play and 6-6 overall. The Skyhawks finished very strong last season, winning five of their last six games. The only loss was at Mississippi State, who was ranked #1 in the FBS at the time. The defense is in good shape, but UTM needs more production from senior quarterback Jarod Neal and needs to replace 1,000 yard rusher Abou Toure. The nonconference slate is pretty worthless with games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Bethel, so picking up a big win or two in the conference play is a must.


5. Tennessee Tech

Tennessee Tech went 4-4 in conference play and with much of their team returning, they could make a jump up the standings. However, the Golden Eagles made a habit of getting blown out by good competition. They lost at Indiana State 49-14, at Northern Iowa 50-7, at Jacksonville State 49-3, against Eastern Illinois 41-10 and against Chattanooga 38-17. The offense can struggle to move the ball and explosive A-back Ladarius Vanlier can only do so much. Quarterback Jared Davis and running back Radir Annoor must be more consistent and productive.


6. Tennessee State

Coach Rod Reed has a lot of rebuilding to do at Tennessee State. The Tigers were so close to having a big year, but a few close losses turned them into a .500 team. Getting to .500 this year will be quite difficult with just a handful of starters back. A strong offensive line should help break in new quarterback Ronald Butler and get experienced back Tom Smith some room to operate. Linebacker Vantavious Williams and cornerback Bernell Brooks will lead a very young defense.


7. Southeast Missouri

Coach Tom Matukewicz enters this season at Southeast Missouri with a plethora of talent on offense. Wide receiver Paul McRoberts is an All-American talent when healthy. Running back DeMichael Jackson missed time last season too, but still rushed for 734 yards in eight games. Quarterback Tay Bender looks poised to take over the offense after spending the last two years at Iowa Western Community College.


8. Murray State

Former offensive coordinator Mitch Stewart moves up to the head coaching position at Murray State and will keep the Racers high powered offense intact. Quarterback KD Humphries and running back Pokey Harris are dynamic playmakers on offense. However, the defense was just awful last season. The secondary is much more experienced now, but the front seven has some holes to fill. Murray State will win a couple shootouts this year, probably against Kentucky Wesleyan and Austin Peay, but do not expect too much more than that until the defense gets significantly better.


9. Austin Peay

Austin Peay had the worst scoring offense in the FCS last year, averaging a mere 9.7 points per game. The defense wasn’t any good either. They did manage to beat Murray State and play Tennessee State close, but everything else was virtually over by halftime.


Conference Game To Watch:

Eastern Kentucky at Eastern Illinois, November 21 – When these two met last season, Eastern Kentucky topped the Panthers 36-33 in overtime. What makes this game potentially huge is that it is the last game of the regular season. It would not be totally out of the question that EKU and EIU both enter this game at 6-4 or 7-3. If that is the case, the winner could be eyeing the playoffs while the loser’s season comes to an end.


Another Conference Game To Watch:

Jacksonville State at Tennessee-Martin, September 26 – If UTM has playoff hopes, they will almost certainly need to win this game. With nonconference games against Ole Miss and Arkansas that will almost certainly be losses and the other one against Bethel, which the Skyhawks will get no credit for winning, UTM needs to make a statement. And what better way to make a statement than to open up OVC play by knocking off Jacksonville State.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Jacksonville State at Chattanooga, September 5 – Jacksonville’s run of ten straight wins last season began when they went to Chattanooga and knocked off the Mocs 26-23 in overtime. Quarterback Eli Jenkins was largely held in check until overtime when his 13 yard scamper won the game for the Gamecocks. Another win in Chattanooga would get Jacksonville State moving quickly up the rankings.


FBS Upset Watch:

Eastern Illinois at Northwestern, September 12 – It seems like the good OVC teams play good SEC and ACC teams, while the bad OVC teams play slightly more beatable FCS teams. The happy medium might be Eastern Illinois and Northwestern. Eastern Illinois is coming off of a tough year, which included losses to Minnesota and Ohio, but this year’s team should be much improved. And Northwestern isn’t exactly a juggernaut and they will be breaking in a new quarterback. If EIU can avoid turnovers and contain Wildcat running back Justin Jackson, they can at least hang around for a while in Evanston.


Top NFL Prospect:

Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky – Noah Spence was a big time recruit when he went to Ohio State. And he lived up to that in 2013, tallying 7.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles-for-loss with the Buckeyes. He even earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades. But then he was suspended, and suspended again before the Big Ten denied an appeal and declared him ineligible. Spence landed at Eastern Kentucky and will dominate opposing offensive lineman as long as he can stay out of trouble.  


Coach on the Hot Seat:

Kirby Cannon was thrown into a tough situation at Austin Peay. In 2013, the Governors went 0-12 and last year they went 1-11. With that win, Coach Cannon showed progress, but even previous coach Rick Christophel won at least two games every year. The amount of wins Coach Cannon has this year will not mean as much as showing progress and having more than two close games. And if that doesn’t work, maybe scheduling Culver-Stockton or Central State will make things look a little better.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

A.J. Taylor may not be the best freshman in the OVC, nor is he the most physically ready to play, but on a team that needs defensive playmakers, the end could get a shot at cracking the regular rotation. Murray State must find a way to get more pressure on the opposing quarterback and the 6-2, 260 pound Taylor has been able to do that during his prep career. At the IMG Academy in Chicago, he totaled 20.5 sacks and forced seven fumbles over the last two years.


Most Underrated:

Running back Shepard Little seemed to fall off of everybody’s radar after Eastern Illinois’ disappointing 2014 season. Back in 2013 Little rushed for 1,551 yards, ranking seventh in the FCS. And he got accolades for that. A year later he missed a couple games due to an injury and rushed for just 797 yards. But his yards per carry average did not dip all that much (from 7.1 in 2013 to 6.4 in 2014). This isn’t the same offense that EIU had in 2013 and quarterback Jalen Whitlow is going to take away some carries, but there should be plenty to go around for Little.


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews