This should be an interesting year for the Big South Conference, with only five programs competing for the championship and the automatic FCS Playoff bid (Liberty is transitioning to the FBS as an independent next year). Charleston Southern has dominated the Big South the past two seasons, going 10-1 with only a 7-point slip up last year against Gardner-Webb.
There's a chance that success could continue this year, thanks to a suffocating defense that slowed down even the likes of North Dakota State last year. Upstart Kennesaw State just seems to be doing everything right in terms of building a program. The Owls are in the talent-hotbed of Georgia, the fanbase is building rapidly — it is obvious this is a program that wants to succeed. There's a very positive vibe coming with the Owls. And Gardner-Webb has clearly the most dangerous weapon in the league in dual-threat quarterback Tyrell Maxwell.
Buckle your Big South belts, sports fans — this should be a fun season to watch.
Monmouth safety Mike Basile has been a playmaker for years (Monmouth Athletics)
NAMES TO KNOW
THE NFL PROSPECT: Mike Basile, FS, Monmouth
An absolute playmaker who also has a knack for blocking kicks on special teams, and NFL teams love players who make S.T. plays.
THE VETERAN COACH: Kevin Callahan, Monmouth
Callahan has led the Hawks to 135 wins in his career at the school, dating back to the 1992 season. He's also won five conference titles.
TOP PASSER: Stephen Calvert, Liberty
Threw for 1,931 yards and 15 touchdowns last year as a true freshman for the Flames.
TOP RUSHER: Tyrell Maxwell, Gardner-Webb
The quarterback tops the charts for the Big South, having rushed for 965 yards and 8 touchdowns last year.
TOP RECEIVER: Reggie White Jr., Monmouth
Caught 69 passes last year for 934 yards and 7 touchdowns.
TOP TACKLER: Mike Basile, Monmouth
The senior tallied 110 stops last year and is known as a big playmaker.
TOP SACK MAN: Anthony Ellis, Charleston Southern
He's been a pillar on the defense for the Bucs for years; 7 sacks last year.
TOP INT ARTIST: Chris Turner, Liberty
With underclassmen Jaylan Foster (GWU) and Tyrin Holloway (Liberty) transferred out of the Big South after posting 5 INTs apiece, Turner leads with 3 INTs.
BOUNCE BACK ARTIST: Josh Ramseur, DL, Gardner-Webb
Ramseur missed nearly half the 2016 season with a knee injury but he's back in the lineup and ready for his junior campaign.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Kameron Brown, WR, Charleston Southern
Brown showed flashes of brilliance last year as a freshman, and had big-play ability using his big frame.
Liberty – With more than 16,000 showing up each week, the Flames have one of the better audiences in the FCS, but soon they'll ascend to the FBS.
DID YOU KNOW?
Presbyterian has played football since 1913, and in its history has beaten the following current Power Five programs — Clemson, N.C. State, South Carolina and Wake Forest. In 1959, the Blue Hose went 9-2-0 and were asked to play in the Tangerine Bowl, which was the predecessor of the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
The Big South is going through a transition right now, with Coastal Carolina having recently left the conference and Liberty preparing to, while Pioneer League football member Campbell and D-II powerhouse North Alabama are planning to move into the group. The league has been in a pretty serious state of flux for a few years, but appears to be stabilizing and the parity in the league this fall in particular is impressive.
Gardner-Webb. Even with star running back Khalil Lewis dismissed from the team over the summer, this is still a formidable looking program with 16 starters remaining from a 5-6 team. This is a team that beat Big South champ Charleston Southern, went to overtime with Liberty, played Kennesaw to within eight points and fell to Southern Conference champion The Citadel by only a touchdown. If the team can get rolling behind uber-talented quarterback Tyrell Maxwell, this could be a team contending for an FCS Playoff bid.[divider]
Kennesaw State, by a hair over Charleston Southern. The Owls are in their third year of existence and went 8-3 last year. They have good infrastructure for such a young program, and a lot of those guys that started as freshmen and sophomores two years ago are coming into their own now. I'd contend that if the Owls can't overcome the Bucs at the top of the Big South this year, it'll happen by next season. This triple-option attack scored a lot of points behind quarterback Chandler Burks, who accounted for 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. Still, CSU did put away the Owls to the tune of 28-7 last year. The Bucs were very stingy on defense in 2016 with Anthony Ellis and LB's Zane Cruz and DB Shadarius Hopkins leading the way — and they're all back. The game is Nov. 11 at Kennesaw State. Tune in.
Charleston Southern's Anthony Ellis has been a wrecking ball on defense for the Bucs (CSU Athletics)
FCS PREVIEWS CONFERENCE BY CONFERENCE
Aug. 15 – The Northeast Conference and The Patriot League
Aug. 16 – Big South and Southern Conference
Aug. 17 – Southland and Ohio Valley
Aug. 18 – Ivy League and Pioneer League
Aug. 21 – CAA
Aug. 22 – SWAC and MEAC
Aug. 23 – Missouri Valley and Big Sky