SUM IT UP
(NOTE: Team by team previews in this conference are below)
For four seasons, there has been no parity in the Ohio Valley Conference. The movie has been titled "Jacksonville State and the Fight For Second Place", and it has had three sequels. There could be a new title to the show this time, though. Austin Peay has 19 starters back from its best football team since 1977. Let that sink in a bit. In fact, if APSU hadn't scheduled three FBS teams last year, it would have set the school record for single-season victories. The Govs are as excited about a football season as maybe any time in school history, and the national rankings reflect the enthusiasm.
The thing is though, nobody is going to overlook this once moribund APSU program that is now a serious OVC factor. Not that they did sneak up on opponents last year, but maybe the opposition needed to get punched in the mouth by APSU to truly believe it? People believe it now. Waiting behind the two schools mentioned above is a Tennessee-Martin team that played some of the nation's best defense, a Tennessee State team that beat an FBS team … and then there is … shoot, this could go on and on, you see? Even 1-10 Tennessee Tech pushed three OVC opponents to within 7 points in losses, while also nabbing its lone win of the season at the expense of a 6-5 Tennessee State.
Again, see what I mean?
Grab some popcorn and a fine iced beverage of your preference, sports fans — this should be a fun season to watch.
Jacksonville State DB Marlon Bridges is still making plays for the Gamecocks. (JSU Athletics)[/credit]
NAMES TO KNOW
THE NFL PROSPECT: Denzil Ware, Jacksonville St.
A Kentucky transfer, Ware is already considered a day three draft pick by some scouting services. He'll need to fit in here first. His teammate Marlon Bridges (pictured above) may be the Top FCS prospect for 2020, too.
THE VETERAN COACH: Jason Simpson, UT Martin
Simpson is within a big-year of becoming the all-time wins leader for the Skyhawks. He's been the head coach since 2006 (78 wins).
TOP TACKLER: Gunnar Scholato, Austin Peay
Led the Ohio Valley Conference in tackles last year with 99.
TOP SACK MAN: Kenney Wooten, Murray State
Led the league in sacks last year with 10, for negative 67 yards.
TOP INT ARTIST: Tie
Several individuals are tied with 3 INTs, including one of the top NFL Draft prospects for 2020 – Jacksonville St's Marlon Bridges.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LaDarius Galloway, UT Martin
Just ask Ole Miss about Galloway, he nearly hit 200 yards rushing vs. the Rebels last year — and he can catch, too. Watch out, OVC.
TOP FANBASE (*)
Jacksonville State grabs this spot, and of course also leads the OVC in attendance at about 18,000 a game. But when it comes to our criteria — engagement in our preview series — Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois are nipping at the Gamecocks' heels and have until Sept. 1 to try to pass JSU. You can read all 9 of the OVC team previews at the link at the bottom of this page.
(*) – Based on fan engagement with our previews this summer – as of August 18.
Tennessee-Martin just seems to fit this category, even though it was hardly a "darkhorse" last year. The program is a consistent winner in the OVC, and was 7 points away from wins against Jacksonville State and Austin Peay — holding the two to a combined 21 points. On the flip side, it dropped games to Murray State and Eastern Kentucky, too. This program has shown what it can do, who it can challenge — and if eliminates the head-scratching losses, watch out. There's something about this team, with that defense from a year ago — it just makes you wonder what the ceiling is here.
It has been since 2014 that Jacksonville State has owned the Ohio Valley Conference, and there's nothing here to make you think they shouldn't receive the respect of being named favorites in 2018. The Gamecocks defense is always stellar in the OVC, and with stronger quarterback play this fall, coupled with that unbelievably gifted offensive line … we could go on and on. Are there teams good enough to upset the apple cart and knock off JSU? Of course, this is football and daunting road trips abound. But in general, this program looks formidable — and everybody in this league knows it.
RANKING OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE
|RK||HERO SPORTS (MCLAUGHLIN)||COACHES POLL|
|1||Jacksonville St.||Jacksonville St.|
|2||Austin Peay||Austin Peay|
|3||UT Martin||UT Martin|
|4||Eastern Kentucky (up)||Eastern Illinois|
|5||Tennessee St.||Tennessee St.|
|6||Eastern Illinois||Eastern Kentucky|
|8||Murray State||Murray State|
|9||Tennessee Tech||Tennessee Tech|
[divider]THE DIFFERENCE: The one major in the two polls difference above is the way we view Eastern Kentucky. We feel the coaches have EKU too low. Call it a hunch, but we think this is the year the Colonels shake off the close losses, post a winning record and battle for a spot in the top third of the OVC. With 17 starters back, EKU looks on paper like it is loaded — but we would contend that it'll actually be the new names (and returning guys like Aaron Patrick) that push this team over the .500 threshold.
The EKU recruiting staff has done an outstanding job the past few years, and those names are starting to pop up on the depth chart. Yes, Tim Boyle is now quarterbacking in the NFL instead of here, but collectively we just feel this EKU team takes that next step this year. We think legendary, retired coach Roy Kidd will be smiling this fall about what current coach Mark Elder has built.
PREVIEWS: THE OVC BY SCHOOL