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FCS 2019: Big South Preview

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - A bigger Big South means there's a smaller margin for error in the conference this season.

Kennesaw State have made few mistakes while sweeping through the conference the last two seasons, so it will be interesting to see how much huge graduation losses will affect the champ, which remains a clear favorite.

Hampton has joined the Big South title race, and while dangerous North Alabama is playing all of the competition, it's ineligible for the title the next three seasons due to its Division I transition, which began as an independent last year.

Following is a predicted order of finish and a team-by-team breakdown of the 2019 Big South race:

1. Kennesaw State

2. Monmouth

3. Charleston Southern

4. Gardner-Webb

5. Hampton

6. Campbell

7. Presbyterian

North Alabama ineligible due to Division I transition

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TEAM CAPSULES

1. KENNESAW STATE

LOCATION: Kennesaw, Georgia

STADIUM: Fifth Third Bank Stadium

HEAD COACH: Brian Bohannon (37-12, four seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 11-2 overall, 5-0 Big South (1st) - No. 5 in final STATS FCS Top 25

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (1 offense/8 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Daniel David, QB, Sr.; Shaq Terry, RB, Jr.; Isaac Foster, RB/RS, So.; T.J. Reed, RB, Sr.; Kyle Glover, FB, Jr.; William Nana Fabu, OL, Jr.; Matt Olson, OL, Jr.; Bryson Armstrong, LB, Jr.; Charlie Patrick, LB, Jr.; Andrew Butcher, DL, Sr.; Desmond Johnson Jr., DE, Sr.; Dorian Walker, CB, Sr.; Cincere Mason, SS, So.; Le'Vonte Larry, DB, Sr.; T.J. Reed, RB, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Chandler Burks, QB; Darnell Holland, RB; C.J. Collins, C

OUTLOOK: The two-time defending Big South champion has only one returning offensive starter (Terry, who has rushed for 1,382 yards and 22 touchdowns in two seasons) and are replacing 22 seniors from the program's original signing class. With two-time Big South offensive player of the year Burks sidelined by injury, QB David engineered a fourth-quarter rally in the quarterfinal-round playoff loss to South Dakota State last December. The Owls were top 10 in the FCS in scoring offense (43.5-point average, No. 3) and scoring defense (15.4, No. 7). The defense will remain the Big South's best behind DE Johnson, LB Armstrong (the conference's preseason defensive player of the year) and CB Walker.

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2. MONMOUTH

LOCATION: West Long Branch, New Jersey

STADIUM: Kessler Field

HEAD COACH: Kevin Callahan (152-121, 26 seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 8-3 overall, 4-1 Big South (2nd)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Kenji Bahar, QB, R-Sr.; Pete Guerriero, RB, Jr.; Juwon Farri, RB, So.; Lonnie Moore IV, WR, Jr.; Jake Powell, TE, Sr.; Mahmoud Shabana, OL, R-Jr.; Evan Powell, LB, Sr.; Erik Massey, LB, Sr.; Dejuan Cooper, LB, Sr.; Tymere Berry, DB, R-Sr.; Justin Terry, DB, Jr.; Anthony Budd, DB, Jr.; Matt Mosquera, PK, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Reggie White Jr., WR; Vinny Grasso, WR/PR; Ryan Wetzel, OL

OUTLOOK: If Kennesaw State doesn't three-peat in the Big South, then Monmouth should become the champion. But the Hawks have to first prove they can beat Kennesaw, having lost four prior matchups by a combined 175-65. This year's meeting is in Georgia on Nov. 2. QB Bajar was named the Big South's preseason offensive player of the year (251.7 total yards per game) and few running back tandems in the FCS are as productive as Farri and Guerriero. The Hawks, though, are replacing three starters on the offensive line and their two leading receivers. The defense hasn't been at a championship level. The strength is on the back end with DBs Berry and Terry.

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3. CHARLESTON SOUTHERN

LOCATION: Charleston, South Carolina

STADIUM: Buccaneer Field

HEAD COACH: Autry Denson (first season)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 3-2 Big South (3rd)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (4 offense/4 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Jack Chambers, QB, R-So.; Terrence Wilson, RB, R-Jr.; Ronnie Harris, RB, R-Sr.; Kameron Brown, WR, R-Sr.; Stephen Haralambis, OL, R-Sr.; Zack Evans, OL, R-Sr.; Jon Pohahau, DL, So.; Shaundre Mims, DL, R-So.; J.D. Sosebee, LB, R-Sr.; Edward King, LB, Sr.; Ethan Ray, LS, R-Jr.; Kyle Reighard, P, Sr.Kyle Reighard, P, R-Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Solomon Brown, DE; Johnny Robinson, DT; James Allen, CB/RS

OUTLOOK: There's a much different look in Charleston. Denson was an outstanding running back at Notre Dame, but he and his coaching staff have replaced the spread option with a fast-paced passing offense. QB Chambers seeks to be at the controls of the offense with a healthier Brown set to be the No. 1 wide receiver. On a team with the fewest returning starters in the conference, the defense is seeking new pass rushers and four new starters in the secondary. All-Big South LB Sosebee (72 tackles) is the key returnee. The first month of the schedule (at Furman, South Carolina and The Citadel and home to North Carolina A&T) is brutally tough.

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4. GARDNER-WEBB

LOCATION: Boiling Springs, North Carolina

STADIUM: Spangler Stadium

HEAD COACH: Carroll McCray (24-44, six seasons; 40-83 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-3 Big South (4th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Jordan Smith, QB, R-So.; A.J. Moses, RB, Jr.; Jayln Cagle, RB, Sr.; Chuma Awanna, WR, Gr. (Norfolk State grad transfer); Jameson Turner, WR, Fr.; Brandon Leahey, C, R-Sr.; Chris Jones, OG, R-Jr. (Coastal Carolina transfer); Jack Nichols, OL, Jr.; Devron Harper, WR, Fr.; John Singleton, DE, R-So.; Josh Ramseur, NG, Gr.; Darien Reynolds, LB, Jr.; Shai Thomas, LB, Jr.; A.J. Keene, CB, Sr.; Malachi Bucker, FS, R-Fr.; Devin Mines, CB, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Kyle Horton, WR; Will Millikan, OT; Corey Horne, LB

OUTLOOK: The Runnin' Bulldogs seek to reverse a run of five straight losing seasons, and a host of influential underclassmen provide promise for a brighter future. There's experience in the trenches with four returning starters on the offensive line as well as six of the front seven back on defense. The offense should boost a 20-point average with QB Smith more seasoned and WR Awanna providing an immediate target as a grad transfer. The defense, which allowed 45 or more points six times, is fortified by the return of NG Ramseur, DE Singleton (2018 Big South defensive player of the year) and LB Reynolds.

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5. HAMPTON

LOCATION: Hampton, Virginia

STADIUM: Armstrong Stadium

HEAD COACH: Robert Prunty (7-3, one season)

2018 RECORDS: 7-3 independent

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Deondre Francois, QB, R-Jr. (Florida State transfer); Will Robinson, RB, R-Jr.; Ronald Bell, WR/KR, Gr.; Wesley Wolfolk, WR, Gr.; Antonio Graham, WR/KR, Jr.; Malik Mackey, OL, Sr.; Gibril Ghee, OL, Sr.; Desmond Sturdivant, DL, Gr.; Kentrelle Groom, DE, So.; Shug Frazier, DL, R-Jr. (North Carolina State transfer); Donald Smith, DB, So.; Caleb Brown, DB, Jr.; Evan Lomax, PK, So.; Ivan Oraha, P, Jr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Delmon Williams, QB; Byron Barney, WR; Davonte Spruill, DL

OUTLOOK: The outlook changed dramatically on the first day of preseason camp when QB Francois was suddenly on the roster. He passed for 6,291 yards and 35 touchdowns in two-plus seasons running the Florida State offense before he was dismissed from the program. Expect the Pirates, who averaged 34.5 points per game last season, to be potent again. Some transfers were added to the defense after it lost its top five tacklers. After playing five sub-FCS opponents as an independent last season, the Pirates still have three on this year's schedule. Should the first-year Big South team remain in the title race late in the season, the final games are against Kennesaw State and Monmouth.

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6. CAMPBELL

LOCATION: Buies Creek, North Carolina

STADIUM: Barker-Lane Stadium

HEAD COACH: Mike Minter (30-37, six seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 1-4 Big South (5th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Caleb Freeman, RB, R-Jr. (South Carolina transfer); Davarius Bargnare, WR, R-So. (Georgia Southern transfer); Caleb Snead, WR, R-So.; Michael Wooten, TE, R-Sr.; Jacob Cuddington, OL, R-Sr.; Matt Price, OL, R-Sr.; Chris Webb, OL, R-Sr.; Damien Dozier, DE, R-Jr.; Terence Harper, DT, R-Sr.; Isaiah King, DT, R-Sr.; Justice Galloway-Velazquez, LB, So.; Ray Miller, LB, Sr.; Kam Prewitt, CB, R-Sr.; Darion Slade, DB, R-Jr.; Dorian Jones, DB, R-So.; Colin Gary, PK, R-Sr.; Brad Dennis, P, R-Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Daniel Smith, QB; Aaron Blockmon, WR; Jack Ryan, LB

OUTLOOK: Strong attendance continues to make Barker-Lane Stadium a place to be each season, but the alums and fans need patience in the Camels' second season in the Big South. There are significant losses, including some standouts who have remaining eligibility (QB Smith, RB Rocky Reid and DB Deontae Henderson). The defense will lead the way while the offense settles in. DE Dozier and DTs Harper and King form a stout D-line, while the secondary stacks up well against the pass. Sophomore WR Snead (45 receptions for 810 yards and nine touchdowns) is a building block and Minter also brought in some transfers in the offensive skills positions. Youth and lack of depth were evident last season, so the Camels are seeking maturation as a team.

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7. PRESBYTERIAN

LOCATION: Clinton, South Carolina

STADIUM: Bailey Memorial Stadium

HEAD COACH: Tommy Spangler (48-39, eight seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 2-8 overall, 0-5 Big South (6th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Zola Davis, RB, R-Sr.; Jarius Jeter, RB, So.; Zola Davis, RB, R-Sr.; Dohnte Meyers, WR, So.; Keith Pearson, WR, Jr.; Eli Teeselink, OL, R-Sr.; Nick Chiaravalloti, DE, Sr.; Colby Campbell, LB, Jr.; Jarrett Nagy, LB, So.; Rod Haygood, DB, Jr.; Dirk Cureton, CB, Jr.; Trent Carrington, CB, R-So.

THREE KEY LOSSES: John Walker, QB; DaShawn Davis, WR; Robert Baker, DB

OUTLOOK: Presbyterian is playing its final season in the Big South in 2019, will compete as an independent in 2020 and then join the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League in 2021. Once again, the Blue Hose figure to be overmatched in the Big South while they continue to develop younger players in the program. Quarterback is still an open position, but the starter can distribute the ball a lot to RBs Jeter and Davis, who combined for 892 rushing yards, and WR Pearson, who caught 52 passes for 565 yards and two touchdowns. The defense was ahead of the offense last season and returns the Big South's leading tacklers, LBs Campbell (nine per game) and Nagy (8.9). In an early look to the PFL, the Blue Hose will open the season against Stetson and Jacksonville.

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INELIGIBLE

NORTH ALABAMA

LOCATION: Florence, Alabama

STADIUM: Braly Municipal Stadium

HEAD COACH: Chris Willis (12-8, two seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 7-3 independent

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (8 offense/3 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Christian Lopez, QB, Sr.; Terrence Humphrey, RB, R-Sr.; Jakobi Byrd, WR, R-So.; Dexter Boykin, WR, R-So.; Cortez Hall, WR, R-So.; Andre Little, WR, R-Sr.; Ethan McMullan, OL, Jr. (East Central Mississippi CC transfer); Cody Mann, OL, Sr.; De'Varis Nalls, DB, Sr.; Brady Owensby, DL, R-Sr.; Will Evans, LB, Jr.; Christon Taylor, LB, Jr.; Jalen Dread, LB, Sr.; K.J. Smith, S/KR, Sr.; A.J. Bracey, DB, Sr.; Joe Gurley, P, Jr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Cole Hardin, OL; Maurice Burton, Jr., DL; Chris Johnson, S

OUTLOOK: Considering its many great successes on the Division II level, UNA should soon be relevant in the Big South and in the FCS overall. QB Lopez engineered a big road win at Southern Utah in the Lions' FCS debut last year. In their second go-around, they will play seven new opponents. The offense will remain potent with a wide receivers unit whose top four are only sophomores. By far the team's top priority is replacing all four starters on the defensive line. On the second level of defense, LB Taylor led the team in tackles (62). Following an eye-catching nonconference schedule (including trips to Montana and Jacksonville State), the Lions will play Presbyterian in their first Big South game on Sept. 28.

Updated August 13, 2019

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