Big South FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

George Hammond

Big South FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Big South FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Big South FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


In the last two seasons, Coastal Carolina has won more FCS games (24) than any team except for four-time champion North Dakota State (30), but it has probably earned more respect for two losses during that span than all the victories. Two years ago, the Chanticleers beat host Montana in sub-zero temperatures during the playoffs before falling to NDSU and last year, they almost knocked off North Dakota State before losing 39-32 in national quarterfinal action. The Chanticleers, who have enjoyed back-to-back 12-win seasons, have won the Big South title outright or earned a share of the crown for three consecutive years and they’re the team to reckon with once again in 2015.


1. Coastal Carolina

It is coming off consecutive FCS playoff quarterfinal appearances under Joe Moglia and with quarterback Alex Ross back for another season, the Chanticleers are the team to beat. Ross threw for more than 3,300 yards last year and 20 touchdowns. Besides Ross, CCU returns running back De’Angelo Henderson (6.6 ypg) and receivers Bruce Mapp, John Israel and Tyrell Black. Explosive kick returner Devon Brown also returns. Combined, Coastal returns eight offensive starters and seven on defense. Leading tackler Quinn Backus is gone on defense, but there is enough of a supporting cast to fill the void. Among the notable additions this year is Ray Lewis III, who is transferring from Miami. Lewis’s dad, Ray, played in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens.


2. Liberty

The Flames secured their first playoff bid and first playoff victory in 2014 and expectations again are high in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Flames earned a share of the Big South title last year when they shocked Coastal Carolina, 15-14, on Chima Uzowihe’s blocked field goal. It was one of several thrilling plays in the Flames’ memorable season. John Lunsford kicked a 60-yard field goal against Richmond to force overtime and Jacob Hagen sealed an overtime victory against FBS’ Appalachian State with an interception. Josh Woodrum returns as quarterback for his fourth season, as do running backs D.J. Abnar (1,289 rushing yards) and Desmond Rice. The latter sat out last season with a knee injury, but in 2013 he had 967 yards and 13 rushing TDs. Liberty does lose seven starters on defense, but Uzowihe returns. He led the Big South in tackles for loss in 2014 and the Flames also are counting on linebacker Nick Newman, too. Plus, Liberty might have the best kicker in the nation with John Lunsford, who booted the three longest fields goals in FCS play last year, 60, 57 and 56 yards.


3. Charleston Southern

Coach Jamey Chadwell has led Charleston Southern to 10-3 and 8-4 records respectively, in his first two seasons, and the program gained much respect last fall when it knocked off Liberty. The success has gotten the Buccaneers more attention than normal as they return a veteran squad led by senior quarterback Austin Brown and junior running backs Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson, who hope to fill the void left by the school’s all-time leading rusher Christian Reyes. Brown passed for 1,848 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. The Bucs must replace most of their defensive line that helped the team lead the Big South in total defense, but they are counting on seniors Malcolm Brown and Aaron Jackson to lead the way.


4. Gardner-Webb

The Bulldogs have holes to fill, most notably at quarterback (Lucas Beatty), running back (Juanne Blount) and at wide receiver with All-American Kenny Cook. Tyrell Maxwell is the favorite to take over the quarterback spot, and he will be helped by the return of four offensive line starters. Defensively, G-W returns most of its starters, including linebackers Tanner Burch and Chad Geter. Plus, noseguard O.J. Mau, who had a career-high 60 tackles last season, returns. The Bulldogs aren’t eligible for postseason play, however, because the NCAA has ruled its football Academic Progress Rate isn’t high enough.


5. Presbyterian

A 6-5 mark in 2014 was the school’s first winning season on the FCS level and earned Harold Nichols co-coach of the year honors in the Big South. Nichols guided the Blue Hose to road victories over Furman and Charleston Southern. Presbyterian had a strong defense last year and expect the Blue Hose to have a strong defense again in 2015 as All Big South linebacker Donnelle Williams and safety Ed Britt return. In addition, defensive linemen Ugonna Akoh and Khari Rosier are back to anchor the front. Presbyterain allowed only 15.9 points a game and 310.0 yards total offense and that was against a schedule that included three FBS teams.


6. Monmouth

Monmouth was only 1-4 in its first season in the league, but the New Jersey school was 5-1 in nonconference action. Monmouth did have a victory over Gardner-Webb and bowed to Liberty 34-24 last year. The quarterback position is up for grabs as the Hawks must replace two-year starter Brandon Hill. Defensively, Monmouth started two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior in the secondary last year so it’s hoping the year’s experience will pay off. The Hawks project nine starters returning defensively and six on offense. All Big South running back Lavon Chaney heads the offense as he averaged nearly 5.0 yards a carry last year.


7. Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State is in its first year and it opens at East Tennessee State, a program returning to football for the first time since 2003. Chandler Burks was head coach Brian Bohannon’s first official signee at the Georgia school in 2014, and he could lead the attack this fall although he’s recovering from an ACL tear. Citadel transfer Trey White played well in the spring game and could be a factor. Bohannon became Kennesaw’s first head coach two years ago after spending five seasons as an assistant at Georgia Tech, and he expects to run Georgia Tech’s spread offense at Kennesaw State.


Conference Game To Watch:

Coastal Carolina at Liberty, November 21 – Liberty won a thrilling 15-14 contest at Coastal Carolina last year when Chima Uzowihe blocked a potential game-winning field goal as time expired to give Liberty a share of the Big South crown and a trip to the playoffs for the first time. It also snapped Coastal Carolina’s 11-game winning streak. The stakes could be just as high this year as both teams figure to be at the top of the Big South standings.


Another Conference Game To Watch:

Coastal Carolina at Charleston Southern, October 31 – Anytime Coastal Carolina is involved, it’s usually a big game, but other than Liberty, Charleston Southern might have the firepower to battle CCU. Last year, the Chanticleers prevailed 43-22, but the score was just 21-15 at halftime.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Bryant at Coastal Carolina, September 26 – Last year, Bryant visited Lynchburg, Virginia, and bowed to Liberty 38-21. The Bulldogs were in the FCS playoff hunt until the last week in the Northeast Conference. This season, Bryant will go further south – to Conway, South Carolina, to take on Coastal Carolina. A victory over the Chanticleers would be huge for the Bulldogs’ program so this is a nonconference game that Coastal must be wary of.


Another Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Montana at Liberty, September 19 – This one could have a bearing on the FCS playoffs later in the season. It’s an interesting matchup between the Big Sky and Big South conferences. Two years ago, fellow Big South member Coastal Carolina traveled to Montana and stunned the Grizzlies in a playoff contest. It’s likely Montana hasn’t forgotten even if the team is different.


FBS Upset Watch:

Liberty at Georgia State, October 3 – Not sure this would qualify as an upset, but Georgia State is a member of the FBS Sun Belt Conference. And here’s all you need to know: Georgia State went 1-11 last year. It lost to Appalachian State, 44-0. Liberty defeated Appalachian State, 55-48, in overtime.


Another FBS Upset Watch:

Liberty at West Virginia, September 12 – This one would be an upset, but the Flames are catching WVU early in the year. There should be a decent following of Liberty fans in Morgantown and Liberty has an experienced quarterback in Josh Woodrum. The two have played before. WVU prevailed 33-20 in 2009.


Top NFL Prospect:

John Lunsford, PK, Liberty – The senior was named the Big South Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014. He led the league in field goal percentage (79.2), field goals (19), and he ranked fifth nationally in field goals made per game (1.58). Lunsford hit five-of-six field goals from 50 or more yards. Even more impressively, he had the three longest field goals in FCS last year: 56, 57 and 60 yards. If you can kick, you can kick. The NFL will take notice.


Coach on the Hot Seat:

Not really sure there is a candidate here, but if there was, Turner Gill at Liberty has set the bar high after the Flames made the FCS playoffs in 2014. The school would like to go to the FBS level at some point, so a good record is imperative to keep that positive momentum going.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

Considering he was the first verbal commitment to Kennesaw State, redshirt freshman Chandler Burks is a player to watch whatever side of the ball he’s on. Burks played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back in high school in Douglasville, Georgia. However, a knee injury in the fall of 2014 has made his status uncertain for this campaign. With Burks’ injury, Jake McKenzie has stepped in to possibly be the Owls’ quarterback.  


Most Overrated:

Gardner-Webb quarterback Tyrell Maxwell has to improve his consistency for the Bulldogs to succeed. Maxwell completed just 11-of-33 passes with four interceptions as a true freshman last year.


Most Underrated:

Coastal Carolina linebacker Rayshaud Shields wasn’t a starter last year, but he sure played like one against Presbyterian when he made 15 tackles to be named Big South Defensive Player of the Week in a fill-in role. Shields was filling in for the injured Quinn Backus and the 15 stops was the fourth-best single-game effort in school history. Shields had five tackles in Coastal’s spring game this year. He’s not the biggest player at 5-11, 195 pounds but he is projected to be a starting linebacker for the Chanticleers this season.


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews