(STATS) – The wheels are still spinning in the Big South, and not just because Kennesaw State led the FCS in rushing last season.
Campbell joins the conference this season as Liberty heads to the FBS level just two years after Coastal Carolina did the same. Hampton and North Alabama also are ready to join next season, with Presbyterian going out the door after the 2019 season.
Everybody’s chasing Kennesaw State, which enters its fourth season as a program. The Owls and their triple option offense reached the FCS quarterfinals last season.
Following is a look across the Big South with spring practices underway in college football:
HEAD COACH: Mike Minter (24-32, five seasons)
2017 RECORDS: 6-5, 5-3 Pioneer League (Tie/3rd)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 1-April 14
WHAT TO KNOW: Campbell makes the jump to the scholarship level from the Pioneer Football League. The Camels have pointed toward this season, so it’s not surprising they have 16 returning starters – seven on offense and nine on defense – plus scholarship players who redshirted last season. They will have to be more physical and faster on a weekly basis. Dual-threat quarterback Daniel Smith was one of the nation’s top freshmen last season, accounting for 30 touchdowns in 10 games. Aaron Blockmon gives Smith a go-to wide receiver. The defense will be deeper, but has to become more consistent. Last year’s team didn’t have defensive end Darren Flowers, now a senior, due to injury.
HEAD COACH: Mark Tucker (6-5, one season)
2017 RECORDS: 6-5, 3-2 Big South (3rd)
SPRING PRACTICES: Completed
WHAT TO KNOW: In an improving Big South, Tucker is trying to keep the Buccaneers on the level they reached under former coach Jamey Chadwell. There’s potential for an improved season with the return of eight starters on offense, six on defense and four specialists. The biggest loss is defensive end Anthony Ellis, the 2017 co-Big South defensive player of the year, although senior linebacker Solomon Johnson remains an anchor on that side of the ball. With junior London Johnson taking over at quarterback, Shane Bucenell has transferred out of the program. Last year’s young running backs must show development.
HEAD COACH: Carroll McCray (21-36, five seasons; 37-75 overall)
2017 RECORDS: 1-10, 0-5 Big South (6th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 20-April 14
WHAT TO KNOW: After a surprisingly poor season – with only a win over Division II Shorter – the Runnin’ Bulldogs are stressing more physical play, and their freshman and sophomore classes could make an impact. In fact, a pair of redshirt freshmen, Jaylen Myers and Jordan Smith, seek to become the starting quarterback, replacing Tyrell Maxwell. Their development will be helped by experienced offensive linemen, including all five starters from last season, and skill position players. Nose guard Josh Ramseur is one of six returning starters on defense.
HEAD COACH: Brian Bohannon (26-10, three seasons)
2017 RECORDS: 12-2, 5-0 Big South (1st)
SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 23-March 23
WHAT TO KNOW: Most of the key players are back from the defending champion Owls, who enter just their fourth season as a program. They believe they can surpass last year’s run to the quarterfinals, although their regular season schedule is much tougher this season. Fourth-year quarterback Chandler Burks, the 2017 Big South offensive player of the year, directs the triple option to perfection, complemented by the top three running backs, Jake McKenzie, Shaquil Terry and Darnell Holland. But not to be lost with the nation’s top rushing offense is the defense got better throughout last season, with linebacker Bryson Armstrong become the first defensive player to win the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award.
HEAD COACH: Kevin Callahan (144-118, 25 seasons)
2017 RECORDS: 9-3, 4-1 Big South (2nd)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 22-April 21
WHAT TO KNOW: The Hawks were one of the bigger surprises in the FCS and made the playoffs for the first time last year. The return of 16 starters (nine on offense and seven on defense) will keep them in contention for the conference title, but the loss of four-year safety Mike Basile, the 2017 co-Big South defensive player of the year, is significant. The duo of running backs Pete Guerriero and Erik Zokouri, the latter of whom was injured in the second half of the season, was electric as freshmen, and Reggie White Jr. remains one of the nation’s best wide receivers.
HEAD COACH: Tommy Spangler (46-31, seven seasons)
2017 RECORDS: 4-7, 1-4 Big South (5th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 14-April 14
WHAT TO KNOW: The offseason has been a game of musical chairs for Presbyterian. With the program seeking to relinquish scholarships for its move from the Big South to the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League – effective in 2021 – there has been significant turnover. Among the losses are cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who would have been an FCS All-American but is now at Temple, and 1,000-yard running back Torrance Marable (Coastal Carolina). Plus, quarterback Ben Cheek is not planning to use his final season of eligibility. Spangler, who’s in the second season of his second stint as coach, added a 32-member signing class last month. Joey Orck was elevated to offensive coordinator.
HEAD COACH: Robert Prunty (first season)
2017 RECORDS: 6-5, 5-3 MEAC (Tie/4th)
SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 27-March 31
WHAT TO KNOW: The Prunty era has had an unfortunate start because the Pirates have been trying to fill out their schedule during an ugly transition from the MEAC to the Big South. Once the Pirates get into their schedule, it will go more smoothly because they return some veteran talent – eight starters on offense and seven on defense, although last year’s top five tacklers were seniors. They’re particularly strong in the skill positions with quarterback Delmon Williams, tailback Shai McKenzie and wide receivers Ronald Bell (60 receptions as a sophomore) and Aulden Knight. The special teams must improve after last season.
HEAD COACH: Chris Willis (5-5, one season)
2017 RECORDS: 5-5, 5-3 Division II Gulf South
SPRING PRACTICES: March 19-April 21
WHAT TO KNOW: The Lions are making the move to the FCS and will join the Big South in 2019. Two years ago, they were in the Division II championship game, but Willis’ first team needed a season-ending win to avoid the Lions’ first losing record since 2002. They return 50 lettermen, including six starters on offense and seven on defense, and will play six FCS opponents on the road and five Division II teams at home. Defensive lineman Maurice Burton Jr. and defensive back Chris Johnson were first-team all-conference selections last year.