Catch the Ohio Valley if you can. Five of the conference’s nine teams topped 200 yards rushing per game, most in FCS, led by champion Jacksonville State (285.3).
AT A GLANCE
(2014 records in parentheses)
Jacksonville State (10-2, 8-0): The Gamecocks lost leading rusher DeMarcus James but return seven starters on an offense that produced a school-record 510.8 yards per game, including quarterback Eli Jenkins (1,870 yards and 12 touchdowns passing, 813 and six touchdowns rushing) and running backs Troymaine Pope (715 yards, six touchdowns) and Miles Jones (652, seven touchdowns). JSU also returns nine starters on defense, including tackle Devaunte Sigler, OVC defensive player of the year, and All-American cornerback Jermaine Hough.
Eastern Kentucky (9-4, 6-2): The Colonels return eight starters on offense and defense, including leading rusher Dy’Shawn Mobley (1,491 yards, 20 touchdowns). Quarterback Bennie Coney (1,185 yards and seven touchdowns passing) takes over as the full-time starter after sharing time last year with Jared McClain.
UT Martin (6-6, 5-3): The Skyhawks finished with a flurry, winning five of their last six games, losing only to Mississippi State. They hope six returning starters on offense and seven on defense can carry over the momentum. They lost four offensive linemen and leading rusher Abou Toure (1,160 yards, six touchdowns) but quarterback Jarod Neal (1,880 yards and 14 touchdowns passing) returns with leading receivers William Tanner (527 yards, four touchhdowns) and Kyle Kerrick (410 yards, three touchdowns).
Eastern Illinois (5-7, 5-3): Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow set the school’s single-season rushing record by a quarterback (792 yards, 12 touchdowns) and completed 62.9% of his passes for 2,075 yards and 15 touchdowns. Leading rusher Shepard Little (797 yards, three touchdowns) also returns. But the Panthers, who went from 12-2 in 2013 to 5-7 last season, also lost wide receiver Adam Drake and tight end Jeff LePak.
Tennessee Tech (5-7, 4-4): The Golden Eagles return 72 players, including 24 starters, but need to replace quarterback Darian Stone. Jared Davis, who completed 50.7% of his passes for 770 yards and four touchdowns, and junior college transfer Colby Brown are expected to compete for the starting job and getting the ball to running back Ladarius Vanlier and receivers Krys Cates and Jordan Smith. Head coach Watson Brown’s spread offense finished next to last in the OVC with 19.8 points per game and 277.1 yards per game last season.
Tennessee State (6-6, 3-5): The Tigers return eight starters on defense but lost all-time passing leader Mike German, leading receiver Wel Garlington and second-leading tackler Nick Thrasher. Leading rusher Tom Smith (385 yards, six touchdowns) returns with quarterback Ronald Butler, who played six games and completed 51.9% of his passes for 420 yards and a touchdown. Spring game: Completed
Southeast Missouri (5-7, 3-5): The Redhawks return seven starters of offense and five defense, including wide receiver Paul McRoberts (711 yards, nine touchdowns before injury ended his season) and running back DeMichael Jackson (734 yards, five touchdowns). But they need to replace quarterback Kyle Snyder (2,582 yards and 23 touchdowns passing, 661 yards and nine touchdowns rushing).
Murray State (3-9, 1-7): Mitch Stewart, whose offense ranked 15th in FCS with 5,625 yards and 439 points last season, was promoted to head coach when Chris Hatcher left for Samford. He’ll have quarterback KD Humphries back. Humphries led the OVC in passing and finished ninth nationally in passing touchdowns (27), sixth in passing yards ( 3,483), sixth in passing yards per game (290.3), sixth in points (204), fourth in completion percentage (67.4%) and first in completions per game (26.58).
Austin Peay (1-11, 1-7): Head coach Kirby Cannon hopes to answer the question at quarterback, where freshmen Darrien Boone and Mickey Macius and junior Trey Taylor saw significant playing time last season. The Governors also need to replace three starters on the offensive line. But there’s hope at the skill positions with the return of leading rusher Otis Gerron (596 yards, two touchdowns) and leading receivers Rashaan Coleman (26 catches, 221 yards, one touchdown) and Malik Boynton (25 catches, 208 yards, one touchdown).
Top from left: Murray State’s KD Humphries (Sam Sheffer/Murray State Athletics); Jacksonville State’s Eli Jenkins (JSU photo by Steve Latham); Eastern Illinois’ Jason Whitlow (Sandy King/EIU Athletics)
Bottom from left: Austin Peay’s Otis Gerron (Brittney Sparn/APSU Sports Information); UT Martin’s Abou Toure (Nathan Morgan/UT Martin University Relations); Tennessee State’s Gar Willington (Don Claussen); Eastern Kentucky’s Dy’Shawn Mobley (Steve Fohl/EKU Sports); Southeast Missouri’s DeMichael Jackson (Southeast Missouri State University Athletics)