Watch out for the Big South. In its 14th season, the conference sent two teams to the FCS playoffs and could have three teams in the Top 25 this season: Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern and Liberty.
AT A GLANCE
(Last year’s records in parentheses)
Kennesaw State (first season): A member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Kennesaw State joins the Big South for football only with head coach Brian Bohannon (left), a former assistant to Paul Johnson at Navy and Georgia Tech, at the helm. KSU brings the Big South to seven FCS members for 2015. Redshirt junior Trey White made a statement in the Owls’ spring game, rushing for 128 yards on 30 carries, rushing for one touchdown and passing for another.
Coastal Carolina (12-2, 4-1): One of three teams ranked No. 1 in FCS last season, the Chanticleers reached the FCS quarterfinals for the second consecutive season, losing to eventual national champion North Dakota State. The Chanticleers finished fifth in the final Sports Network and coaches polls, the highest in program history, and return quarterback Alex Ross, running back De’Angelo Henderson and top receivers Bruce Mapp, John Israel and Tyrell Blanks. They also added three-star recruit running back Ra’Quan Bennett.
Liberty (9-5, 4-1): Claimed the conference championship with a 15-14 victory over the Chanticleers and beat James Madison in its first FCS playoff game before losing to Villanova in the second round. Josh Woodrum returns for his fourth year at quarterback for the Flames, and the biggest challenge for coach Turner Gill will be replacing seven starters on defense.
Charleston Southern (8-4, 3-2): Coach Jamey Chadwell must replace Buccaneers’ all-time leading rusher Christian Reyes, but Charlotte transfer Alan Barnwell gained 44 yards on five attempts, including a 22-yard touchdown, in the team’s spring game on Feb. 28. Anthony Ellis, Caleb Batchelor and Khalil Coward stood out on a defense that registered double digits in sacks and tackles for loss in the spring game. The Bucs also added defensive end/outside linebacker Gerald Turner, a transfer from South Carolina.
Presbyterian (6-5, 3-2): Conference co-coach of the year Harold Nicholls will try to build on the team’s first winning season (6-5) in FCS. The Blue Hose feature All-Big South linebacker Donelle Williams and safety Ed Britt and look to improve an offense that ranked last in conference scoring (15.9 ppg).
Monmouth (6-5, 1-4): The Hawks, led by sophomore running back Lavon Chaney and freshman safety Mike Basile, won their first conference game last season. Basile was the conference’s freshman of the year and the only rookie to make first-team all conference. But Monmouth must replace quarterback Brandon Hill, who passed for 2,396 yards last season, second most in school history.
Gardner-Webb (4-8, 0-5): The Runnin’ Bulldogs must replace quarterback Lucas Beatty, All-America receiver Kenny Cook and All-America tight end Seth Cranfill. But G-W returns All-America linebacker candidates Tanner Burch and Chad Geter. Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell was an all-state player at Albemarle High School in North Carolina.
Left: Gardner-Webb’s Tanner Burch (Gardner-Webb Photo Team)
Top row from left: Coastal Carolina’s Alex Ross (xxx); Monmouth’s Mike Basile (WG Sports Photos)
Middle row from left: Charleston Southern’s Alan Barnwell (Jim Killian, CSU Athletics); Kennessaw State’s owl mascot (Kennesaw State Athletics)
Bottom row from left: Liberty’s Josh Woodrum (xxx); Presbyterian’s Donelle Williams (Presbyterian College Athletics)