By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
EKU football coach Dean Hood doesn’t pay much attention to preseason rankings and polls.
And with good reason.
In recent years, Ohio Valley Conference coaches and sports information directors haven’t had much success in predicting a league champion.
“They haven’t got it right since (I came) into the league in 2008,” Hood said Monday at OVC Media Day in Nashville.
Its been six years since a preseason favorite went on to win an OVC title.
So, perhaps that’s why Hood wasn’t too disappointed when this year’s poll was released on Monday.
Eastern Illinois, last year’s champion, was the overwhelming favorite. The Panthers got 12 of the 18 first-place votes.
EKU received four first-place votes and place second in the poll, ahead of Tennessee State (two first-place votes) and Jacksonville State.
The Colonels also had four players named to the preseason all-conference team — senior linebacker Anthony Brown, senior defensive lineman Shawn Shupperd, senior defensive back Brandon Stanley and senior linebacker Ichiro Vance.
It certainly wasn’t a surprise that Eastern Illinois was named the OVC favorite.
Despite being picked eighth in last year’s preseason poll, EIU posted a league-best 6-1 record, claimed the OVC title and got the league’s automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
The Panthers are set to return 44 letterwinners, including two record-breaking offensive performers.
Receiver Erik Lora is the reigning OVC Player of the Year after catching 136 passes for 1,664 yards — both league records — and he was voted the league’s preseason offensive player for this year. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was also a record-setter last year, throwing for the most yards in OVC history with 3,823.
Second-year coach Dino Babers knows the expectations are much higher for his team this season.
“It just goes to show you that preseason rankings don’t really matter much,” Babers said. “We need to stay within ourselves and not believe the hype. Hopefully, everything will work out in our favor.”
EKU finished in a tie for second place last season.
This year, the Colonels return five offensive and six defensive starters. Offensively the team has to replace an All-American running back, its starting quarterback and both of its starting wide receivers. EKU should be strong in the blocking game, however, as the team returns four offensive linemen who started at least one game last season and starting fullback Jeremy James.
The team should also be strong defensively, returning its nucleus from last year’s team that ranked second nationally in turnover margin (+1.73/game), ninth in rushing defense (108.18 yards/game allowed) and 32nd nationally in total defense (21.73 points/game allowed). Stanley led the team with 81 tackles last season and Brown added a team-best 12.5 tackles-for-loss while Vance and Shupperd each totaled 56 tackles during their junior campaigns.
“We’re a little more veteran, especially when you look at our front seven,” Hood said. “On the backend, we’ve got a lot of young guys that stepped up in the spring and looked good.”
EKU opens the season on Aug. 29 at home against Robert Morris.
The Colonels will open OVC play on Sept. 28 at Eastern Illinois.