Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Big South will have only six teams
for the second consecutive season, but the conference could be even stronger
than last season's terrific campaign.
Coastal Carolina and Liberty shared the title, although only Coastal advanced
to the FCS playoffs. The Chanticleers then did serious damage in upsetting
national power Montana and advancing to the quarterfinals behind one of the
nation's top-scoring offenses.
Hard-luck Liberty will make another bid for an elusive playoff berth this
year, and Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern have reason to expect title
contention as well.
Monmouth joins the conference as an associate member and is an upgrade to VMI,
which departs for the Southern Conference. Presbyterian will have to make a
big jump to keep up in the steadily improving conference.
The Big South will go back to being a seven-team conference in 2015 when
Kennesaw State's developing program plays its first season.
A look across the conference with spring practices getting underway across the
Coach Joe Moglia has done a terrific job since his controversial hiring two
years ago. Despite key losses to graduation, his Chanticleers remain the team
to beat this year. They should have the conference's preseason offensive
(quarterback Alex Ross) and defensive (linebacker Quinn Backus) players of the
Liberty's offense will score in bunches behind the return of quarterback
Josh Woodrum, running back Desmond Rice and wide receiver Darrin Peterson.
Gardner-Webb beat three Top 15 squads last season and appears primed to emerge
on the national scene. The Runnin' Bulldogs return 18 starters, including six
from last season's dominant defensive front seven, led by end Shaquille
Riddick and tackle O.J. Le'iatua Mau.
Charleston Southern won't sneak up on opponents in coach Jamey Chadwell's
second season. The Buccaneers, 10-3 overall last season, were the only Big
South team to beat Coastal Carolina.
Monmouth will have another season out of 2012 All-Northeast Conference middle
linebacker Dan Sullivan, who was ineligible while the Hawks finished 6-6 last
Liberty's defense lost seven starters, but it returns three players who earned
All-Big South first-team honors: defensive end Chima Uzowihe, linebacker Nick
Sigmon and free safety Jacob Hagen.
Taliaferro and Charleston Southern's Christian Reyes grabbed much of the
spotlight, but Gardner-Webb's Juanne Blount also was a 1,000-yard running back
Charleston Southern brought in nine linebackers with its signing class because
it must replace starters Calvin Bryant, who made the All-Big South first team,
and Adam Witzmann.
DeMarcus Rouse returns as Presbyterian's leading rusher, but coach Harold
Nichols hasn't ruled out Darrell Bridges and Kendrick Salley forcing their way
into the mix.
Liberty needs some of its young defensive players to step up their play after
the Flames lost seven starters on that side of the ball. They could be
vulnerable at cornerback after losing their two starters.
Along with Reyes' power and production, Charleston Southern boasts sophomore
running back Mike Holloway, a speedy back who gained 420 yards over the
Buccaneers' final seven games last season.
Gardner-Webb opponents will look to shut down wide receiver Kenny Cook, which
will make it easier for emerging tight end Mike Estes and sophomore wideout
Kalay Jones to increase their reception totals.
Coastal Carolina has some big holes to fill in running back Lorenzo Taliaferro
and wide receiver Matt Hazel. The electric De'Angelo Henderson averaged seven
yards a carry, while Bruce Mapp has Hazel-like qualities and John Israel is
capable of big plays.
While Monmouth toiled as an FCS independent last season, defensive end Darnell
Leslie collected 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman.
READY FOR IMPROVEMENT
In six starts, quarterback Heys McMath gave Presbyterian a much-needed passing
threat, throwing for 10 touchdowns. He will get better as his offensive line
continues its development.
While Coastal Carolina posted the best season in program history, the
Chanticleers defense left room for improvement, especially on the back end. Up
front, nose tackle Jeffrey Salley and defensive end Dominique Whiteside are
Despite its big wins, Gardner-Webb also had disappointing losses to Charlotte
and VMI, mainly because of turnovers. The Runnin' Bulldogs have to improve
their minus-11 turnover margin.
Liberty can't afford to lose fourth-quarter leads, as it did in three of its
four losses last season, including against Kent State, Coastal Carolina (ahead
by 19 points) and Old Dominion (up 10 points).
None of the starting punters across the Big South averaged over 40 yards.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Charleston Southern: March 5-April 10
Coastal Carolina: March 17-April 12
Gardner-Webb: March 4-April 5
Liberty: March 18-April 12
Monmouth: March 25-April 26
Presbyterian: March 11-April 5
The Sports Network