Eastern Kentucky picked to win OVC football championship

July 23, 2012 

Coach Dean Hood, right, congratulated defensive back Justin Bell after an interception against Tennessee State on Oct. 22, 2011. EKU returns 17 starters this season.

  • Ohio Valley Conference football

    Pre-season poll

    Voting by coaches and sports information directors, with first-place votes in parentheses:

    1. Eastern Kentucky (12) 124

    2. Jacksonville State (6) 117

    3. Murray State 85

    4. Tennessee Tech 83

    5. Tennessee State 69

    6. Tennessee-Martin 67

    7. Southeast Missouri 44

    8. Eastern Illinois 42

    9. Austin Peay 17

    All-OVC

    OFFENSE

    QB Casey Brockman, Murray St.

    RB Matt Denham, Eastern Kentucky

    RB Washaun Ealey, Jacksonville St.

    WR Tyrone Goard, Eastern Kentucky

    WR Quentin Sims, Tennessee-Martin

    TE Von Wise, Eastern Illinois

    C O.J. Enabosi, Eastern Kentucky

    OG Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee St.

    OG Tori Mobley, Jacksonville St.

    OT Aaron Adams, Eastern Kentucky

    OT Patrick Ford, Eastern Kentucky

    DEFENSE

    DL Marcus Edwards, Tennessee Tech

    DL Artavious Dowdell, Eastern Illinois

    DL Antonio Harper, Tennessee St.

    LB Anthony Brown, Eastern Kentucky

    LB Ichiro Vance, Eastern Kentucky

    LB Blake Peiffer, Southeast Missouri

    LB Qua Huzzie, Murray St.

    LB Sam Small, Murray St.

    DB Will Johnson, Tennessee Tech

    DB Austin Tallant, Tennessee Tech

    DB Justin Bell, Eastern Kentucky

    DB Brooklyn Fox, Eastern Kentucky

    SPECIALISTS

    K Cody Sandlin, Tennessee-Martin

    P Jordan Berry, Eastern Kentucky

    RS Weldon Garlington, Tennessee St.

    Awards

    Offensive player of the year: QB Casey Brockman, Murray St.

    Defensive player of the year: LB Blake Peiffer, SE Missouri

NASHVILLE — Eastern Kentucky is back at the top where it has dominated Ohio Valley Conference football for so long.

The Colonels, who won their league-high 21st championship last season in a three-way tie for the title, are the pre-season favorite for the 12th time in the past 25 years.

"At Eastern they measure your teams by OVC championships, playoff berths and things like that," All-American senior running back Matt Denham said at Monday's OVC Media Day. "Based on last season, we accomplished one of our goals to win the OVC championship and make the playoffs. Even though we were not able to win (in the playoffs), it was a huge step on the national scene."

Eastern Kentucky received 12 of 18 first-place votes and 124 points in a vote of the league's coaches and sports information directors.

The Colonels have 17 starters back — all but one on offense — and placed 10 players on the Pre-season All-OVC squad. Denham, on the Walter Payton Award Watch list with Murray State quarterback Casey Brockman, averaged a nation's best 184.5 yards in the final eight games after becoming the starter.

Senior T.J. Pryor needs 622 yards to become the Colonels' all-time passing leader. Junior Anthony Brown (3.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss) leads the defense, moving to linebacker.

But EKU fifth-year coach Dean Hood noted that co-champ Tennessee Tech wasn't among the top half of the poll last pre-season, nor was 2010 co-champ Southeast Missouri the year before.

"There's much, much parity in this league," Hood said. "... I think people have a view of Eastern Kentucky and the domination because of what Roy Kidd did. ... People don't realize there was a period from 1997 to 2007 when Eastern Kentucky didn't win the league.

"I think the score of the league has changed. Somebody being that dominant is very difficult I think nowadays because there is so much of a level playing field."

This season, for instance, most of the OVC teams return quarterbacks that are multi-year starters.

Jacksonville State, last year's favorite and fellow co-champ, has two starting QBs returning in redshirt senior Marques Ivory (injured in the opener) and Coty Blanchard. The Gamecocks received the OVC's other six No. 1 votes and 117 points.

Murray State (85 points) was ranked third, and Brockman was chosen OVC Pre-season Player of the Year a second time. Tennessee Tech (83), with senior Tre Lamb back as signal-caller, was fourth after coming off its first FCS playoff berth ever and first OVC crown since 1975.

"To me, it's whoever's got the defense and can deal with the other person's quarterback," said Jacksonville State Coach Jack Crowe. "Somebody's going to evolve in this league as being a defense that can play on the back end and neutralize these quarterbacks, and that's to me where the point of separation is. That and whoever can consistently have a good running game."

Jacksonville State, which opens and closes the season with SEC powers Arkansas and Florida, returns All-American running back Washaun Ealey (1,082 yards), a former Georgia transfer.

Murray's Brockman (3,276, 25 TDs) leads Racers Coach Chris Hatcher's "Hatch Attack" offense and can break the OVC all-time records for passing yardage and total offense.

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