NASHVILLE — Eastern Kentucky finished a perfect 8-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference last season and boasts the league's 2008 pre-season offensive player of the year in quarterback Allan Holland. Despite losing coach Danny Hope to Purdue during the off-season, those credentials earned the Colonels second place in the pre-season poll released by the league during its football media day Tuesday.
EKU received six first-place votes, as did Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois. However, Jacksonville State finished with 113 total points, narrowly edging the Colonels (111) and Panthers (108) in the closest pre-season vote in OVC history.
Jacksonville State Coach Jack Crowe said his team would have been picked to finish in the middle of the pack if not for one huge off-season addition— ex-LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
”I couldn't see us being anything but middle without a feature player, and he's the only feature player that you can say (we have).“
Perrilloux, a 6-foot-3, 233-pound junior, was the Most Valuable Player of the SEC Championship Game a year ago, completing 20 of 30 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee.
The Tigers went on to defeat Ohio State to win the BCS Championship. However, Perrilloux was dismissed from the LSU team for disciplinary reasons in May.
Crowe said he did his homework before allowing the troubled former Tigers star to join his program.
”I had a lot of conversations with people I knew, people that I had a background with, that knew him personally, starting with (LSU Coach) Les (Miles), his high school coach, the strength coach at LSU, the academic adviser, and it was a consistent story. Most of it was bad decisions because of environmental issues,“ Crowe said. ”Nobody even intimated that there wasn't an upside to all this.“
Jacksonville State returns six starters on each side of the ball from a 2007 team that finished 6-5 (5-3 in the OVC).
Over the past five years, EKU, Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois have been the most dominant programs in the OVC. The Colonels have gone 32-8 against conference foes during that span, and they claimed the 2007 title. Jacksonville State won the 2003 and 2004 crowns while piling up a 30-10 league record. Eastern Illinois is 29-11 and captured the 2005 and 2006 titles.
Eastern Kentucky will be in search of its 31st consecutive winning season and 20th OVC title this fall. Last year, the Colonels advanced to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Series playoffs for a record 18th time. EKU opens its season Thursday, Aug. 28 at Cincinnati.
Eastern Kentucky, under the direction of new coach Dean Hood, and Eastern Illinois split the first-place vote evenly with Jacksonville State.
”Since we first joined this league in 1996, this is as even as it's ever been,“ said Eastern Illinois Coach Bob Spoo, entering his 21st season as the Panthers' head coach. ”Any of the teams in this league can win it. I really believe that.“
Eastern Kentucky went a perfect 8-0 in the OVC in 2007. The Colonels top returnee will be quarterback Allan Holland, who completed 178 of 296 pass attempts and threw for 1,990 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Eastern Illinois, 7-1 in the OVC and 8-4 overall in 2007, boasts pre-season defensive player of the year Pierre Walters among its returnees.
Beyond the top three, Tennessee State (4-3, 5-6 in 2007) is picked fourth with 84 points, followed by UT-Martin (4-4, 4-7) with 69 points and Tennessee Tech (2-6, 4-7) with 55 points.
Austin Peay, which finished third in the league and 7-4 overall in its first scholarship football season in 10 years, was picked seventh with 50 points, followed by Murray State (1-7, 2-9) with 36 points and Southeast Missouri (1-6, 3-8) with 22 points.