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OVC Conference Parity Gives Several Teams Shot at Championship
Jacksonville State was picked to finish first in the Ohio Valley Conference for the 2008 season. Eastern Kentucky was a close second, and Eastern Illinois - not far behind - rounded out the top three.
Two points separated the Colonels from the Gamecocks, and the Panthers were three points behind Eastern Kentucky and five points behind Jacksonville State.
All three teams were awarded six first-place votes in the preseason conference rankings.
The general consensus from the head coaches and sports information directors in the OVC - who voted on the preseason rankings - was clear.
Any team could win the league this season.
Eastern Illinois head coach Bob Spoo buys into the idea that any team could win the conference championship.
“We joined the league in 1996, and I think this is going to be the strongest conference since I’ve been here,” Spoo said.
Murray State head coach Matt Griffin - the third longest tenured coach in the OVC - said the OVC has gotten better in each of the past six years he’s been in the league.
He said coaches recruiting high school seniors committed to staying four years and coaches committing to win on defense are both reasons the OVC has improved.
“I think with a coupling of those two things you get better programs, you get better teams and all of a sudden you get a better league,” Griffin said. “It’s a knockdown drag out every week like it should be.”
Jacksonville State head coach Jack Crowe said there is a logjam of six teams that could win the OVC. He said the younger teams are a little behind the top contenders because of lack of experience, but the talent on the younger teams could be an equalizer.
“Every game is going to be a dogfight,” Crowe said. “Some teams have got to figure out how to win the close games. That’s where the point of separation is because they’re going to be close games.”
Tennessee Tech head coach Watson Brown has one of those younger teams as the Golden Eagles have 61 players who are freshmen, red-shirt freshmen or sophomores. But Brown said the league is stronger than it was last season when it was a bit top heavy.
“I would bet you right now the champion won’t be undefeated,” Brown said. “The league is just going to be too equal. The stronger commitment each program makes, the better player you put on the field in my opinion.”
Eastern Kentucky finished the 2007 OVC season undefeated (8-0), but Colonels’ linebackers coach Donn Landholm said the OVC is a much better league this year.
“I got to looking at our scores last year, and our margin of victory was not a whole lot last year in a lot of games,” Landholm said.
The players in the OVC also realize the parity apparent in the league this season. Tennessee Tech junior quarterback Lee Sweeney said the level of competition in the OVC is good because it provides experience for those players thinking about playing at the next level.
“Anybody can beat anybody this year,” Sweeney said. “It just makes each week exciting.”
Eastern Kentucky senior quarterback Allan Holland said if any team in the OVC overlooks a conference opponent upsets are bound to happen.
“You (saw) that happen last year in a couple games,” Holland said. “You see a team that’s picked probably seventh or eighth beating up on a No. 2 or (No.) 3 seeded team. You’ve got to be ready to play every week in and out. If you’re not, upsets are going to happen.”
Murray State sophomore quarterback Jeff Erhardt feels the same.
“There are a lot of great players, a lot of great teams in this league, which makes it even more fun to play on Saturdays,” Erhardt said. “It’s definitely worth a lot more now.”
Coaches, players say league stronger than ever
By Scott Richey, The Daily Eastern News