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« CSN The CAA Today: Week Two Results- Answers, or just more Questions?CSN West: No Rebuilding Necessary »

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CSN Inside the OVC: The Race Begins

By James D. Horne, CSN Inside the OVC Columnist

Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri play the first OVC game this season and get to do it in front of a national audience tonight on ESPNU in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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Both teams are coming off tough losses against Bowl Division programs, SEMO (1-1) fell to FBS No. 6 Missouri 52-3 there, while Tech (1-1) dropped a 51-10 decision at Louisville.
But having played against, and getting beat up by, the big Bowl brethren isn’t the biggest worry for SEMO coach Tony Samuel.

“Probably, the more important aspect is we’re playing on Thursday night and that’s because we lose prep time more than anything else,” he said. “We played on Saturday night, and we have a quick turnaround. Sunday is a typical light practice day and we give them Monday off. But we have to do things differently, and practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to play (tonight). That’s the most critical change.”

While Samuel and Tech coach Watson Brown are happy to get the exposure that playing on ESPNU brings, Brown said playing on TV is the only reason the game was moved.

“(Being on TV) is the only reason I OK’d it on our end,” Brown said. “But in no way would we had done this in any shape or fashion but for it being on TV. We used to play on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at UAB (Alabama-Birmingham), and the only reason we did that was for the exposure we got from being in front of bunch of people watching us at home on TV. It is good for the university and recruiting and those are reasons why we’ve done it. When you get closer to the game sometimes you might second-guess yourself, given the same opportunity I was over the summer I’d do the same thing again (because of TV).”

HEFF: Congrats go out to Tennessee State’s Antonio Heffner for being named a College Sporting News All-Star for this week.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior from Memphis, Tenn., leads the Ohio Valley Conference in passing average (303.5 ypg), total offense (347 ypg), is second in passing efficiency (168.1 rating) and is eighth in rushing (43.5 ypg).

Last week, in Tennessee State’s 34-32 victory over Southern, Heffner went 23-of-29 passing for 315 yards, with three touchdown passes of 87, 8 and 38 yards. He added eight rushes for 68 yards.

Heffner’s play has helped TSU remain the league’s only undefeated team with its 2-0 record. The Tigers go for 3-0 when they play Jackson State Saturday in the 19th annual Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis.

TSU is facing its third straight SWAC opponent, and with a victory, would theoretically be 3-0 in the SWAC, something Tigers’ coach James Webster doesn’t take lightly.

“We’ve sort of said we’re playing for the SWAC title this week in our game against Jackson State,” Webster said. “Jackson State won the SWAC last year, and we’ve played every year we’ve been here and our first two games were against SWAC schools. We’ve ended up playing three of the top four teams in the SWAC, we don’t play Grambling. So going into our conference play (next week) we’ve been tested because we’ve played three of the top four teams from any conference, this one being the SWAC. We’re not playing the bottom or middle teams.”

TSU opened the season by beating 2006 SWAC champion Alabama A&M 34-13 and knocked off Southern last week,which finished second in the West Division in 2007.

PANTHERS THE GIANTS: No. 19 Eastern Illinois has played big boys Central Michigan and No. 24 (FBS) Illinois in its first games looking to slay the Bowl giants. Now they become the hunted as the Panthers welcome Indiana State, a fellow Championship Division program that’s won just one game the last four seasons. But one that’s hoping to make its mark against an established FCS school.

“I’m sure that’s going to be their approach,” EIU coach Bob Spoo said. “That’s why I’m leery of these games. When a team is down, they can all of a sudden get up and do great things. One thing they do well is play hard. And when you play hard then you come in and have a chance. So I’m cautious and our team has to have respect for what they will bring to the table.”

CROWE KNOWS: Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe coached the great Bo Jackson while he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 1982 to 1985. We’ve gone over this before. But every time he’s asked to gauge how good junior quarterback Ryan Perrilloux is, Crowe always compares him to Jackson.

Tuesday’s OVC teleconference was no different.But Crowe also said Perrilloux can’t always be expected to take the full weight of the game on his own.

“At his position he’s as good as Bo,” Crowe said. “He makes plays at his position that you don’t expect and can’t plan on. The danger is as it was with Bo that people place too much of a burden on one place, and you’re not going to get that every week. You’re backing yourself into a corner even though the talent is there to do it. He can throw it 50 times and run it 30, but you’d be dumb if you tried to do it.”

THIS WEEK IN THE OVC
All times Central

THURSDAY’S GAMES

Concordia (Ala.) College Hornets (3-0) at UT Martin Skyhawks (1-1), 6 p.m. (OVCSports.TV/WLJT)
This is the first meeting between the two schools, and it makes the third straight week that UT Martin has played a team for the first time. UTM opened the year losing to FBS South Florida, but it blanked NAIA Baker last week. The Skyhawks own a four-game winning streak at home. Concordia is a member of the NAIA Southeast Atlantic Conference.

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (1-1, 0-0 OVC) at Southeast Missouri Redhawks (1-1, 0-0 OVC), 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Tech and SEMO didn’t face each other in 2007, but expect this one to be a close game. The winner in each of the last five games has won by seven points or less. Tech won the last meeting 32-29 and leads the overall series 9-7. Quarterbacks will be key. SEMO QB Houston Lillard averages 292 passing yards a game and accounts for 273 yards of total offense, while Tech QB Lee Sweeney, who did not play much of the second half against Louisville last week, averages 146 passing yards. Tech coach Watson Brown is still seeking his 100th career victory.

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Morehead State Eagles (1-1) at Eastern Kentucky Colonels (0-2)
, 5 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
In any other sport this would be an OVC battle, but the Eagles play in the nonscholarship Pioneer League. That doesn’t lessen the anticipation for a game between two schools that are roughly 66 miles apart. EKU leads the series 48-16-4, but this is the first meeting since 1995, a 41-10 Colonel victory. That was the last year Morehead State competed in the OVC in football.

Gardner-Webb Bulldogs (1-1) at Austin Peay Governors (0-2), 6 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
This is the second meeting between the two schools. The Bulldogs won the first meeting last season 20-13 in Boiling Springs, N.C. Gardner-Webb’s loss came in the first week to Tennessee Tech, while the Govs have fallen to No. 2 North Dakota State and No. 16 Georgia Southern. Expect a physical game.

Indiana State Sycamores (0-1) at No. 19 Eastern Illinois Panthers (0-2), 6 p.m. (OVCSports.TV/WEIU)
Call this an upset special for Indiana State, which has claimed only one victory during the last four seasons. The overall series is close, with EIU leading 40-37-4. But the Panthers have won the last three and 10 of the last 12, including a 54-20 triumph at ISU last season.

Illinois State Redbirds (0-1) at Murray State Racers (0-2), 6 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
It’s the sixth meeting between the two schools, with the Redbirds leading 4-1. ISU has won the last three over the Racers, including 43-17 last year. ISU coach Denver Johnson coached at Murray State from 1997-99, going 21-12 overall and 15-6 in the OVC.

Tennessee State Tigers (2-0) vs. Jackson State Tigers (1-1), 6 p.m. (19th annual Southern Heritage Classic, Memphis, Tenn., on SportSouth)
A victory would give OVC member TSU a defacto 3-0 lead in the SWAC, after topping Alabama A&M and Southern the last two weeks. TSU leads the series 22-18-2 and has won the last five meetings. But the last four games have been decided by a combined 11 points, with two coming in overtime. TSU won last year’s game 16-13.

Email James.