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CSN Inside the OVC: Media Day Notes Pt. I

floated rightBy James D. Horne, CSN Inside the OVC Columnist

You have to be hard-pressed to find reasons why Eastern Kentucky won’t fulfill the predictions placed upon it in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason polls.

After all, the Colonels are used to finishing at the top of the heap as their back-to-back and 20 total OVC championships attest to.

But forgive second-year EKU coach Dean Hood if he seems to walk a fine line about the preseason lauds. He’s appreciative of the accolades, but he isn’t sure if his team deserves them.

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“On one hand you have to be realistic that tradition doesn’t make any tackles, blocks or passes for you and neither do past successes,” Hood said on day one of the two-day OVC Coaches Preseason Conference Calls, which replaced the annual Media Day. “But on the other hand those things help you with a mentality that we can win any game we’re in. You have to groom, more importantly, the fact that you can’t just throw your shoes on the field and win either. Every game we were in was a battle. Tennessee State beat the tar out of us, we beat Austin Peay on a field goal in overtime, and we blocked a field goal against UT Martin for the game-winner or they’re the conference champ and the No. 1 team going in because they’re the team who has the quarterback back.”

Hood pointed out the biggest reason EKU might not repeat is its youth at quarterback with redshirt freshman T.J. Pryor, sophomore Trevor Hoskins and Marshall transfer Chris Smith, also a sophomore, all in the mix.

Finally, beating the pupil?

Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown is still lacking one accomplishment, beating his former assistant and now third-year Austin Peay head coach Rick Christophel.

Brown is 0-2 against Christophel and hopes to change things in his third season in Cookeville.

“I hope sooner or later I’ll get one,” Brown said. “I lost on a last-second field goal here (in 2007) and a last-second one there (last year). I like to think we’re getting close. He (Christophel) is the epitome of league; he’s got a lot of returners. But we’re getting closer.”

Brown thinks the best way to turn things around is by winning the Sgt. York Trophy.

“That’s our absolute No. 1 goal. If you don’t win the in-state trophy you can’t win the conference championship,” Brown said. “We’ve never been in the running, and we want to be a factor. The trophy is a fantastic idea and Sgt. York means so much to so many people. We want to compete for it, because it’s very important.”

Panthers reloading

Eastern Illinois suffered through its first losing season since 2004 by going 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the OVC in 2008.

Panthers’ coach Bob Spoo felt last season’s swoon could be attributed to a team that didn’t give its all.

“We’ve been fortunate (to win), but there are ups and downs in this game,” said Spoo, in his 22nd year at EIU. “Unless you play this game the way it’s supposed to be, with intensity and competitiveness and do what you’re suppose to do: stay away from penalties, don’t turn the ball over and block and tackle, you’re going to have problems. All those problems haunted us, and that’s why we ended up where we did. If we don’t make improvements in those areas we’ll come up short again.”

The good thing is EIU, picked third in the preseason, should be more experienced with seven starters back on offense and six on defense.

Surprise in Murray?

The preseason order of EKU, UT Martin, EIU, Tennessee State and Murray State in descending order wasn’t surprising.

What might be is the fact the Racers received one of the 18 first-place votes dished out by the voting done by coaches and sports information directors.

But Murray State could be poised to become one of the conference’s new powers in Matt Griffin’s fourth season after going 1-10 (0-8 OVC), 2-9 (1-7 OVC) and 5-7 (4-4 OVC) in his first three.

“I think we’re good enough, there’s no doubt about that, and I thought we were good enough last year,” Griffin said. “But turnovers are what hurt us last year. We had a boatload of turnovers, especially offensively, and that hurt us. But I think we’re good enough and there are three or four teams that are good enough to win it. We just have to be prepared week in and week out.”

Turning upsets into consistent victories

The last two seasons Southeast Missouri found ways to get into the craw of conference contenders with upset victories.

The Redhawks beat Jacksonville State in 2007 and Tennessee State last season. The goal for Tony Samuel’s team is to make those victories a regular occurrence.

“It’s all about turnovers more or less, the fourth-year coach said. “If you have games where you can gain more turnovers than the other team then you can even the playing field in a hurry. We just had some good luck in those games with our quarterbacks being healthy, and we tend to play well at home. Now we have to see if can win all the home games and then go on the road and pick up a few. We don’t want to be classified upset specialists; we want to go into games expecting to win.”