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CSN Inside the OVC: OVC Starting To Wonder Whether Two Teams Will Make Playoffs

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

Most of the teams in the OVC have two conference games left and with the playoffs just three weeks away, the league has to start wondering whether it will get two teams in the playoffs after just one was invited last season.

The biggest problem for the OVC is any team that could finish in second place will have at least two losses and possibly three. But league coaches say OVC play is rigorous enough that it deserves two teams.

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The OVC had only one team make the 2008 postseason for the first time in two seasons. Next year, the FCS expands to a 20-team playoff field.

“I do believe that the conference has gotten better and that it’s the best it’s been since we’ve been in it,” said Bob Spoo, the 22-year coach of No. 13 Eastern Illinois, the OVC leader with a 5-1 league record. “On that basis, I hope whoever makes that decision looks at that and we get another team in there.”

Even EIU (7-2, 5-1 OVC) is in danger of falling back to the group thanks in part to its matchup with UT Martin (4-5, 3-3 OVC), suddenly the hottest team in the OVC as winners of two straight.The teams meet at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at EIU.

The Skyhawks go into the game knowing some league teams are hoping they can create more of a jumble at the top.

“I’m sure there are going to be other (OVC) teams pulling for us this weekend to tighten the race,” UTM coach Jason Simpson said. “Honestly, I’d be doing the same thing. We’re in a one-game playoff, and you’ve got to win to get to next week, unless you have one loss. Teams with two or three losses that lose one more can then get ready to go recruiting the next week.”

THE JSU EQUATION: Unfortunately, the one team in the OVC that could eliminate the worry of it not getting two in is No. 15 Jacksonville State.

But the Gamecocks were ruled ineligible for the OVC championship and any postseason appearances because of a low Academic Progress Rate (APR) coming into the season.JSU was left out of the 2008 playoffs, something that still stings, and coach Jack Crowe says the league still has work to do to improve its standing nationally.

“We still have a perception problem in the OVC,” Crowe said. “But the conference has to decide on some things. Obviously, we can play at a high level and still contend. But I think (our second-place team) is a better choice than Maine, a fourth-place team in another league (the CAA). I still feel we have to get on field with those folks. But the second-place team in our league will still be left out because of the perception of the league. But I still think we have a chance it will happen.”

OVC EXTRAS: Austin Peay kick returner/runningback Terrence Holt was named National Specialist of the Week by The Sports Network after his performance against Murray State, which included a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Holt leads all FCS players in all-purpose yards … EIU can clinch at least a share of its fifth OVC Championship (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006) with a home victory over UT Martin this week or a victory over Tennessee State the following Thursday (in a game that can be seen on ESPNU … Tennessee Tech will be at Jacksonville State this week before hosting Murray State to finish the year. The Golden Eagles need to win two games and hope for an EIU loss to claim the OVC Championship, something they have not done since 1975.

OVC STANDINGS

Team OVC Overall
Eastern Illinois 5-1 7-2
Eastern Kentucky 5-2 5-4
Tennessee Tech 4-2 5-4
UT Martin 3-3 4-5
Tennessee State 2-3 3-6
Austin Peay 2-4 3-6
Murray State 2-4 3-6
Southeast Missouri State 0-7 1-8
*Jacksonville State 4-1 6-3
*Ineligible for OVC title and FCS playoffs due to APR sanctions

Last Week’s Results
@Georgia 38, Tennessee Tech 0
@Kentucky 37, Eastern Kentucky 12
*@Murray State 27, Austin Peay 17
*Jacksonville State 24, @Southeast Missouri 3
*UT Martin 28, @Tennessee State 7
*Denotes OVC game

GPI RANKINGS

7. Ohio Valley Conference (45.03)
12. Jacksonville St (13.25)
15. E Illinois (16.63)
45. E Kentucky (37.13)
50. Tennessee Tech (41.13)
63T. TN Martin (49.25)
67. Austin Peay (52.38)
78. Murray St (57.25)
89. Tennessee St (64.88)
103T. SE Missouri St (73.38)

THIS WEEK IN THE OVC

Saturday’s Games
Tennessee Tech at GPI NO. 12 Jacksonville State, noon (OVCSports.TV)
Western Carolina at Eastern Kentucky, noon (OVCSports.TV)
*Murray State at Southeast Missouri, 1 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
*UT Martin at GPI No. 15 Eastern Illinois, 1:30 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
*Tennessee State at Austin Peay, 4 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
*Denotes OVC game

THE GAMES

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (5-4, 4-2 OVC) at GPI No. 12 Jacksonville State Gamecocks (6-3, 4-1 OVC) • Paul Snow Memorial Stadium (15,000) • Jacksonville, Ala.
THE BACKGROUND:
Series Record: ……………………………………… Jacksonville State leads 8-4
Last Meeting: ………………………… Jacksonville State won 41-17 (11/8/08)
Watson Brown at Tennessee Tech: …………………………….. 12-20 (3 yrs.)
Watson Brown Overall: ……………………………………… 106-171-1 (25 yrs.)
Jack Crowe at Jacksonville State: …………………………….. 63-45 (10 yrs.)
Jack Crowe Overall: ………………………………………………… 77-75 (15 yrs.)
Tennessee Tech Last Week: ………………………………… L, 38-0 at Georgia
Jacksonville State Last Week: ………………W, 24-3 at Southeast Missouri
THE PRIMER: Coming off a nonconference game at Georgia, Tennessee Tech will return to conference play in hopes of keeping its OVC Championship hopes alive. The Golden Eagles are just one game behind Eastern Illinois in the loss column and need to win out and hope for an EIU loss in at least one of its two remaining games to grab a share of its first OVC crown since 1975. Jacksonville State, ineligible for the OVC crown this season, improved to 6-3 overall and 4-1 in conference games with a road win at Southeast Missouri. The Gamecocks are an impressive 5-2 on the road this season but now return home for its final two games of the season. Jax State has won four in a row in the series with Tech and six of the last seven.
THE PREDICTION: JSU 48, TTU 28

Western Carolina Catamounts (1-8, 1-6 Southern) at Eastern Kentucky Colonels (5-4, 5-2 OVC) • Roy Kidd Stadium (20,000) • Richmond, Ky.
THE BACKGROUND:
Series Record: ……………………………………… Eastern Kentucky leads 3-1
Last Meeting: …………………………. Eastern Kentucky won 45-21 (9/8/07)
Dennis Wagner at Western Carolina: ………………………………. 3-9 (2 yrs.)
Dennis Wagner Overall: ………………………………………… 47-46-1 (10 yrs.)
Dean Hood at Eastern Kentucky: …………………………………… 13-8 (2 yrs.)
Dean Hood Overall: …………………………………………………………………. same
Western Carolina Last Week: ……………………………. L, 42-17 vs. #6 Elon
Eastern Kentucky Last Week: …………………………… L, 37-12 at Kentucky
THE PRIMER: For the second straight week, Eastern Kentucky will step out of OVC play. The Colonels are coming off a loss at Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent Kentucky on Saturday. With one OVC game left (next week at Jacksonville State) the Colonels need a victory in that game and a loss by Eastern Illinois in either of its two remaining game (home vs. UT Martin and Tennessee State). If both of those things happen the team will earn a share of its 21st OVC Championship and its 20th bid to the FCS playoffs.
THE PREDICTION: EKU 38, WCU 14

Murray State Racers (3-6, 2-4 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (1-8, 0-7) • Houck Stadium (10,000) • Cape Girardeau, Mo.
THE BACKGROUND:
Series Record: ………………………………………… Murray State leads 36-6-1
Last Meeting: ……………………………….. Murray State won 17-10 (11/8/08)
Matt Griffin at Murray State: ………………………………………… 11-32 (4 yrs.)
Matt Griffin Overall: ……………………………………………………..21-56 (7 yrs.)
Tony Samuel at Southeast Missouri: …………………………….12-31 (4 yrs.)
Tony Samuel Overall: ……………………………………………….. 46-88 (11 yrs.)
Murray State Last Week: …………………………… W, 27-17 vs. Austin Peay
Southeast Missouri Last Week: …….. L, 24-3 vs. #15 Jacksonville State
THE PRIMER: Murray State heads to the road for its final two games of the season while Southeast Missouri is at home for its final two games of the season. The regional rivals have played 43 times since 1926 with the Racers dominating the series by a 36-6-1 margin. Murray State has won two in a row and 14 of the last 16 overall. The Redhawks did win back-to-back games in 2005 and 2006. Last year, the Racers were victorious by a 17-10 margin at home.
THE PREDICTION: MSU 30, SEMO 23

UT Martin Skyhawks (4-5, 3-3 OVC) at GPI No. 15 Eastern Illinois Panthers (7-2, 5-1 OVC) • O’Brien Field (10,000) • Charleston, Ill.
THE BACKGROUND:
Series Record: …………………………………………. Eastern Illinois leads 11-3
Last Meeting: ……………………………………. UT Martin won 29-26 (10/9/08)
Jason Simpson at UT Martin: ………………………………………..25-19 (4 yrs.)
Jason Simpson Overall: …………………………………………………………… same
Bob Spoo at Eastern Illinois: ……………………………….. 139-111-1 (22 yrs.)
Bob Spoo Overall: …………………………………………………………………… same
UT Martin Last Week: ………………………………W, 28-7 at Tennessee State
Eastern Illinois Last Week: …………………………………………………………. Idle
THE PRIMER: Championship implications will weigh heavy in Saturday’s matchup in Charleston. Eastern Illinois is just one victory away from clinching at least a share of its fifth OVC Championship, while UT Martin is hoping that by winning out and getting help in other matchups, the team can gain a share of its second OVC crown. The two teams have played 14 times previously since being members of the Conference, with EIU winning 11 of those contests. Through the last five years, however, UT Martin holds a 3-2 advantage in the series, including a 29-26 victory in Martin a season ago.
THE PREDICTION: EIU 33, UTM 30

Tennessee State Tigers (3-6, 2-3 OVC) at Austin Peay Governors (3-6, 2-4 OVC) • Governors Stadium (10,000) • Clarksville, Tenn.
THE BACKGROUND:
Series Record: ……………………………………….. Tennessee State leads 8-3
Last Meeting: ……………………….. Tennessee State won 37-34 (10/18/08)
James Webster at Tennessee State: …………………………….24-30 (5 yrs.)
James Webster Overall: ………………………………………………………….. same
Rick Christophel at Austin Peay: ………………………………….. 12-19 (3 yrs.)
Rick Christophel Overall: …………………………………………………………. same
Tennessee State Last Week: …………………. L, 28-7 vs. Tennessee State
Austin Peay Last Week: ……………………………… L, 27-17 at Murray State
THE PRIMER: Tennessee State and Austin Peay will battle in Clarksville, the 12th time the teams have met on the gridiron. Tennessee State has won the last three overall, including the last two since Austin Peay rejoined the Conference in 2007. That 2007 meeting was an overtime thriller that TSU won when now NFL cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie blocked an extra point attempt. Last season the Tigers won 37-34 in Nashville in another exciting game.
THE PREDICTION: TSU 35, APSU 21

MY PREDICTION RECORD

OVERALL: 40-14
LAST WEEK: 3-2