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Eastern Illinois ready to defend OVC title
Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers knows he has a talented team as the preseason favorite to repeat as the Ohio Valley Conference champions. A schedule packed with the toughest non-conference slate in his school’s history has him worried.
His Panthers will be on the road for three of their first four games, including the season-opener at San Diego State, in a stretch that Babers said can be easily checked for just how challenging it will be.
“Google it,” Babers said Monday.
“We’re just going to try to survive and do what we need to do to be a good football team,” Babers said.
Eastern Illinois is expected to very well in the OVC, receiving 12 of 18 first-place votes and 122 points in the 2013 poll released Monday at the league’s media day as voted on by its coaches and sports information directors. The Panthers won last year’s OVC title after being picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league, going 6-1 in the conference to edge out Tennessee Martin and Eastern Kentucky.
“It just goes to show you that preseason rankings don’t really matter much,” Babers said. “We need to stay within ourselves and not believe the hype. Hopefully, everything will work out in our favor.”
Eastern Kentucky is expected to finish second ahead of Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, Tennessee Martin, Murray State and Tennessee Tech, Southeast Missouri and Austin Peay.
Babers does have the luxury of having two of the OVC’s top players returning for their senior seasons. Receiver Erik Lora is the reigning OVC Player of the Year after catching 136 passes for 1,664 yards – both league records – and he was voted the league’s preseason offensive player for this year. Jimmy Garoppolo was also a record-setter last year, throwing for the most yards in OVC history with 3,823.
“If you’re talking about guys that are going to throw the football and have an opportunity to play in the National Football League,” Babers said, “then you need to be talking about Jimmy Garoppolo.
“We’re going to have the opportunity to score points and people are going to be talking about us. We’re very excited.”
Eastern Kentucky is expected to finish second ahead of Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, Tennessee Martin, Murray State and Tennessee Tech, Southeast Missouri and Austin Peay. That’s just fine with Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood after being as the preseason favorite a year ago.
“They haven’t got it right since we (came) in the league in 2008,” Hood said of the preseason predictions.
Defensively, Eastern Kentucky has four players listed on the preseason All-OVC team, which Hood expects that to be his team’s strength with six returning starters.
“We’re a little more veteran, especially when you look at our front seven,” Hood said. “On the backend, we’ve got a lot of young guys that stepped up in the spring and looked good.”
Tennessee State may be without junior quarterback Michael German. He is suspended indefinitely after being arrested for felony vandalism earlier this year.
“We’ve got to go in with the attitude that Mike is not there,” Tennessee State coach Rod Reed said. “He has not fulfilled everything he needs to fulfill academically and legally.”
Tennessee State has all 11 starters back on defense from a team that started 7-0 last season and led the OVC in total defense. The Tigers also had the most players voted to the preseason All-OVC team with seven, including junior defensive back Steven Godbolt III as the preseason defensive player of the year.
Jacksonville State has a new coach in Bill Clark, who takes over after being defensive coordinator at South Alabama. Austin Peay has a new coach in Kirby Cannon, who had been secondary coach at Central Michigan.
By BRIAN HINCHMAN, Tallmadge Express