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Numbers say that OVC is getting better
Not proud to admit this but I really haven’t paid much attention to the Gridiron Power Index in the past.
One flimsy excuse would be that the GPI – noted as a leading indicator for Football Championship Subdivision at-large playoff selections – has seldom if at all been brought up during the Ohio Valley Conference’s weekly football coaches teleconferences in past years.
The reason was the index usually has not been all that favorable to the Ohio Valley.
But on Tuesday Kyle Schwartz, the league’s assistant commissioner for media relations, was glad to report the OVC is fourth among 14 conference in the GPI’s first release of this year.
The fact that the GPI doesn’t start these lists until five weeks into the season lends some credibility compared to polls released in August based on last year’s records, maybe some idea of returning players and newcomers but just as much on whims.
Last summer few probably would have rated the OVC as the nation’s fourth best FCS conference behind the No. 1 Missouri Valley, No. 2 Southland and No. 3 Colonial Athletic.
But the league has moved to that spot with the help of a 13-5 record against other FCS level teams in non-conference games.
The OVC can even boast a 4-1 record against the top-ranked Missouri Valley.
Granted, the league has not played the Missouri Valley powers North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, the top two teams in the Gridiron Power Index going into their showdown this week.
Eastern Illinois has a 40-37 double-overtime win over Southern Illinois that is rated as the fifth best team in the Missouri Valley and tied for 30th in the nation by the GPI and a 57-24 win over Illinois State that has plummeted from a top 10 preseason national ranking to next to last in the Missouri Valley and 56th in the nation.
Murray State provided the OVC with a 41-38 win over Missouri State that is seventh in the MVC and 46th nationally and Tennessee Tech last week pulled out a 38-7 win over Indiana State that is 55th nationally.
The MVC’s only win over the OVC this year came from Southern Illinois by a 36-19 score over Southeast Missouri, which is next to last in the OVC and 75th nationally on GPI listings.
How ever you slice it, this year is sure better for the OVC than several seasons ago when it went 0-for against what was then called the Gateway Conference, bringing an abrupt stop to keep track of the challenge between the two leagues.
The Ohio Valley progress has been noted by the Gridiron Power Index that has Eastern Illinois No. 4, UT Martin No. 16 and Tennessee State No. 21 in national rankings of teams.
In each case, those places are higher than the Sports Network national rankings from media and administrators or the FCS Coaches Poll.
EIU with a 4-1 start has moved to No. 5 in both of those while UT Martin is No. 22 by Sports Network but left out of the top 25 by the coaches.
“This taught me a valuable lesson,” said UT Martin coach Jason Simpson, whose 3-1 Skyhawks continue to be shunned in the coaches’ poll despite beating two nationally ranked teams and losing only to Football Bowl Subdivision Boise State. “When I again have the honor of voting I will do my due diligence.”
Tennessee State coach Rod Reed said: “I’m on that voting committee. When I look down there I see 1-3 teams still ranked. UT Martin and Eastern Illinois, they get high votes for me, just so you know.”
Let’s assume that the GPI calculates more solid information than do Sports Network voters like me whose main priority on Sunday is helping to get a sports section done by deadline or for FSC Coaches Poll voters whose main priority is studying film of their next opponent.
Still, the GPI does not necessarily decide what teams get in the playoffs determined by a committee whose members no doubt take into consideration the OVC has not won one postseason game since 2000.
“You know how reputations are,” EIU coach Dino Babers said. “I thought the job (Tennessee Tech) coach (Watson) Brown did beating Indiana State, a team just down the road for us, was really good and we were able to beat two teams in the Missouri Valley.”
Maybe this year’s OVC success could help and so should the expansion of the FCS playoffs from 20 to 24 teams this year.
Still, the league is only guaranteed one postseason spot and the pressure may be on that OVC champion.
“We’ve got to win a playoff game,” Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood said. “Our conference has to win a playoff game. That was the issue last year. We had three teams deserving to get in the playoffs, maybe four with us and Tennessee State and Tennessee Martin. We had a good record last year and only had one playoff team. We have to win a playoff win. It’s going to take a playoff win to get the monkey off our backs so to speak in the conference.”
The Gridiron Power Index will not bring that November win. But in early October, it suggests such possibilities.
From Tuesday’s Ohio Valley Conference football coaches teleconference:
“I think there is a lot of ways to win football games. If you have a quarterback who can throw, you can win that way and if you have a quarterback who can run, you can win that way. What helps is when you can show him a lot of pictures. Our guy has seen a lot of pictures. We can give him the keys to the Cadillac and not have to be in the car with him.”
Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers on his senior quarterback/Cadillac driver Jimmy Garoppolo
“It was probably no doubt the biggest win I’ve had since I’ve been at Murray State.”
Murray State coach Chris Hatcher after beating Jacksonville State 35-34 in overtime.
“I think it was a no-brainer move. It definitely was a no-brainer since it worked. We were tired defensively. In overtime it only took them two plays to score. I just felt it gave us our best chance to win.”
Hatcher on his decision to go for a two-point conversion after a touchdown in the first overtime.
“It may not be the identity I was hoping for. We’re still struggling.”
Austin Peay coach Kirby Cannon, asked whether his team had found an offensive identity in this 0-4 start in which the Governors total 13 points.
“Kyle Ramano has a high ankle sprain. If it’s a horse you take him out and shoot him. It’s a tough injury.”
Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood whose backup quarterback suffered the injury in Saturday’s 42-7 loss at Eastern Illinois.
By Brian Nielsen, Journal Gazette & Times Courier