Preview: Kennesaw State slightly favored over Monmouth in Big South
One of the college football preseason magazine’s ranked Kennesaw State (11-2) as the third best team in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
That lofty ranking seems a bit high considering that fifth-year head coach Brian Bohannon, who has won back-to-back Big South championships while advancing to the FCS quarterfinals the past two years — remarkable feats for a start-up football program that didn’t field a team until 2015 — lost almost all of his entire offensive unit from last year’s team.
With the loss of quarterback Chandler Burks — the 2018 Big South Offensive Player of the Year — and with only two starters returning on offense, it’s pretty clear that Bohannon, the AFCA FCS National Coach of the Year in 2017, will have to rely heavily on his experienced defense if he has any hopes of winning a third consecutive Big South title and making yet another deep run in the FCS playoffs.
With eight returning defensive starters, including linebacker Bryson Armstrong — the Big South preseason defensive player of the year — defensive back Dorian Walker and linemen Andrew Butcher and Desmond Johnson, Jr., from a unit that allowed only 15.4 points and a meager 263 yards per game in 2018, the Owls’ stingy defense should enable them to edge out Monmouth, a pretty decent team seemingly on a mission after being snubbed by last year’s selection committee, for the Big South championship.
Senior Daniel David, an Appalachian State transfer who spent the past couple of seasons in a backup role, is expected to be KSU’s starting quarterback.
With the loss of so many starters, Bohannon recognizes that there could be some challenges in the upcoming season, but enthusiastically welcomes those challenges.
“This year poses some interesting challenges with us losing a big class,” he told the Marietta Daily Journal. “I think it’s a great challenge and a great opportunity, and I’m really excited about it.”
Monmouth (8-3), which received five of the twenty first-place votes in the recent Big South football preseason poll — Kennesaw State garnered 14 votes and one member of the media picked Charleston
Southern — will be playing with a chip on its shoulder after being unceremoniously snubbed during last year’s Selection Sunday.
The high-scoring Hawks, under longtime head coach Kevin Callahan, believe they have enough talent to wrest the Big South title from Kennesaw State. That talent includes returning quarterback Kenji Bahar, who threw for 2,626 yards and twenty touchdowns last season, and prolific running backs Pete Guerriero and Big South Freshman of the Year Juwon Farri, who combined for a staggering 1,942 rushing yards in 2018.
If Monmouth can shore up its porous defense, which allowed a disappointing 31.5 points per game in 2018, there’s a chance the Hawks, who finished second in the conference the past two seasons, can overtake Kennesaw State this time around and capture the Big South title and its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
Completing its first year of scholarship football last season, Campbell (6-5) returns starting quarterback Daniel Smith, the program’s all-time passing leader. Smith ran for thirteen touchdowns and passed for thirteen more as he accumulated a total of 2,250 yards for the Camels in 2018.
There’s genuine excitement at Charleston Southern (5-6) as former Notre Dame and NFL running back Autry Denson takes over the school’s football program.
Despite expected stellar seasons from offensive lineman Zack Evans and senior defensive linebacker J. D. Sosebee, the Buccaneers are probably a couple of seasons away from being a serious contender in the Big South.
FCS newcomer North Alabama (7-3) will play every team in the Big South this season, but is ineligible for the conference title until 2022 due to its transition from Division II.
Victories in the conference could be few and far between for the Lions, who have to rebuild their entire defensive line.
A former member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Hampton (7-3) is now officially a full-fledged member of the Big South and, unlike North Alabama, is immediately eligible for the conference title and an FCS playoff berth, but second-year coach Robert Prunty will need to replace some key players from last year’s team to take advantage of that opportunity.
Leading rusher Will Robinson, who galloped for 799 yards last season — 7.1 yards per carry — will try to keep Hampton’s six-game winning streak alive against Elizabeth City State, Virginia Union and Howard before taking on FBS newcomer Liberty University on Sept. 21.
Gardner-Webb (3-8), which opens the season with back-to-back games against FBS foes Charlotte and East Carolina, will be helped by injured nose guard Josh Ramseur’s sixth year of eligibility, but will need to find a way to put more points on the board if it hopes to move up in the Big South.
Entering its final season in the Big South before moving to the non-scholarship Pioneer League, Presbyterian (2-8) will probably be a prohibitive underdog in every conference game this season.
The Blue Hose were outscored 187-47 in their five conference games last season and those one-sided margins aren’t likely to improve in 2019.
- Kennesaw State (11-2, 5-0 Big South)
- Monmouth (8-3, 4-1 Big South)
- Campbell (6-5, 1-4 Big South)
- Charleston Southern (5-6, 3-2 Big South)
- North Alabama (7-3, Division II)
- Hampton (7-3, MEAC)
- Gardner-Webb (3-8, 2-3 Big South)
- Presbyterian (2-8, 0-5 Big South)