July 28, 2010

By Amy Farnum

ROARING FOR A REPEAT:  Despite the loss of more than 30 seniors from a 2009 squad that posted an 11-2 mark and won the Gulf South Conference title, the University of North Alabama was selected as the favorite to claim the league championship once again.  It is the first time since 2006 that the Lions have been picked to finish in first place of the GSC Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

The Lions are expected to contend with in-state rival West Alabama for first place as the Tigers claimed second in the poll – their highest preseason ranking since 1976 when they were picked to win the conference title.  

North Alabama, ranked No. 3 nationally in the USA Today Preseason Division II poll, will open the 2010 season against Henderson State on Sept. 4.  The Tigers are ranked No. 12 by USA Today after finishing last season with an 8-5 mark and advancing to the second round of the NCAA playoffs.  West Alabama opens the season on Aug. 28 against NAIA member Shorter College in Demopolis, Ala.

LSC WELCOMES NEW MEMBER:  As of July 1, the University of the Incarnate Word is officially a member of the Lone Star Conference after spending its inaugural season as an independent Division II squad.

The Cardinals will compete in the highly-competitive LSC South Division, so it is no surprise they were voted to finish seventh among seven teams amongst league officials and coaches.  Last year, four LSC South teams advanced to the NCAA playoffs, while all six divisional members posted winning records.  West Texas A&M was selected as the favorite to win the division.

“This is a dramatic challenge for a second-year team,” UIW Coach Mike Santiago said at an Incarnate Word media event.  “Last year we played three Lone Star Conference teams and they were very gracious to us.”  
The Cardinals were 1-2 in those three games.

UIW opens the 2010 season with its lone non-conference game of the season against Langston State on Aug. 28.

Midwestern State senior quarterback Zack Eskridge was the overwhelming favorite as the LSC South Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year after leading the Mustangs to a share of the league title and a NCAA playoff berth last year.  

The native of Rowlett, Texas, connected on 71.3 percent of his passes for a school-record 3,295 yards and 29 touchdowns, which throwing just six interceptions in 2009.  Eskridge was also a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist, and led Division II with a 180.2 pass efficiency rating last season.

LUCKY 13?  For the first time since 1980 the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association will field a 13-team football conference with the return of Winston-Salem State and Lincoln University (Pa.) to the league.

But despite the new members, the coaches expect Fayetteville State to repeat as CIAA champions, voting the Broncos as the favorite in the league’s preseason poll.  

The Broncos went 8-4 with a trip the NCAA playoffs last season.  FSU placed three players on the CIAA Preseason All-CIAA squad, including the league’s 2009 Special Teams Player of the Year Austin Turner, who was voted as the squad’s punter and place-kicker.

Fayetteville State starts the campaign to defend its 2009 title against UNC Pembroke in the Second Annual Two Rivers Classic on Sept. 4.

MARK YOUR CALENDERS:  The six-game Division II football television package which will be broadcast nationally on the CBS College Sports Network will get underway immediately as Grand Valley State opens the season against West Texas A&M on Thursday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET.  The game will be a rematch of GVSU’s season-opening 37-23 win over WTAMU in 2009.  

Here’s a look at the other five games (all Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET):  Sept. 9 – Arkansas Tech at Delta State; Sept. 23 – American International at Southern Connecticut State; Sept. 30 – West Liberty State at Fairmont State; Oct. 7 – Shippensburg at West Chester; and Oct. 14 – Elizabeth City at Virginia State.