Let there be football. And none of that NFL preseason nonsense. Real, meaningful, it counts for something football.
The weeks of preparation, of two-a-days, of hot August practices, this is the beginning of what they’re all for. And oddly enough, every team playing tonight would probably like another week or two before starting their season.
Members of the media wants to frame this year in the OVC as the “Year of the Quarterback,” which makes for good headlines, and sure it gets fans excited.
But is one team’s quarterback really that much better than any other team’s quarterback? Really? Quarterbacks aren’t what’s going to determine the conference champion, because every team has a good one returning (sans one, who gets it all kicked off tonight)
It’s defense that’s really going to matter, because few teams have a truly good one from front to back. Sure, most have great pieces, but does any team have a great D-line and a game-changing secondary?
Talk about the quarterbacks all you want. Everyone always does. And the OVC has a crop of good ones.
I’ll be looking at the other 21 players on the field. Because this season, in the “Year of the Quarterback,” they’re going to be the difference makers. They’re what will determine who comes out of what everyone expects to be another tightly contested season in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Southeast Missouri at Central Michigan
6:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
SEMO is that one squad going against the grain on that “Year of the Quarterback” thing. In a big way. They’re the only OVC team not returning a starter, and then they’re projected starter got injured 9 days into training camp.
So enter Scott Lathrop, who is expected to make his first career start tonight against Central Michigan.
The good news for Redhawks fans is that the Chippewas are coming off of a 3-9 season. The bad news is that SEMO has never beaten a MAC opponent in 9 tries, and that SEMO went winless on the road last year.
Win or lose, this is actually a great preview of what’s to come for the Redhawks, especially of their pass defense. Central Michigan didn’t have much of a run game this past year, but had a great quarterback by the name of Ryan Radcliff who threw for 25 touchdowns last year. He’s back for his senior season, as is his top threat at wide receiver senior Cody Wilson. Central Michigan is very likely going to put the ball in the air a lot, which was SEMO’s strength on defense.
The big question tonight though is if SEMO can move the ball well enough on offense to keep pressure off their defense.
Southern Illinois at Eastern Illinois
6:30 p.m. (OVC Digital Network)
The tired line about the beginning of a “new era” aside, this is our first look at Dino Babers offense at Eastern Illinois, and with his last job coming at school pretty well known for their offense in Baylor, expectations are high on that side of the football entering the season. I think he has the quarterback in Jimmy Garopollo to run the system he wants, and a “veteran” offensive line to protect him, (although they didn’t do a great job of that last season) which are two very good signs. In a spread system, running the ball is still important, and that is a huge question mark entering this season.
Their questionable run defense gets a big test tonight in this Southern Illinois team. For the last 10 seasons straight, the Salukis have averaged 165 yards of rushing per game, and they’ve added a transfer from Iowa in Mika’il McCall to an already strong backfield. Their quarterback, Kory Faulkner, can also take off and run, just another test for a defensive line that was awful against the run in 2011. Faulkner finished 2nd on the team in rushing, and scored 7 touchdowns on the ground his final four games a year ago.
To make matters worse, this isn’t a slow rushing team. In the offseason, the Salukis offensive staff visited Oklahoma and have installed a more up-tempo offense they’ll debut tonight.
Hampton at Tennessee Tech
7:00 p.m. (OVC Digital Network)
The defending Ohio Valley Conference champions also get their season underway tonight, against probably the toughest OVC opponent of the night in Hampton. It’s also features two very conflicting styles: the high powered offense of the Golden Eagles against the stout physical defense of the Pirates. It will be quite a test for quarterback Tre Lamb against a defense that allowed just 8 passing touchdowns last season, and picked off opposing quarterbacks 14 times.
One reason for Hampton’s middling 7-4 record a year ago was their play at quarterback, but they think they found their man late in the season in then-freshman Travis Champion. He’s joined in the backfield by MEAC Rookie of the Year Antwon Chisholm. With more experience at both those skill position, it’s hard to imagine the Pirates taking a step back on an offense that finished in the middle of the pack in the MEAC.
That being said, the Pirates only eclipsed 30-point five times a year ago, so that’s a good target for the Golden Eagles to hit to come out with the win.
One final note: I can’t imagine that the Golden Eagles newest acquisition, Da’Rick Rogers sees any action tonight, having just joined the squad earlier in the week.