LENOIR-RHYNE: Bears advanced to NCAA Division II championship game last fall. Should still be formidable despite loss of coach Mike Houston, who left for The Citadel, and senior All-America defensive back Michael Green. Eighteen starters return.
CARSON-NEWMAN: Eagles always hover around top of standings and have won conference 26 times, but not since 2009. One of three league teams to make the Division II playoffs in 2013. Ken Sparks back for 35th season as coach.
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NEWBERRY: Last year’s best player, receiver Corey Washington, is trying to catch on with the NFL’s New York Giants. Plenty of talent – 11 preseason All-SAC picks – back for Wolves. Made Division II playoffs, where they lost to Carson-Newman in first round.
Five to watch
Isaiah Whitaker, Lenoir-Rhyne, FB, Sr. (5-foot-10, 210 pounds): One of three Bears to rush for more than 900 yards last season. Rushed for 10 touchdowns in 2013.
Tanner Botts, Lenoir-Rhyne, LB, Sr. (6-2, 215): Preseason All-America led Bears in tackles with 134 in 2013. Also had one interception, three forced fumbles and 31/2 sacks.
Nick Napolitano, Wingate, DE, Sr. (6-3, 255): Two-time All-SAC player. Team-leading 10 quarterback hurries, 91/2 tackles for loss and five sacks last season.
W.T. Murden, Newberry, QB, Sr. (6-2, 190): First-team All-SAC player threw for 1,964 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and rushed for three more. Has passed for almost 5,000 career yards with 41 TD passes.
Javaris Neal, Carson-Newman, DL, Jr. (6-2, 245): Preseason All-America was second among SAC defensive linemen in tackles (62) last season, and sixth in quarterback sacks (61/2).
Game you shouldn’t miss
Nov. 1: Lenoir-Rhyne at Carson Newman, 1 p.m. This late-season matchup of conference favorites could decide the SAC title. L-R routed the Eagles 37-3 in Hickory last season.