Kennesaw State was picked to repeat as Big South Conference football champion, and the Owls swept the top two preseason awards.
And plenty of attention at the conference’s annual Football Media Day event in Charlotte was focused on No. 2 pick Monmouth and new Big South members Hampton and North Alabama, who won’t play a full conference football schedule until 2019.
But the spotlight Tuesday centered on the coach of another new Big South member – former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter, whose Campbell University team will compete this fall for the football crown.
Campbell revived its football program in 2008 but didn’t offer scholarships in the spot and played in the Pioneer Football Conference, which also includes Davidson. The school decided last year to add football scholarships – and, hence, the move to the Big South.
While the Camels were picked by coaches and media to finish fifth of the league’s six football-playing schools in 2018, they’re on the minds of other Big South members.
“It makes it harder for all of us,” said Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray, whose team was picked to finish fourth. “It spreads the talent out a bit more and makes it more competitive for all of us.
“It’s great to have them join our conference, but it adds to the challenge.”
Minter, Campbell’s head coach since the start-up in 2013, said moving to scholarship football is “like being a rookie again. You don’t know what to expect. You run around at 100 mph.”
Kennesaw sweep: Kennesaw State, which won the Big South title last fall and advanced to the third round of the FCS playoffs, is the big favorite to repeat in the conference. The Owls captured 17 of 18 first-place votes from a panel of coaches and media, followed by Monmouth (also an FCS playoff qualifier in 2017), Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, Campbell and Presbyterian.
Kennesaw quarterback Chandler Burks and defensive back Bryson Armstrong were named preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.
Charlotte-area laurels: Three Charlotte-area players received preseason honors. Campbell senior linebacker Jack Ryan (Weddington High) was named to the all-conference team. Receiving honorable mention were Campbell punt returner Jaquan Brooks, a junior from Belmont South Point; and Gardner-Webb defensive linemen Josh Ramseur, a senior from Lawndale Burns.
Bounce-back hopes: Gardner-Webb senior defensive lineman Will Millikan, of Southern Pines Pinecrest, said last year’s 1-10 season “was disappointing, almost embarrassing,” and he said it is fueling the team this year. “I know we’re underdogs, but I also know the talent we have,” he said. “We’ll be better.”
Changing landscape: In 2019, the Big South expands from six to eight football members, adding Hampton and North Alabama. Then the league will shrink to seven in 2020, when Presbyterian stops offering football scholarships and moves to the Pioneer Football Conference.
Big start, big finish: Kennesaw State opens its 2018 season at Georgia State, which uses a renovated version of the Atlanta Braves’ old Turner Field as its home stadium. The Owls’ regular-season finale, against Jacksonville State, is in the Braves’ current stadium, SunTrust Park.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle