College Sports

From the ACC to the SEC and the Southern, a college football preview of area conferences

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp poses with players for a team picture last Sunday during media day at Williams-Brice Stadium. Muschamp is in his first season with the Gamecocks, who were 3-9 last season, 1-7 in the SEC.
South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp poses with players for a team picture last Sunday during media day at Williams-Brice Stadium. Muschamp is in his first season with the Gamecocks, who were 3-9 last season, 1-7 in the SEC. online@thestate.com

A capsule look at Division I football conferences (Football Bowl Subdivision, Football Championship Division) that include schools from the Carolinas:

ACC

Favorites: Florida State and Clemson (Atlantic); North Carolina (Coastal).

Contenders: Louisville (Atlantic); Miami (Coastal).

Players to watch: QB Deshawn Watson (Clemson); RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State); TE Jordan Leggett (Clemson); DB Derwin Jones (Florida State); LB Ben Boulware (Clemson); QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville); QB Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina).

Comment: Florida State and Clemson will battle not only for the Atlantic and ACC titles, but they’ll also be national championship contenders. North Carolina, with its strong offense, figures to repeat as Coastal winner. Louisville and Miami also are Top 25 candidates. Individually, Watson and Cook are probable Heisman candidates.

SEC

Favorites: Tennessee (East), Alabama (West)

Contenders: Georgia and Florida (East); LSU and Mississippi (West)

South Carolina: The Gamecocks, coming off a losing season, are in rebuilding mode and picked to battle with Kentucky and Missouri for the 5-6-7 spots in the East.

Players to watch: RB Leonard Fournette (LSU); OL Cam Robinson (Alabama); DE Myles Garrett (Texas A&M); QB Chad Kelly (Ole Miss); RB Devwah Whaley (Arkansas).

Comment: Defending national champion Alabama’s only question mark is at quarterback. Otherwise, the Tide is loaded. Tennessee’s defense could carry the Vols to the East title.

American Athletic

Favorites: South Florida (East), Houston (West)

Contenders: Temple (East); Memphis and Navy (West)

East Carolina: The Pirates have a new head coach and rebuilt defense but an explosive passing attack. They are picked fifth of six teams in the East.

Players to watch: QB Greg Ward (Houston); RB Jahad Thomas (Temple); PK Jake Elliott (Memphis).

Comment: Houston’s toughest conference battle figures to come Thanksgiving weekend against Memphis. The Cougars could crash the “Big 5” bowl party.

Conference USA

Favorites: Marshall (East); Louisiana Tech (West)

Contenders: Western Kentucky (East); Southern Mississippi (West)

Charlotte: The 49ers are picked last in the seven-team East.

Players to watch: QB Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi); WR Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech); DE Trey Hendrickson (Florida Atlantic).

Comment: Marshall figures to win the East and then win the conference title game. Southern Mississippi is on the rise, even with coach Todd Monkers leaving for a job with Tampa Bay of the NFL.

Sun Belt

Favorite: Appalachian State

Contenders: Arkansas State, Georgia Southern

Players to watch: QB Taylor Lamb (Appalachian State); LB John Law (Appalachian State); RB Matt Breida (Georgia Southern).

Comment: It didn’t take the Mountaineers long to adjust to FBS football. They appear headed to another bowl , with a strong quarterback, good running-back depth and Law anchoring the defense.

FCS LEAGUES

BIG SOUTH

Favorite: Charleston Southern

Contenders: Monmouth

Players to watch: RB Darius Hammond (Charleston Southern); LB Chad Geter (Gardner-Webb).

Comment: Charleston Southern, 10-3 a year ago, is ranked sixth nationally in the FCS preseason poll, with 16 returning starters.

COLONIAL

Favorite: Richmond

Contenders: William & Mary, James Madison

Players to watch: QB Kyle Lauletta (Richmond); RB Kendall Anderson (William & Mary).

Comment: Six of the league’s 12 teams are nationally ranked. Elon, with nine starters back on offense, is picked 10th in the league.

MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC

Favorite: N.C. A&T

Contenders: N.C. Central, Bethune-Cookman

Players to watch: QB Malcolm Bell (N.C. Central); LB Darius Leonard (S.C. State).

Comment: The favored Aggies are expected to get a battle from N.C. Central and Bethune-Cookman. S.C. State, picked fourth, opens its season with road games against Central Florida, Louisiana Tech and Clemson. Ouch!

PIONEER FOOTBALL

Favorites: San Diego, Dayton

Contenders: Drake

Carolinas schools: Davidson has quarterback Taylor Mitchell back but is picked last in the 11-team league. Campbell is picked fifth.

Player to watch: San Diego QB Anthony Lawrence.

Comment: Dayton has seven all-conference players returning, but San Diego is a perennial powerhouse. This is a non-scholarship FCS league.

SOUTHERN

Favorite: Chattanooga

Contenders: The Citadel, Samford

Carolinas teams: The Citadel, under new coach Brent Thompson, could contend for an FCS playoff berth. Wofford, with 55 returning lettermen, is picked sixth of nine teams. Elon is picked eighth.

Comment: Chattanooga has won or shared the past three Southern Conference titles. East Tennessee, which revived its football program last year and is rejoining the league, is coached by former North Carolina coach Carl Torbush.

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Coastal Carolina

Player to watch: RB De’Angelo Henderson has scored at least one touchdown in 26 straight games, an FCS record.

Comment: The Chanticleers are moving from FCS to FBS and will join the Sun Belt next season. They play an FCS schedule this year but travel to Arkansas in the 2017 campaign.

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