(STATS) – Chattanooga was picked to capture a fourth straight Southern Conference championship on Wednesday – the favorite in both the preseason coaches and media polls at media day in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
If Mocs coach Russ Huesman had his way, his players would never learn about it.
With the SoCon expected to be particularly strong this season, Huesman wants his team to take on a certain identity.
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Emphasis on the word “team.”
“I want it to be about our football team, and not about how people predict us or about anybody else that is on our schedule. We have to take care of us,” the eighth-year coach said. “We have to prepare and practice and just worry about Chattanooga. Not worry about where we are ranked, not worry about what people are saying about us, good or bad. We need to just make it about our football team.”
Chattanooga shared the conference title with The Citadel last year. The Citadel, now coached by former offensive coordinator Brent Thompson, was picked second in the preseason polls.
Both teams placed a conference-high 10 players on the coaches' preseason all-conference team. Chattanooga defensive end Keionta Davis was selected as the preseason defensive player of the year, while Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome gained offensive honors.
VMI junior Al Cobb was the first-team selection at quarterback. That's the position in which Chattanooga goes through its most important change. Jacob Huesman, the coach's son, has graduated after starting for the last four seasons and winning three consecutive SoCon offensive player of the year awards.
“Well, we've got 12 good seniors coming up that we feel are really good players and good leaders for us. I think all of those guys have stepped up,” said Russ Huesman, whose team went 9-4 (6-1 SoCon) and finished ninth in the final STATS FCS Top 25 last season.
“A lot of it comes from the quarterback. Alejandro (Bennifield, the new starter) has stepped up big. His leadership role, his work ethic and how he has handled himself has been excellent. I've seen a lot of leadership come from him in this offseason. I think Alejandro is going to be a really good leader for us, but, obviously, the 12 seniors are the guys.”
The Mocs surround Bennifield with a veteran offense, including All-America lineman Corey Levin and workhorse running back Derrick Craine. The defense will feature linebacker Nakevion Leslie and safety Lucas Webb in addition to Davis.
“It is a deep, deep year in the league,” Russ Huesman said. “There are a bunch of teams that if they end up Southern Conference champions at the end of the year, it would not shock me.
“When I filled out the preseason poll, it was extremely hard. There are so many quality teams. We learned that last year. We tied for the league title with The Citadel and I think every one of our games was a battle. We lose to Mercer and beat Wofford on a last-season field goal. We understand that this league is strong and deep. If you don't come to play, you will lose a football game.”
SOUTHERN CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLLS=
Head Coaches Poll=
(Coaches not permitted to vote for their team)
1. Chattanooga (7 first-place votes), 63 points
2. The Citadel (1), 52
3. Samford (1), 50
4. Western Carolina, 41
5. Mercer, 38
6. Wofford, 33
7. Furman, 24
8. VMI, 14
9. East Tennessee State, 14
1. Chattanooga (26), 250
2. The Citadel (2), 208
3. Western Carolina, 179
4. Mercer, 148
5. Samford, 147
6. Wofford, 136
7. Furman, 102
8. VMI, 62
9. East Tennessee State, 28
SOUTHERN CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM=
(Coaches not permitted to vote for their players)
Offensive Player of the Year – Detrez Newsome, RB, Western Carolina
Defensive Player of the Year – Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga