Jax. State is No. 1 pick

Jax. State is No. 1 pick
For the second straight season, five different Ohio Valley Conference schools received at least one first-place vote in the OVC preseason poll.
Meanwhile, Jackson-ville State picked up the most first-place votes (11) and was tabbed the preseason favorites in a vote of league head coaches and sports information directors.
Those 11 votes were out of 18 total, putting the Gamecocks (120 points) atop the preseason poll for the third time since joining the league in 2003.
Eastern Illinois, last year’s champion, picked up four first-place votes (114 total points) and was just six points behind Jax State.
Eastern Kentucky (102 points), Tennessee Tech (78 points) and Tennessee State (70 points) each received one first-place vote apiece and were picked third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
The preseason poll was rounded out by UT Martin (59 points), Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri tying for seventh (38 points) and Murray State (29 points).
Last season, Jacksonville State finished with the league’s best record (8-3 overall, 6-1 OVC) but was ineligible for the conference crown because of a NCAA postseason ban due to an academic progress rate penalty.
After serving their punishment, the Gamecocks are once again eligible for the OVC crown and NCAA postseason, looking to win their third OVC crown with a group of 46 returning letterwinners.
After a rare losing season in 2008, Eastern Illinois rebounded last year. Last season, EIU claimed its fifth OVC crown and 13th NCAA playoff appearance in with an 8-4 worksheet (6-2 in league play) under long-time head coach Bob Spoo.
Spoo, who enters his 23rd season with the program, is now the fifth winningest coach in OVC history (88 wins while in the league.)
After being picked first in each of the past two seasons, Eastern Kentucky was tabbed to finish third this season. The Colonels struggled down the stretch last year losing their last three games and four of their last five contests to finish at 5-6, the first losing season for the program since 1972 (which was the second-longest streak at the Division I level when it ended). Despite the late skid, EKU was in the thick of the OVC race and would have shared the overall championship had the team topped Jacksonville State on the final weekend of the season.
UT Martin finished fourth a year ago with a 4-4 mark in league contests. It marked the fifth straight season the Skyhawk program has had a .500 or better conference record after previously having only two of those marks in its first 13 years as a member of the OVC.
At Tennessee Tech, head coach Watson Brown has turned the program around in Cookeville, leading the Golden Eagles to a winning record (6-5) in his third season on the job. It was only the second winning season for the program in the last eight years.
Tennessee State is one of two OVC teams with a new head coach this season. However, new skipper Rod Reed is no stranger to the program. Reed was a linebacker and two-time team MVP at Tennessee State (1984-88) and has been on the Tigers coaching staff for seven years as the defensive coordinator.
The other new head coach in the league Murray State’s Chris Hatcher, who takes over after seven seasons at Valdosta State and three years at Georgia Southern. Hatcher will bring his spread offense known as the “Hatch Attack” to Roy Stewart Stadium and look to turn around a program that has had five-straight losing seasons.
Austin Peay was picked to finish in a tie for seventh with Southeast Missouri after finishing 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the OVC a season ago. The Governors return the top rushing backfield in the conference with junior Ryan White and senior Terrence Holt, who were each first-team All-OVC selections last season (the first time the two first-team backs were from the same team in 20 years) and preseason All-OVC picks this year.
Southeast Missouri will turn to junior quarterback Matt Scheible, a preseason All-OVC selection, to lead its offense in 2010. The Redhawks, who are under the direction of fifth-year head coach Tony Samuel, ranked fourth in the league in offense (239.6 yards/game) but were last in total defense (387.6 yards/game) in ’09.

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