Sunday, August 24, 2008

LSC Preseason Rankings

                The LSC in 2008 has quite an act to follow. Numerous team records fell last season, including pass attempts, completions, passing yards, passing TDs (all WTAM), total offensive yards for a season (7,082) points and points per game (all ACU). Bernard Scott broke Johnny Bailey's single season rushing record, broke the record for rushing TDs, points scored, total TDs, and all-purpose yards. Keith Null set a new standard for passing yards and passing TDs. Johnny Knox is the new single season lead in TD receptions. Jerale Badon finished his career as the all-time leader in recpetions, while Billy Malone continues his as the all-time leader in passing yards and completions. Barring injury, expect him to own every passing record after this season is in the books.

                But.....look for 2008 to be even better and more exciting. Preseason polls put two LSC schools in the top 10, which is nice. However, for the LSC to truly be considered an elite conference nationally, the playoffs are what matters. The last time an LSC team won a national championship was in 1982 when Southwest Texas won their second consecutive championship. That marked an era that saw five different LSC teams win 12 national championships over a 14 year period. Since then that an LSC team has been in exactly 1 championship game, with Texas A&M Kingsville narrowly losing to North Alabama in 1994. Several teams have advanced to the semifinals, but none since the Javelinas in 2003. With the experience, firepower and depth on several teams, this may be the best chance for the LSC since then.

                One of teams that fit that description is West Texas A&M. Since Don Carthel took over as head coach in 2005, the Buffaloes have a record of 33-5, won three LSC titles, and advanced to the playoffs. However, each of those playoff runs have ended with decisive losses in the second round. This year's team has more depth and even more talent than any team in recent WT history. QB Keith Null, RB Keithon Flemming, and WR Charly Martin are the biggest stars returning from an offense that average over 40 pts and 525 yds a game. Three others who received all LSC honors return also (plus OL Tommy Crowley all LSC in 2006 but injured last year, and will be joined by reinforcements for the offensive line, including former Texas Longhorn J'Marcus Webb. For the Buffaloes to advance deeper into the playoffs, its the defense that will be the key. The defensive line returns All-American Brandon Swain, All-LSC Eddison Robertson, Dexter Manley II, Brett Watson (both of whom were injured last year) and added Texas Tech signee Broderick Marshall and Eugene Sims from Mississippi. Another All-American, Jared Brock, leads the linebackers. He is joined by Eldon Grimslid, Mark Ford, Anthony Scott, and a couple of players who did not play last year (Bradley Bullitt and Max Steward) but were starters in prior years. The secondary boast three all LSC returnees in Cashmin Thomas, Arseel Shakoor and Darnell Johnson, plus Kyle Seals and newcomer Braelon Davis.

                Abilene Christian can match WT for offensive firepower. Eight returning offensive starters were honored by the LSC last season (averaging 49 pts and 544 yds a game). As mentioned above, Billy Malone, Bernard Scott, and Johnny Knox continue record setting careers, but look for Edmund Gates, and newcomers Gary Edwards and Doug Pierce to keep opposing defenses honest. Three offensive linemen need to be replaced juco transfers Trevis Turner and Tony Washington look to join returning all-LSC Joseph Thompson and Sam Collins to solidfy the line. The achilles heel for ACU last year was a densed that gave up 40 or more points four times over the last six weeks of the season, including 70 to Chadron State in a second round playoff game that ended ACU's season. The Wildcats have a new defensive scheme, and a couple of transfer linemen (Thomas Locust and Vantrise Studviant) to help fill the gaps. Fred Thompson is moving to linebacker, joining Mike Kern and Jody Walker. The secondary could be the strength of the defense with transfers Alex Harbison, Drew Cuffee and Bobby Chalk joining holdovers Richard Havins, Reggie Mathis and Tony Harp in the backfield.

                Like WT and ACU, Tarleton boasts a potentially dangerous offense. Scott Grantham threw for 2,882 yds and 24 TDs as a freshman last year. Devin Guinn and Scott Prentice will have the versatile Eric Foreman keep teams from focusing too much on them, while the RB trio of Roderick Smith, Travis Evans and Michael Sampson give the Texans a very balanced offense. Jimmy Fox, Devin Livingson and Greg Dolan form a solid nucleus for the offensive line. Just one starter returns on defense, all LSC Jamaal Steamer, but the Texans have brought in talented replacements for the DL (Dominic Smith, Cameron Epple), LB (Cortney Vincent) and DB (Sheldon Monsegue, McNeal Ewajeh) and expect several young returnees to emerge as well. The biggest addition to the defense may be new defensive coordinator Cary Fowler, who comes to Tarleton after several years at Midwestern State.

                While Texas A&M-Commerce finished last year with a 5-6 record, the coaches who vote in the AFCA poll think they are ready for a breakthrough, rewarding them (or burdening them perhaps) with the #18 ranking in their preseason poll. While the key to success for the three teams above them (in our rankings) is defense, for the Lions its the offense that could determine their fate this season. QB Terry Mayo suffered a dislocated thumb in week two, and the Lion offense finished the season 10th in total offense. A healthy Mayo is joined by RB Nabil El-Amin, who emerged as a running threat midway through the season. All-LSC lineman Darron Sheppard also returns. The Lions do need to find replacements for their top 4 receivers, and two all LSC linemen. Defensively, the Lions were pretty solid (#3 in yards allowed and #4 in scoring defense). Three all LSC defenders return including AJ Johnson on the line, and Elliott Jones and Alex Contreras in the secondary.

                The general school of thought seems to be that with Daniel Polk no longer terrorizing LSC defenses, that Midwestern State will fade into mediocrity. If he was the only talented player the Mustangs had, that could very hold true, but there was a lot of talent around him, and much of it returns this year. Marcus Mathis and BJ Mathis return at RB, Mookie Davis at WR, as well as three starters from the OL. Brandon Washington looks to bolster the OL, while newcomers Zack Eskridge and Cleven Doty are battling with holdovers Justin Lightfoot and Brad Green to take over as QB. The LSC's top defense last year is loaded up front with All-American candidate Kellen Belcher, joined by returnees Stephen Turne and Austin Shields and newcomers Sharod Basey, Apollos Daily and Chaz Walker. At linebacker, Jacob Martin and Emmanuel Bagley return, while the secondary returns four in Darius Bortters, Ryan Craven, Brandon Williams and Patrick Roberts.

                Texas A&M Kingsville havs taken a lot of lumps the past two seasons, finishing 3-8 both seasons. The Javelinas suffered the worst loss in their history, a 73-6 disaster at the hands of Midwestern State, leaving the team at 1-7. Instead of throwing in the towel, the team rebounded to win 2 of their last 3 games, with the offense averaging 39 pts and 457 yds a game. The offensive line, returns four starters, but newcomers Michael Mosmeyer and Chris Hudgins look to start on the right side. Leading receiver Ryan Lincoln returns, and will be joined by Jareko Taylor and Clavens Charles. Ray Miller graduated and the Javs have four RBs to try and fill his shoes. Billy Garza, a transfrom Illinois, has been named the starter at QB, but Daniel Ramirez and David Garza return, and Kilgore transfer Logan Morris should get some playing time as well. The defense played well at the beginning of last season, but wore down as the season went along. Seven starters return and transfers to the DL, plus Derrick Carter switching from WR should help TAMK improve on last year's efforts.

                Southeastern Oklahoma has won or shared the LSC North title the past four years (despite finishing 4-6 last year), but only has one playoff game to show for it. It will be difficult for them to add #5 to that string. The receiving corps returns All-LSC Daniel Nichols, Brandon Covington and Jerrod Temple at WR and TE. Senior Brandon McCain, named the starter at QB, has limited playing time in 2005 and 2006. Look for transfer running backs Baylen Laury and Cordney Smith to balance out the Savage Storm offense. The defense which found itself in the bottom half of the conference standings looks to bounce back with 6 starters returning, including All-LSC performers Bernard Daniel and Johnny Seals.

                There was only one team from the LSC North that finished with an overall winning record, the 6-5 Southwestern Oklahoma Bulldogs. SWO finished in a five way tie for the North title despite an average defense and below average offense. WR Jonathan Haggerty, RB Patrick Weaver, QB Steve Day and OL Jake Olivarez return on offense, but two All-LSC linemen must be replaced as well as Josh Postin at FB and WR Michael Cooper who transferred to Langston. All-LSC Ruzell McCoy returns at LB as does Greg Franklin at DL, but the Bulldogs have to replace 5 all conference performers. Coach Ryan Held usually finds a way to win though, so don't count SWO out.

                With a healthy Daniel Thomas at running back, the young Angelo State squad was competitive, winning two games and coming up just short against IAA Sam Houston. Thomas finished the season with 924 yds rushing and 10 TDs in just over 6 games. Besides Thomas, the Rams return seven starters on offense, and newcomers Dwight Pete and Kobey Lewis at RB and Damien McCradick and Robert Boone bring speed at WR. Defensively, it was a baptism by fire, and the youth showed, with the Rams last in the LSC allowing 480 yds a game. The good news is that the young players have a year's experience under their belts. Calvin Fance will give the DL some help, 6 linebackers had 36 or more tackles last year, and Rickey McKinley joins a secondary that had 8 players with 20 or more tackles.

                East Central showed flashes last year, this year they are looking for more consistency. All-LSC Marcus Johnson returns at QB. The talented junior threw for 2,500 yds and 14 TDs in his first year leading the Tigers offense. The Tigers lost 3 all conference receivers and will look to Jerold Loveless and Tyrone Gibbs to replace them. The offensive line returns four starters which should help the conferences worst rushing attack and take some pressure off of the passing game. Eight newcomers on the defensive side look to improve a defense that allowed more than 450 yards and 35 points a game.

                Northeastern State finished last season on a strong note, winning their last two games to share the LSC North title. The offense struggled last year averaging just 261 yds and under 14 pts per game. Wood Wilson or Kaelin Woods should provide an upgrade at the QB spot. All-American candidate WR Jarrett Byers returns at WR after missing most of last year with an injury and will be joined by Jarrett Beal moving over from the QB spot. The running game, led by Josh Lewis should help to keep teams honest. Defensively, the Riverhawks should be pretty solid, led by another All-American hopeful, safety Broderick Mondy. Curtis Mayfield and Colby Onic join him in the secondary, while T J Raymond and Nick Jones return on the line and Latarus Sykes and Jon Evans are back at linebacker.

                Central Oklahoma's offense was only marginally better (14 pts and 307 yds per game) than Northeastern State's. The Bronchos will be looking for an upgrade at QB as well. Newcomers Alex Gibson (New Mexico State) and Brandon Noohi (Southeastern Oklahoma) are competing with returee Colin Clancy for the reins to the Broncho offense. All conference Ben Birmingham will again lead the running game, while Marcellus Parker and Ryan Gallimore are the leading receivers. Jonathan Llama leads a line that returns three starters. Jermell Cudjo is one the best defensive linemen in the LSC. Kenneth Pointer, Micah Howeth and Freddie Harris return as well, giving UCO one of the top defensive lines in the LSC. Terry Hardeman is the only returning starter at LB, and while transfers KC Asiodu and Mike Reed could step right in, it will be difficult to replace Will Clewis. The secondary returns two all conference honorees in Marcus Martinez and TJ Shaw but lost a good one in Brandon Smith.

                Head Coach Mark Ribaudo is making a dramatic change at Eastern New Mexico. No longer will the Greyhounds be the only option offense in the conference. Instead, they are switching to the "Air Raid" offense, and bringing in a lot of young talent to implement the change. Expect growing pains as the new system takes place. With Anthony Ramos moving to wide receiver, the QB will be chosen from transfer Eric Willcockson and freshmen Travis Chrisman and JJ Harp. TCU transfer, Joseph Banyard is expected to step right in as the featured back. The Greyhounds have more than 20 WRs in camp, with leading returnees Justin Campos and Jessie Poku joined by freshmen Darian Dale, Anthony Owusu-Appiah, JJ James and Brandon Marbley. The defense gave up 30 points and over 400 yds a game last year, but return three (Kyle Wilson DE, Texavier Henry LB, Jeremy Hibbler DB) honorable mention all conference honors. They will be joined by JT Thompson (switching from QB), transfers Ronald Green on the DL and Edward Zamora at LB. The abundance of youth, points to a long, growing season for the Hounds.

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