2019 Big South spring outlook
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - Following many key losses to graduation, Kennesaw State is coming back to the pack in the Big South Conference this year.
It's a bigger pack than ever.
Hampton and North Alabama are moving into the conference, raising it to an all-time eight members, although it's just for one season before Presbyterian moves out in 2020.
In addition to the new teams, there's a new coach as Autry Denson seeks to get Charleston Southern, the 2015 and '16 Big South champ, back to a higher level.
Following is a look across the Big South with spring practices underway in college football:
HEAD COACH: Mike Minter (30-37, six seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 1-4 Big South (5th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 11-April 13
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 18 (9 offense/9 offense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Following a 5-1 start out of conference, the Camels struggled in their first Big South season last year. Youth and lack of depth were evident, so they're seeking maturation as a team.
NOTABLE: Experienced special teams add to all the returning starters, so the Camels are eyeing a winning record in the Big South. Quarterback Daniel Smith wasn't fully healthy in conference play, and the defense will be fortified by full seasons out of defensive tackle Isaiah King, linebacker Ray Miller and defensive back Darion Slade.
HEAD COACH: Autry Denson (first season)
2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 3-2 Big South (3rd)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 13-April 13
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: Denson was an outstanding running back at Notre Dame, but he and his coaching staff are implementing a fast-paced passing offense after the Buccaneers were spread option for the last six seasons. Jack Chambers, Christian Reid are Chase Eighmy are the returning quarterbacks from a unit that lost starter London Johnson. On defense, they're seeking new pass rushers and four new starters in the secondary.
NOTABLE: The switch in offensive scheme is considerable with the Bucs passing for only 913 yards last season. It helps to get back big-play wide receiver Kameron Brown, who was injured for most of last season. The Bucs have long been strong on defense, and though they return all-conference linebacker J.D. Sosebee, this might be a transitional season following some big losses.
HEAD COACH: Carroll McCray (24-44, six seasons; 40-83 overall)
2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-3 Big South (4th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 5-April 12
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: After allowing six opponents to score at least 45 points, the Runnin' Bulldogs need considerable improvement defensively. All-Big South nose guard Josh Ramseur was granted a sixth season of eligibility.
NOTABLE: The Runnin' Bulldogs seek to reverse a run of five straight losing seasons. They'll be experienced in the trenches with four starters returning on the offensive line and six of the front seven back on defense. Quarterback Jordan Smith figures to be much improved as a sophomore and committing too many turnovers last season.
HEAD COACH: Robert Prunty (7-3, one season)
2018 RECORDS: 7-3 independent
SPRING PRACTICES: TBA
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Hampton will be hard-pressed to replace quarterback Delmon Williams, but all of the other signal callers will return for the Pirates' inaugural season in the Big South.
NOTABLE: After playing five sub-FCS opponents as an independent last season, the Pirates still have three on this year's schedule. They lost key defensive backs and linebacker Kapri Doucet, who posted 17½ tackles for loss and nine sacks.
HEAD COACH: Brian Bohannon (37-12, four seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 11-2 overall, 5-0 Big South (1st)
SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 22-March 22
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 10 (2 offense/8 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: With the loss of 22 seniors from the program's original signing class, the Owls are seeking leadership as much as talent. The two-time defending Big South champs have reached the national quarterfinals in each of the last two seasons.
NOTABLE: When two-time Big South offensive player of the year Chandler Burks was injured in the playoffs, quarterback Daniel David nearly engineered a fourth-quarter rally in the loss to South Dakota State. Their triple option returns only one of the top four rushers, junior Shaquil Terry. The defensive leader is junior linebacker Bryson Armstrong.
HEAD COACH: Kevin Callahan (152-121, 26 seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 8-3 overall, 4-1 Big South (2nd)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 27-April 28
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Six years into the move into the Big South, Callahan has built the program to sustain key losses. The Hawks are replacing three starters on the offensive line and the high productivity of wide receiver Reggie White Jr.
NOTABLE: The return of senior quarterback Kenji Bahar and running backs Juwon Farri and Pete Guerriero will keep the offense on the move. The Hawks have to overcome the Kennesaw State hurdle to advance beyond second place.
HEAD COACH: Chris Willis (12-8, two seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 7-3 independent
SPRING PRACTICES: March 18-April 18
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (8 offense/5 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: By far the top priority is the need to replace all four starters on the defensive line. The first-year Big South member needs improvement all-around, however, as they step up in competition, including nonconference games against Western Illinois, Montana and Jacksonville State.
NOTABLE: The Lions offense could be potent with the return of quarterback Christian Lopez and a wide receivers unit whose top four are only sophomores. They'll play Presbyterian in the first Big South game on Sept. 28, a matchup that was moved up from November.
HEAD COACH: Tommy Spangler (48-39, eight seasons)
2018 RECORDS: 2-8 overall, 0-5 Big South (6th)
SPRING PRACTICES: March 19-April 13
PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFSEASON PRIORITY: The struggling Blue Hose seek to keep developing the younger players in the program. There isn't a true front-runner in the quarterback competition, but sophomore Jordan Morgan was last year's backup to senior starter John Walker.
NOTABLE: A tight loss with Monmouth was one of the highlights last season. Presbyterian will play one final season in the Big South in 2019, compete as an independent in 2020 and then join the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League in 2021.
Updated February 28, 2019