GWU football picked fourth in poll
The Gardner-Webb football team is coming off a seven-win season in 2013.
With 16 returning starters, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are poised to improve that total this year. The pundits did not agree, however, as GWU was picked to finish fourth out of six teams at Big South Media Day in Charlotte Thursday.
2013 champion Coastal Carolina was selected as favorites to retain the title and return to the FCS playoffs, followed by Liberty and Charleston Southern.
“It really doesn’t matter what the polls say,” said preseason All- American receiver Kenny Cook.” At the same time, we did beat two ranked teams last season in back to back weeks. It will motivate us. Anytime you aren’t picked first, it just makes the team hungry.”
Junior nose guard O.J. Mau agreed.
“Games are won by players on the field, not by the suits and ties,” he said. “We need to focus on what we can control and that is to keep improving and winning games. If we do that I think we will show that we are in at least the top three (in the Big South).”
GWU head coach Carroll McCray takes a more objective view of his team’s preseason position ad says it mostly stems from games against the poll’s top two teams, Liberty and Coastal Carolina. GWU was outscored by a combined 66-7 margin in those contests.
“I can understand the rankings,” he said. “If you look at it, we didn’t play very well against Liberty and Coastal. We didn’t do the little things that we did earlier in the year to win. We did bounce back and beat Charleston Southern, and we finished the season strong, but they finished with 10 wins. It’s hard to argue with that.”
League newcomer, the Monmouth Hawks were picked fifth after posting a 6-6 record last season as an FCS independent.
“We are thrilled to be picked fifth,” said veteran head coach Kevin Callahan, who has led the program since its inception in 1993. “Being the new kids on the block, I thought we’d be picked last. I think it shows respect for our program and I think it’s an honor because this league is filled with great players and teams.”
Presbyterian College rounds out the poll in sixth place.
Those five teams will be chasing Coastal Carolina and preseason Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Alex Ross. The junior signal caller threw for over 3,000 yards last season with 26 touchdowns.
The preseason Defensive Player of the Year is Ross’s teammate Quinn Backus. The senior linebacker posted 144 tackles and was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan award.
Ross and Backus put the Chanticleers at the top of the preseason poll, but CCU head coach Joe Moglia knows they will have to fight to be there at the end of the regular season.
“The Big South is a great league,” he said. “There isn’t a single team in this league that does not fight to the very end. That makes for tough games every week. We know that it doesn’t really matter where you are at today (in the polls), what matters is where you finish.”
Big South teams begin their season on Thursday Aug. 28 as CSU hosts Point and Presbyterian travels to Northern Illinois. GWU begins play Aug. 30 as they visit Furman.