Clarksville, TN – To no one’s surprise, Austin Peay State University’s football team was picked to finish last the official Ohio Valley Conference poll – as well as the media poll – at last week’s OVC Football Media Day, but a closer look inside some key numbers shows the 2016 season outlook may not be as bleak as predicted.
First, the Governors return 56 letter winners from 2015, which is the third most among conference teams, and over 10 more than five OVC opponents – including the prohibitive favorite to win the conference, Jacksonville State.
On the other side of the coin, the Govs lost 21 letter winners from last season, which is the third fewest – with Southeast Missouri having lost the fewest letter winners, with 16.
Along with the total number of letter winners returning being among the most in the conference, their number of starters returning on offense, defense and special teams also rank at or near the top of each category in each category – with Tennessee Martin having the fewest, with four on offense, five on defense and none on special teams.
The second thing that may work in the Govs favor is the OVC is a conference that has seven of its nine coaches having been at their respective school for three years or less, including Austin Peay new head coach Will Healy, so none of those squads are fully recruited by the current head coach … i.e. projects still under construction.
Only Jason Simpson (Tennessee Martin) and Rod Reed (Tennessee State) have been at their respective school’s longer than three years heading into this campaign.
Next is a much more favorable early schedule in 2016.
For the first time since the 2010 season, the Govs face some early games that they must feel are truly winnable games – including a couple of OVC contests.
Yes they open at Football Bowl Subdivision member Troy to open the season, on September 3rd, but that contest is followed by home games versus Tennessee Tech in week 2 and Murray State in week 4 – with a road contest at Eastern Illinois in between.
Tennessee Tech is picked to finish seventh in the pre-season poll, while Murray State is slated to finish eighth.
Finally, there is an intangible.
The Govs have a new, young head coach that has won and had success everywhere he’s been – both as a player and as an assistant coach – and with that the hopes that his energy and confidence has carried over to the Govs players that have totaled only one win over the past three years.