For the fifth consecutive season, Liberty Universityhas been tabbed as the favorite in the Big South Conference’s annual preseason football poll for the 2011 campaign, as voted by the League’s head coaches and media panel and announced today at the 2011 Big South Conference Football Kickoff Media Luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Charlotte, N.C.
The Flames, which have won or shared the Big South title each of the past four years, is the first team in League history to be chosen as the preseason favorite five-straight seasons. Liberty enters the 2011 campaign with 38 letterwinners returning, including 17 starters — four of which have been voted preseason All-Americans. Head coach Danny Rocco’s squad has gone 34-11 overall and 19-2 in the Big South the past four years, and is ranked No. 20 in the preseason Sporting News poll. Liberty, which carries a Big South-record 12-game home Conference win streak into the 2011 season, received 15 of 18 first-place votes cast and 123 total points to win the Big South football championship this season.
Big South associate member and 2010 co-champion Stony Brook is picked to finish second to the Flames in 2011. Chuck Priore’s Seawolves went 5-1 in the League last season for the second consecutive year to clinch a share of the League crown for the second time in as many seasons. Stony Brook, which returns 21 starters in 2011, collected two first-place votes and 104 total points in the voting. For the third-straight year, Coastal Carolina is predicted to finish third, as the Chanticleers received one first-place vote and 96 total points. Last season, David Bennett’s squad tied for the League championship with Liberty and Stony Brook and was the Big South’s automatic bid recipient to the FCS Playoffs.
Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb tied for the fourth spot in the poll with 59 points each. Jay Mills’ Buccaneers received a third-place vote as part of its tally, while the Runnin’ Bulldogs were predicted to finish fourth by nine voters in Ron Dickerson Jr.’s first year at the helm. The VMI Keydets and fourth-year head coach Sparky Woods are again predicted to finish sixth this season, having collected 42 points from the panel. Presbyterian College, under the direction of third-year head coach Harold Nichols, rounds out the preseason poll in seventh-place. The Blue Hose enter their final year of transitioning to Division I as official Conference opponents in 2011, but are not eligible for the Big South football championship until 2012.
All seven Big South teams open the season on Saturday, Sept. 3. The opening slate includes four home games and three road contests at FBS members, the League’s first of 10 games against FBS schools this season. In 2010, the Big South defeated two FBS opponents for the first time in League history. Conference play starts Saturday, Oct. 8 and the regular-season concludes Saturday, Nov. 19, with the Big South champion receiving the League’s automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
2011 Preseason Poll (first-place votes) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Points
1. Liberty (15) 105 18 — — — — — 123
2. Stony Brook (2) 14 60 30 — — — — 104
3. Coastal Carolina (1) 7 30 55 4 — — — 96
T-4. Charleston Southern — — 5 20 30 4 — 59
T-4. Gardner-Webb — — — 36 18 4 1 59
6. VMI — — — 12 6 22 2 42
7. Presbyterian College — — — — — 6 15 21