1. Coastal Carolina

QB Alex Ross

Sr. Alex Ross

After losing by a touchdown to eventual champion North Dakota State in the playoffs, Coastal has one last opportunity to push for a national championship with senior quarterback Alex Ross. Ross finished the 2014 season with most passing yards of any Big South quarterback and was fifth in rushing yards overall, first among quarterbacks. The honor of top rusher in the conference went to De’Angelo Henderson, the junior running back for the Chants. The Big South’s most potent offense looks to be coming back even stronger in 2015.

Where Coastal really sets itself apart is their ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. The Chants led the conference with an opponent average of 19.57ppg. If Coastal is going to maintain this level of defensive play, it will need to find a way to replace the production of Quinn Backus and Brett Johnson who combined for a total of 211 tackles last season.

  1. Liberty

After making the playoffs for the first time in program history, expectations have never been higher for the Flames. Senior quarterback Josh Woodrum returns to lead the Flames offense that led the conference in passing last season with 3473yds. Senior wide receiver Darrin Peterson led the conference in receiving last season with 12TDs, twice as many as any other player. DJ Abnar, Desmond Rice and Todd Macon fill out a talented backfield for the Flames, making Liberty a threat both on the ground and through the air.

Sr. Darrin Peterson

Sr. Darrin Peterson

 While the offense seems to be primed for another playoff run, the defensive play from Liberty will need to improve if the team wants to advance further into the playoffs. Last season, Liberty finished fifth in points allowed with 26.64ppg. The graduation of leading tackler and defensive leader Jacob Hagen leaves some big shoes to fill in the secondary.

  1. Charleston Southern

The Buccaneers have been consistent, finishing each season since 2012 with three conference wins. What Charleston Southern has been unable to do is breakthrough into the top of the conference. Defense and the running game will likely continue to be points of emphasis for the Bucs as they look to bring the Big South Championship back to North Charleston for the first time since 2005. Junior RBs Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson will need to be ready to carry the load left by graduating senior Christian Reyes who carried the ball 179 times last year for Charleston Southern.

What could be the biggest key to success this year for Charleston Southern is the return to last season’s stout defensive play. The Buccaneers defense held opponents to an average 325.67ypg last season, while relative parity existed elsewhere in the conference, between 380 and 390ypg.

  1. Presbyterian

 Head Coach Harold Nichols seems to have the Blue Hose headed in the right direction, taking his team from the bottom of the conference in 2012 with a 0-6 record to a 3-2 record in 2014. Strong defensive play kept Presbyterian in some low scoring games last season including a 7-3 win over Charleston Southern, an 18-12 win over Monmouth, and a 14-7 win over Gardner-Webb.

 The lack of offensive production—the conference’s worst passing attack in particular—kept the Blue Hose out of contention in 2014. A more balanced offensive will be necessary if the team wants to continue to improve its in-conference record in 2015. Junior Heys McMath will need to improve his accuracy before the Blue Hose can be a consistent threat through the air. He finished last season with a conference worst among starting quarterbacks with 58.3% completion percentage.

  1. Monmouth

The Hawk’s first year as a member of the Big South Conference could have been worse, but a win in the dying embers of the 2014 against Gardner Webb prevented the season from being a total disaster. As the Hawks look to rebound in 2015, they will face some significant challenges. Standout WR Neal Sterling has gone on to the NFL Draft. The remaining receiving core will be catching passes from one of three quarterbacks on the roster that have yet to take a collegiate snap. The Hawks are likely to count on RB Myles Graham to carry the load offensively.

  1. Gardner Webb

After going 0-5 in the Big South Conference in 2014, things don’t look to be on upswing in Boiling Springs. The Bulldogs lost some key contributors to graduation, including TE Seth Cranfill, WR Kenny Cook and QB Lucas Beatty. There is currently a three-way battle for the starting spot at QB including the former backup Tyrell Maxwell. Maxwell attempted 33 passes in 2014, completing 11 with no touchdowns and four interceptions. No other quarterback on the roster has taken collegiate snaps. Whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback job will have the luxury of playing behind an offensive line that returns four starters from the 2014 campaign. Despite the continuity in the trenches, the Bulldogs will continue to struggle putting points on the board.

  1. Kennesaw State

 The Owls will play their inaugural football season this year as a football-only member of the Big South Conference. As with any first year program, the Owls are likely to encounter a significant learning curve, and could struggle to find wins in their first year. Head coach Brian Bohannon will be heading up a program for the first time in his career. Bohannon should have his work cut out for him. He most recently worked as the quarterbacks coach at Georgia Tech.

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