JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The Beyond Sports Network has picked Carson-Newman football to win the South Atlantic Conference Championship and receive a first round bye in the NCAA playoffs.
Carson-Newman finished 9-3 last year and made a run to the quarterfinals before falling to eventual national champion Valdosta State.
For the complete rankings, click here.
The Eagles are picked in front of defending SAC champion Lenoir-Rhyne. Carson-Newman beat the SAC champs twice last year, 47-23 in the regular season and then 38-35 in the second round of the NCAA playoffs.
Catawba is listed as the SAC's sleeper pick. Both the Eagles and Bears are picked to make the playoffs.
Carson-Newman is listed as the two seed in the region behind Valdosta State.
The Eagles return 19 starters and have three preseason All-Americans in running back Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.), kicker Curt Duncan (Morristown, Tenn.) and offensive tackle Alex Taylor (Bristol, Tenn.).
The Eagles averaged a nation's best 378 yards per game last year on the ground and scored 52 rushing touchdowns – more than any school in any division – last season. Carson-Newman was held under 300 yards rushing just twice last season and the Eagles toted the ball for more than 350 yards in each of the final eight games of the year.
Carson-Newman must find a way to replace SAC co-offensive player of the year Brandon Haywood at quarterback. An offensive line that returns three starters who have been named to all-conference teams at various points in their Eagle careers and a tailback corps that returns 92 percent of their rushing yards gained should help aid in the transition at the position.
Defensively, the Eagles forced a bevy of fumbles early – recovering eight in the first three weeks of the season. On the flip side, Carson-Newman had just six total takeaways the rest of the year. Conversely, while the Eagles gave up yards and points by the bushel in the first four weeks, C-N turned into a second half defensive juggernaut in the latter portion of the year. The Eagles allowed 22 second half points the final six weeks of the regular season. Nonetheless, Carson-Newman does return eight starters from last year's unit.
The leading tacklers are back in Jonathan Sites (Hendersonville, Tenn.) and Greg Beauduy (Deerfield Beach, Fla.). But C-N must replace two All-SAC defensive backs as Issac Kinley and Oliver Davis depart the program following their graduation.
Carson-Newman kicks off the season Sept. 5 against Wayne State at 7 p.m.