VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
ROCK HILL, S.C. – For the 25th time in the last 31 years, the football coaches of the South Atlantic Conference have selected Carson-Newman to win the league, the SAC announced Wednesday morning.
The league's coaches selected Carson-Newman tops by three votes over reigning league champion Wingate. The Eagles pulled in four first-place votes, while the Bulldogs got three. Tusculum, who was voted fifth, pulled in the final first-place vote in a very tight preseason poll.
"It's a preseason poll," head football coach Mike Turner said. "Last year we were picked fifth, this year we were picked first. I'm sure that's a thing of respect for our kids, and that's great for them. All this is well and good, but the one that matters is at the end of the season and where we end up. We're thankful for it though, because it helps build excitement for the season among our kids, our fans and our alums. It's an honor to be thought of that way."
Just 12 points separated the top four teams in the preseason poll. Carson-Newman got 52, while Wingate followed with 49. Catawba, three years removed from a SAC title, got 44 and third place. Newberry, the 2016 champion, rounded out the top four with 40 points.
Carson-Newman is looking to snap a nine-year SAC title drought. The Eagles have finished as the league's runner up six times since winning their league-record 21st SAC title in 2009. The Eagles' nine-year drought is the second longest in the league by a year. Tusculum last took home a league crown in 2008 when three teams laid claim to the title (Carson-Newman and Newberry were the others).
"There's no question that there's parity in this league," Turner said. "I don't think there's much separation and it'll be a dogfight down through the standings. We just want to be there fighting at the end when it counts."
Since then, Wingate, Newberry, Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne and Mars Hill have all brought home a title. In spite of the drought, the Eagles three NCAA playoff appearances in the last eight years are tied with Newberry and Lenoir-Rhyne for the most in the conference.
"We have to worry about what we do every day from the time that we break camp," Turner said. "You get in trouble when you look forward. We have to focus in the now. We have to do that to care for the responsibility of taking care of the expectations we have. It's never about who or when we play, but about that day and getting the most out of that day."
The bottom four consists of Tusculum in fifth (with a first-place vote nonetheless) and 32 points, Lenoir-Rhyne in sixth with 23 points and Mars Hill and Limestone tied for seventh with 20 points apiece.
Carson-Newman returns 44 out of 48 players from the 2017's 8-3 squad that narrowly missed the playoffs and finished second in the league.
The Eagles open the season Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. at West Florida. The reigning national runners-up have been tabbed as 2018's top-ranked team by Street and Smith, Lindy's and the College Football Yearbook. The Eagle Sports Network will hit the air from Pensacola, Fla. and Blue Wahoos Stadium at 6 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.
- Carson-Newman (4) – 52
- Wingate (3) – 49
- Catawba – 44
- Newberry – 40
- Tusculum (1) – 32
- Lenoir-Rhyne – 23
- Limestone – 20
- Mars Hill - 20