VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – For the first time since 2011, No. 22 Carson-Newman opens the year on the road.
The Eagles make the eight-hour jaunt south to the Gulf Coast to challenge last year's national runner-up and second-ranked West Florida Thursday night at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central/local time.
"They have everyone back, plus they brought in a bunch of FBS transfers," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "They have the talent and the people to be a premier Division II football program. They are a premier Division II football program.
"This game has been a great motivator for us through the offseason, spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp. You know who you're going to play and what they are. It's going to take our best effort and focus. It will take a united front from us."
The game has been selected as NCAA Division II's Showcase game of the week. A national production will be available through Carson-Newman's Eagle Sports Network at cneagles.com/live as well as through NCAA Division II's Facebook and Twitter pages.
The matchup provides a chance for the Eagles to make a sizeable impact right out of the gate.
This marks Carson-Newman's fourth all-time meeting with a team ranked second in the country, and its first in the regular season. The Eagles are 0-3 all-time against that specific ranking. C-N lost in the '98 title game to Northwest Missouri State 24-6, bowed out in the second round of the playoffs to Valdosta State in 2002 31-28 and lost to North Alabama 41-9 in the second round in 2003.
Carson-Newman is 7-11 all-time against top five teams. This is Carson-Newman's first matchup with a top-five club since losing to then fourth-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne 35-32 in Burke-Tarr Stadium in 2014.
The Eagles have lost back-to-back games against top-five teams. Their last win (and last road win for that matter too) came in the second round of the 2009 playoffs with a 24-21 win at fifth-ranked North Alabama. The Eagles last regular season win over a top-five program came on Oct. 27, 2001 with a two-overtime 40-34 win over No. 3 Catawba.
The Eagles have never beaten a top-five team in the regular season on the road. They are 0-2 in that regard with a loss at No. 3 Catawba in 2000 and a defeat at the hands of No. 4 North Alabama in 2009
"We have to be careful of preparation because we don't want to make more about who or where we're playing," Turner said. "We've told our kids many times that the only one to fear is us. We have to have exceptional focus and maintain a united front. That mentality will take care of home versus road and who you're playing."
The Argos were picked as the preseason favorites for a national title in 2018 by Lindy's, Street & Smith and College Football Yearbook.
However, when the Gulf South's preseason poll was released in early August, it wasn't the Argos who were ranked number one.
That honor was bestowed to West Alabama, the team that earned the top seed in Super Region II in last year's playoffs and won the Gulf South's regular season crown.
The Tigers earned six first place votes and was picked first with 62 total points, narrowly ahead of the Argonauts with 59 points. UWF garnered three first place votes, marking the first time in program history that has occurred.
There's also no shame in being picked as a runner-up to West Alabama in the highly-competitive Gulf South. The Tigers have been a unanimous choice in the national rankings for Lindy's, S&S and CFY.
West Florida returned all but 10 players off of last year's two deep and added in transfers from Georgia, Missouri, Colorado, Northern Illinois, South Florida, Georgia Tech, Abilene Christian, Baylor, Austin Peay and Montana State. All those listed transfers are either starters or backups for UWF.
A record six Argonauts – Samuel Antoine, Antoine Griffin and Ishmel Morrow on offense, Marvin Conley and Andre Duncombe, Jr. on defense, and Austin Williams on special teams – were named to the preseason all-GSC team by the league's nine head coaches.
Missing from that list is starting quarterback Mike Beaudry, who lost out to West Alabama's Harry Satterwhite (the Gulf South only picks a first team for preseason all-conference selections). Beaudry hung on, a bear with us for that phrasing, to the starting job, stiff-arming transfers from Georgia and Missouri to get the nod for his sophomore season.
Beaudry established school records for passing yards (3,215), passing touchdowns (29) and wins as a starter while completing 55.1 pct. of his passes for 229.6 yards per game. He was one of 40 quarterbacks nationwide to be invited to the Manning Passing Academy as a camp counselor.
Other QBs who were invited include: Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, Khalil Tate of Arizona, Jarrett Stidham of Auburn, Jake Fromm of Georgia, Drew Lock of Missouri, Brandon Wimbush of Notre Dame, Jake Browning of Washington, Harry Satterwhite of West Alabama, Will Grier of West Virginia.
"He's a winner and makes plays," Turner said. "That's what you look for out of a quarterback. He can make plays with his arm and with his feat. What he's taken them to and what he's brought them from, it'd be hard for somebody to take his place."
The Argos head coach is Pete Shinnick and he should be somewhat familiar to Carson-Newman fans.
Shinnick is no stranger to early-program success, guiding UNC Pembroke from its program's founding in 2007 to his departure for Pensacola in 2012. Shinnick and Turner, then the Eagles' OC, have clashed four times with the series split 2-2. The Eagles had bookend wins in the series, downing Shinnick's Braves 35-22 in 2009 and 31-10 in 2012. However, it was Shinnick's teams who triumphed in 2010 and 2011, doing so in resounding fashion 30-7 and 42-14, respectively.
The trip to Pensacola will be Carson-Newman's first visit to Florida since a 2003 trip to Florida International. The Eagles whipped their higher-division foe that day 55-33. Carson-Newman is 1-1 all-time in the state. C-N lost to Central Florida and its freshman quarterback Dante Culpepper 35-21 in 1995.
It also marks a homecoming for 25 Carson-Newman players, The state of Florida features the third largest contingent of Eagles behind Tennessee (61 players) and Georgia (33). Among the Eagles' two-deep, that list includes running backs Marcus Williams (Apopka) and Sherron Jackson (Miami), wide receiver Ed Aldred (Damia Beach) and offensive lineman Nick Parsons (Kissimmee). Defensively, it features linemen Brian Bembry (Parrish), Montel Presley (Bushnell), Wycleff Phanor (Naples) and Kenny Spiller (Miami); linebackers Antonio Henderson (Palmetto), Zach Cichoki (Oviedo) and Jimmy Mera (Fort Meyers); and in the secondary Darius Williams (St. Petersburg), Desmond Fairell (Miami), Mario Mezier (Miami) and Bernard Scott (Hollywood)
This will be Carson-Newman's first regular-season matchup with a Gulf South school since beating Shorter 20-7 in 2015.
Kickoff against the Arogs is set for 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins one hour before kickoff with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.