VIDEO: Mike Turner Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman's football team has been picked to finish third in the South Atlantic Conference by the league's coaches, the SAC announced Wednesday with the release of the league's annual preseason poll.
This marks just the seventh time in 32 years that Carson-Newman hasn't been picked to win the league. Just 14 points separate the top four teams in the poll. Lenoir-Rhyne was picked to repeat as league champion with 68 points and five first-place votes.
"We'll take that as a great challenge," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "We'll trust in each other and start working for week one. Among a group of young men, you're talking about trust in today's world. We want our guys to trust in themselves, trust in the guys beside them and trust that he doesn't need to make every play, just the plays he's supposed to make. We want them to learn to play for something greater for themselves, both in this football team and the God that created them."
Wingate followed with 64 points and three first place votes. Those two teams squared off last year in the regional semifinals with Lenoir-Rhyne prevailing on a last-minute trick play. The Bears would lose in the regional final to eventual national champion Valdosta State.
Carson-Newman collected 55 points for third place. That's where the Eagles finished last year in a tie with Tusculum. The Eagles narrowly edged the Pioneers in the poll. TU has 54 points and the final first place vote.
The rest of the poll concluded with Newberry, Catawba, Mars Hill, Limestone and first-year member UVA-Wise.
2019 will be just the second season in the league's 45 years of existence that nine teams have competed in the SAC with the addition of UVA-Wise. The SAC also fielded nine teams in 1999, Gardner-Webb's final year as a Division II institution and Tusculum's first as an official member of the league. Carson-Newman won the league that year with an 8-0 record.
The conference's only other season without eight teams came in 2007, when seven teams competed following Presbyterian's jump to Division I and during Brevard's provisional year.
Carson-Newman is looking to snap a decade-long 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' 10-year drought is the second longest in the league by a year (excluding UVA-Wise and Limestone, who both joined the league in the last three years). Tusculum last took home a league crown in 2008 when three teams laid claim to the title (Carson-Newman and Newberry were the others).
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 nine years are tied with Newberry for the second most in the conference.
Preseason All-SAC teams will be released Thursday, with Digital Media Day set for Tuesday, Aug. 6.
Carson-Newman opens the season Sept. 5 against West Florida at Burke-Tarr Stadium.