Charleston Southern and Kennesaw State have been installed as Big South Conference preseason co-favorites, it was announced Tuesday at the league’s annual Football Media Day. CSU and Kennesaw State each received nine first-place votes and 80 total points in the poll conducted by the league’s head coaches and a media panel. It is the first time two teams have tied for the top spot in the preseason poll.
CSU and Kennesaw State are followed by Gardner-Webb (54 points), Monmouth (36 points) and Presbyterian (20 points). Liberty was not eligible for the preseason poll due to its transition to FBS and ineligibility for the conference championships and FCS Playoffs.
The Bucs are coming off back-to-back Big South titles and return 16 starters from a 2016 squad that beat three ranked teams en route to a second consecutive playoff appearance. Leading the way on the sidelines in his first season as head coach will be Mark Tucker, CSU’s quarterbacks coach for the last four years. Tucker has been an integral part of the Bucs’ rise to prominence, as the program has rolled up 35 wins since 2013, becoming a fixture in the national polls.
Among CSU’s primary returners is senior Anthony Ellis, who was named Big South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight time. Ellis led the league in sacks and tackles for loss in 2016, earning him All-America honors from STATS FCS, the Associated Press and Hero Sports. Ellis is joined on the preseason all-conference team by linebackers Solomon Brown and Zane Cruz, cornerback Shadarius Hopkins, wide receiver Kameron Brown and offensive lineman Frank Cirone.
CSU reports for fall camp on July 31 and is slated to open practice on August 1. The Bucs kick off the season on Saturday, Sept. 2 at Mississippi State.
The preseason favorite has gone on to win at least a share of the conference championship in 12 of the Big South’s 15 years of football. The poll is detailed below.
2017 Preseason Poll (first-place votes)
T-1. Charleston Southern (9) 80
T-1. Kennesaw State (9) 80
3. Gardner-Webb 54
4. Monmouth 36
5. Presbyterian College 20
-- Liberty * n/a
* - not eligible for preseason poll due to transition to FBS
Charleston Southern senior defensive lineman Anthony Ellis was selected the Preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, announced at the Big South Football Media Day Kickoff Luncheon at the Charlotte Marriott City Center hotel in Uptown Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon.
Ellis is the third player to be voted the conference's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. A finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award in 2016, Ellis earned All-America recognition from STATS, the Associated Press and Hero Sports last season, and was tabbed a 2017 preseason All-American by Athlon's.
"It's a real blessing receiving this award for the second year now," Ellis said. "Looking around and knowing all of the other defensive guys in the conference and how good they are, it's a blessing to receive this award again. I'm looking forward to getting back to work and getting ready for the season."
He led the Big South with 16.0 tackles-for-loss and 7.0 sacks -- the second player in Big South history to record two seven-sack seasons. He tallied 45 tackles (26 solo) with eight quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. A dominant edge rusher who often commands double teams, Ellis recorded a tackle-for-loss in all but one game and had four multi-TFL efforts, including 3.5 in the Buccaneers' win at No. 24/25 Liberty on Nov. 12. He recorded a sack in six of 10 appearances last season, including four in a three-game span.
The Big South Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Flames, Ellis shined in league play as he totaled a league-best 9.5 TFL in five games (1.90 per game), and tied for the top spot with four sacks (one each against Monmouth, Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb and Liberty). He also had 24 stops against Big South foes, 15 of which were solo.
Ellis, who enters his final season tied for sixth all-time in Big South history in both TFL (35.5) and career sacks (15.0), is looking to become just the third player in the conference record book with 40 tackles-for-loss and 20 sacks. He collected 10 first-place votes and 27 points from the panel, ahead of Monmouth All-American safety Mike Basile (five first-place votes and 18 points).
Gardner-Webb senior quarterback Tyrell Maxwell was voted the Big South Conference's 2017 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, respectively, by the league's head football coaches and media panel. Both players were also named to the preseason All-Conference team.
Six Charleston Southern players were named to the 2017 Big South Football Preseason All-Conference Team, announced Tuesday at the Big South Conference Football Media Day.
Ellis highlights the Buccaneers selected with fellow seniors Frank Cirone (offensive line) and Zane Cruz (linebacker), as well as redshirt junior Solomon Brown (linebacker), junior Shadarius Hopkins (defensive back), and redshirt sophomore Kameron Brown (wide receiver) also garnered preseason All-Conference nods.
Cirone battled through injuries last season to start nine games and helped CSU finish sixth in the NCAA in rushing (266.5 ypg). The redshirt senior from Naples, Fla. was a 2016 Big South First Team selection and helped the Bucs total 500-plus yards in offensive four times and 30-plus points six times.
Solomon Brown joined Ellis as a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball for the Buccaneers on his way to earning HERO Sports Sophomore All-American and STATS FCS All-American nods. He led the Bucs in total tackles (70) and finished second in the Big South in tackles for loss (14.5) and sixth in sacks (4.5).
Kameron Brown stepped into the spotlight in his first game with the Bucs with a big day at North Dakota State and carried the momentum over into an All-Conference year as a redshirt freshman. The Beech Island, S.C. native led the Big South in yards per catch by nearly five yards (20.0 ypc) and finished fifth in the NCAA in the category for the 2016 season. He finished fourth in the Big South in receiving yards per game on the year.
Cruz has been a mainstay in the middle of the Bucs' defense since stepping on campus on his way to earning All-Conference honors last season. He finished fourth on the team in tackles and played his best football when it counted coming up with a key interception in CSU's win against Bucknell, as well as a seven-tackle, two-sack performance in the Bucs' conference-clinching victory over Kennesaw State.
Hopkins finished the 2016 season as the Bucs' top cover corner and was often matched against the opponent's top threat on a weekly basis. He finished the season among the nation's leaders with 12 passes defended on the season. Hopkins came up big for CSU in key games against Liberty and Kennesaw State, recording an interception, four pass breakups and a tackle in the Bucs' win over Liberty. He followed up the next week with a pair of pass breakups and an interception in CSU's clincher over Kennesaw State.