2021 CSJ Big South Football League Spring Football Preview

CSJ’s Predicted Order of Finish

1. Monmouth
2. Kennesaw State
3. Charleston Southern
4. Robert Morris
5. Gardner-Webb

2019 Big South NCAA Division I FCS Playoff Results

First Round

Monmouth 44 Holy Cross 27
Kennesaw State 28 Wofford 21

Round of 16

James Madison 66 Monmouth 21
Weber State 26 Kennesaw State 20

The Big South Conference today announced its 2021 spring football schedule will feature five teams playing a four-game conference slate to determine the Big South’s automatic qualifier to the FCS Playoffs.  The five teams competing will be Charleston SouthernGardner-WebbKennesaw StateMonmouth and Robert Morris.  Big South football members CampbellNorth Alabama and Hampton will not compete during the spring season.

Robert Morris, which was added as an associate member on June 15 and was scheduled to begin play in the Big South in the fall of 2021, will instead be an official conference opponent in the upcoming spring campaign and will be eligible for the Big South championship and automatic berth to the postseason.

Contingencies were built into the schedule to allow flexibility for completing the conference season in full, and the week of April 11-17 has been left open to allow any games impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to be made up. Big South members are also permitted to play up to four (4) non-conference games during the spring.

Top Conference Games of Spring 2021

Mar. 27 – Charleston Southern at Monmouth
Apr. 3 – Robert Morris at Kennesaw State
Apr. 10 – Kennesaw State at Monmouth

Here is the countdown my Big South teams’ predictions:

5.Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs

Coach: Tre Lamb (First Season as head coach)
Location: Boiling Springs, North Carolina
2019 Record: 5-7 (3-5 PFL)

Gardner-Webb head coach Tre Lamb (31, September 16, 1989) is currently the second youngest head coach in the FCS ranks, with only new Austin Peay skipper Scotty Walden (30, November 15, 1989) slightly younger. In addition, Gardner-Webb’s full-time coaching staff is the youngest in the Division I ranks, with an average of 28.9 years old per person.

Gardner-Webb has 31 freshman or sophomores on its 2021 spring depth chart entering its opener vs. Elon. Gardner-Webb returns two receivers coming off a 50+ catch season for 2021, its first time doing so since 2008. Receiver Izaiah Gathings had nearly half (13) of Gardner-Webb’s 29 explosive pass plays last season (25+ yards), and Devron Harper is a standout at receiver, kickoff return man, punt return man and all-purpose back.

Gardner-Webb returns a All-Big South Conference inside linebacker Cade Hamilton after a breakout season. Hamilton was a second-team selection in 2019 and had 19 tackles in one game vs. Hampton (Oct. 12, 2019).

4. Robert Morris Colonials

Coach: Bernard Clark (Fourth Season, 9-14)
Location: Moon Township, Pennsylvania
2019 Record: 7-5 (6-1 NEC)

At a press conference at the UPMC Events Center June 15, 2020, RMU announced it was joining the Big South as an associate member. In early August of 2020, the Big South announced it delayed its fall sports seasons until spring. As a result, the Colonials will compete in their first season as a member of the Big South this spring with a four-game league schedule.

The Colonials are led by Bernard Clark, Jr., who is in his third season as head coach. He was named the 2019 Northeast Conference (NEC) Co-Coach of the Year and was also a finalist for the 2019 Eddie Robinson Award, bestowed annually to the NCAA FCS Coach of the Year and is one of the STATS FCS Legacy Awards.

The Colonials return 42 letterwinners and 14 starters from a 2019 squad. Junior George Martin returns as the starter under center for RMU. In 11 games in 2019, Martin passed for 1,348 yards and 11 touchdowns, completing 52 percent (102-for-196) of his attempts while also rushing for three scores. The Colonials return four starters on the offensive line, including seniors Trevor Hicks, Dylan Young and Eric McAllister II as well as redshirt junior Bussy Remaley. Both Hicks and Remaley were each named to the 2019 All-NEC Second Team.

Redshirt junior running back Alijah Jackson returns for RMU in 2021 and is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he ranked second in the NEC in average rushing yards per game (88.3) and third in all-purpose yards per game (103.5). Jackson rushed for 971 yards and four touchdowns en route to being named to the 2019 All-NEC First Team.

Junior linebacker Aniello Buzzacco led the NEC in 2019 in both tackles (131) and tackles per game (10.9) en route to earning All-NEC Second Team accolades. Buzzacco ranked fifth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in total tackles, registering at least 10 stops in a game seven times.

Junior linebacker Aniello Buzzacco led the NEC in 2019 in both tackles (131) and tackles per game (10.9) en route to earning All-NEC Second Team accolades. Buzzacco ranked fifth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in total tackles, registering at least 10 stops in a game seven times.

3.Charleston Southern Buccaneers

Coach: Autry Denson (Second Season, 6-6, 6-6 Overall)
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
2019 Record: 6-6 (4-2 BSC)

“It’s just really exciting to be back out here,” head coach Autry Denson said. “You can see the energy and how the guys are responding to the opportunity to be out here and compete. We want to keep building up on the momentum from the fall and exceed the expectations we have within ourselves and just thankful to be out here and get one day better.”

The Bucs return impressive depth across the field with nine players earning preseason All-Conference nods in the fall, while defensive linemen Nick Salley and Shaundre Mims, as well as defensive back Cody Cline earned national recognition on various preseason All-American teams.

The Bucs however are on a program-wide COVID pause until March 1st, cancelling their Blue-Gold scrimmage. Charleston Southern opens the season on March 13th at Kennesaw State.

2.Kennesaw State Owls

Coach: Brian Bohannon (5th Season, 48-15)
Location: Kennesaw, Georgia
2019 Record: 11-3 (5-1 BSC)

In search of its third Big South Conference championship in the last four seasons and its fourth consecutive FCS Playoffs appearance, Kennesaw State is looking to join Coastal Carolina as the only programs in league history to make the playoffs in four consecutive seasons.

Kennesaw State has dominated the Big South during the last three years, winning 15 of its last 16 conference games and doing so by a 31.6 average margin of victory.

The Owls return seven of 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball that ranked as the No. 3 defense in the nation last year and held opponents to 278.7 yards per game and 18.7 points per contest.

The offense will look to keep on rolling with eight starters returning from a team that led the country in rushing at 342.4 yards per game, while ranking No. 1 in the nation in passing yards per completion.

LB Bryson Armstrong continues to collect hardware, as the decorated linebacker enters his spring season as the only player in Big South Conference history to be named a Preseason Player of the Year three times. The former Jerry Rice Award winner is coming off a 2019 season where he was a consensus All-American and led the Owls with 95 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

RB Issac Foster’s 2019 season was cut short due to injury, but through seven games he was one of the most dynamic running backs in the country, averaging 14.9 yards per carry and 162.3 all-purpose yards per game. Two of his four rushing touchdowns last season were over 65 yards and he owns two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career.

Courtesy Asbury Park Press

1.Monmouth Hawks

Coach: Kevin Callahan (28th Season, 163-23)
Location: West Long Branch, New Jersey
2019 Record: 9-2 (5-0 BSC)

“It is an honor to be selected first in a preseason poll, but we haven’t played a football game in 430 days,” said Monmouth Head Coach Kevin Callahan, who enters his 28th season at the helm of the Hawks. “We have a lot of work to do to prepare for the season. I commend the team for keeping focus during this extended break, and I know they are excited to get back on the field. We have an experienced team with 21 seniors, however we have to fill some key roles and these next few weeks of practice will be important in deciding how we will fill them.” 

WR/KR Lonnie Moore IV and WR Terrance Greene Jr. were two of the league’s most productive wide receivers a season ago, with Moore tying the Monmouth record with 74 receptions. Moore was third in the league in all-purpose yards and had 1,022 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Greene was a second team selection in 2019 as a redshirt sophomore catching a team-high 10 touchdowns on 65 catches for 916 yards.

OL Justin Szuba and OL A.J. Farris led the way for the conference’s top offense a season ago, including the nation’s top rusher.

TE Gene Scott is the returning starter at tight end for the Hawks. Known as a punishing blocker, he had three receptions for 36 yards in 2019 but has appeared in almost 30 games for the Blue & White.

LB Da’Quan Grimes earns finished first on the Hawks with 115 tackles (third in the Big South) with 13.5 tackles for a loss and leading the league in forced fumbles. DB Justin Terry and DB Anthony Budd make up the premier defensive back tandem in the Big South, with Terry coming off a first team all-league performance last season that saw him finish with 62 tackles and 10 passes defended. Budd was first in the conference in interceptions while recording 66 tackles with 37 solo stops and eight pass breakups.

Monmouth

CSJ 2021 Spring Preseason Big South Players of the Year

Offense

Issac Foster, RB, Kennesaw State, Jr.

Defense

Bryson Armstrong, LB, Kennesaw State, Sr.

Special Teams

Lonnie Moore IV, KR/PR, Monmouth, Sr.

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