ROCK HILL, S.C. – After earning a share of the SAC football title last season, Lenoir-Rhyne has been picked by the league's coaches to win the conference championship in 2012, it was announced on Monday.
L-R tops the preseason coaches poll with 46 points, including four of the eight first-place votes. The Bears went 7-3 overall and 6-1 in the SAC last season, splitting the league title with Mars Hill.
Lenoir-Rhyne returns several key players from a defense that led the conference by allowing just 22.6 points and 101.4 rushing yards per game last season, including reigning SAC Defensive Player of the Year Demetrius Green and All-Conference First Team pick Michael Green.
2011 SAC co-champion Mars Hill is second in the 2012 preseason poll with 35 points and two first-place votes. The Lions are coming off the best season in program history, in which they won eight games and earned their first-ever bid to the NCAA Division II Football Championship.
MHC will face a tall task in replacing the record-setting rushing production of 2011 Harlon Hill Trophy winner Jonas Randolph. However, the Lions do return four members of last season's All-SAC Team, including first-team selections Dimitri Holmes (wide receiver), Nick Allison (offensive line) and Marvin James (defensive back).
Newberry and Wingate tied for third in the 2012 preseason poll with 33 points, and each received one first-place vote. Both programs went 4-3 in the conference last season.
Newberry returns four 2011 All-SAC picks to its 2012 roster, while Wingate returns three.
Carson-Newman is fifth in the preseason poll with 26 points and will be looking to rebound from its first sub-.500 SAC record since 1985. A key storyline heading into the 2012 season for the Eagles is its record-setting coach Ken Sparks, who sits just one win shy of 300 career victories.
No. 6 in the preseason poll is Tusculum with 24 points. The Pioneers went a disappointing 3-8 overall and 2-5 in SAC play last year, but return 2010 SAC Offensive Player of the Year and All-America quarterback Bo Cordell, who missed the majority of 2011 with a broken foot.
Rounding out the poll is Catawba at No. 7 with 18 points and Brevard at No. 8 with nine points. Catawba's 2012 roster includes three 2011 All-SAC selections, while Brevard's features two.
The 2012 SAC football season gets underway on Thursday, Aug. 30 with Carson-Newman facing Glenville St. and Mars Hill taking on Western Carolina.
|Team||Points (1st-Place votes)|
|1. Lenoir-Rhyne||46 (4)|
|2. Mars Hill||35 (2)|
|t3. Newberry||33 (1)|
|t3. Wingate||33 (1)|