The FCS is the least understood, yet most impressive college football level in Division I — and Gridiron Heroics is going to tell you all about it, 12 months a year, conference by conference, beginning with this week’s FCS football preview series for 2022. Today we publish the FCS’ Ohio Valley Conference for 2022
The college football programs are good, these programs produce NFL-level talent, they beat FBS teams every year (want evidence? stay tuned – we will publish this in the next week) and they still get overlooked. But Gridiron Heroics won’t be overlooking the FCS as everybody else does annually, we will be embracing the level and the stories these schools tell, year in and year out.
Enjoy the preview.
Also, from Monday, Aug. 22 until our FCS overall preview finale, Gridiron Heroics’ team of eight (yes, eight) FCS reporters break down the 15 conferences that make up the awesome, special level that is — the FCS. Check out the previews with the links below, conference by conference:
THE REST OF THE BEST FCS CONFERENCES IN AMERICA (click on links below)
OVERALL FCS PREVIEW: Overall FCS Preview
MONDAY, AUG. 22: ASUN-WAC & Big Sky
TUESDAY, AUG. 23: Big South, CAA, MVFC
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 24: OVC, Patriot
THURSDAY, AUG. 25: Pioneer, Southland
MONDAY, AUG. 29: HBCU DAY – MEAC & SWAC
TUESDAY, AUG. 30: NEC, SoCon
MONDAY, SEPT. 13: Ivy League (1st game Sept. 16)
RELATED STORY: The Top 30 for 30 Shows in College Football — We Rank Them
BMAC AND THE NACH PODCAST (Aug. 23 episode at top)
FCS NUTS AND BOLTS: All of the key facts for the 2022 FCS season
THE FCS CONFERENCE: Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
THE TEAMS: UT Martin, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri, Murray State, Eastern Illinois, and Lindenwood
THE 2021 CHAMPIONS: UT Martin with an overall record of 10 – 3, and 5 – 1 in conference play.
THE NEXT BEST TEAM: Southeast Missouri State
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2022
SR. Matthan Hatchie – Center -UT Martin:
Hatchie is a two-time All-OVC selection after earning first-team honors in 2021 as the anchor of an impressive offensive line at the center position. He graded out at 89 percent or better in each game while tallying 101 knockdowns. In the middle of an offensive unit that ranked eighth nationally in sacks allowed in the regular season, he gave up only one sack in 362 attempts.
The durable standout played every snap except for mop-up time against Murray State (Oct. 9) while serving as a leader of the group with his toughness and makeup. Offensively, the unit led a team that ranked 15th nationally with 207.6 rushing yards per game. Many have also touted the UTM center as the fourth-best FCS returning lineman in 2022.
SR. Geno Hess – Running Back – Southeastern Missouri:
Hess is the OVC preseason offensive player of the year. Also, he has been placed on the 2022 Preseason Walter Payton Award watchlist, of which Hess was a 2021 finalist. Last season he started 10 games, rushed for 1,116 yards on 203 carries, and also ran for 14 touchdowns. Hess was named the OVC Offensive Player of the Week twice in 2021. Ranked among the top 15 FCS leaders in rushing yards per game (7th), rushing yards (9th), rushing TDs (10th), scoring (12th), and total touchdowns (15th). Geno is poised to follow up last season with a solid season again in 2022.
SO. Jordan Miles – Defensive End (Edge) – Eastern Illinois:
Miles is an explosive end rusher that lead the OVC in tackles for loss will 11 in 2021. Which ranked first in the OVC. Finished the 2021 season with 38 total tackles, four sacks, and two forced fumbles, Earned All – OVC Second Team as well. Earned Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Tennessee Tech. In which he tallied four tackles, three tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and two quarterback hurries. Jordan shows signs of maturity and should be a force in the OVC in 2022.
GS. John Ford II – Linebacker – UT Martin
Ford II has been named an FCS Preseason All- American in 2022. As well as the Preseason OVC Defensive Player of the Year. He has also been named to the preseason Buck Buchanan Award watch list. Last season Ford II tied for second in total tackles with 88. Also 5 tackles for loss, four interceptions totaling 163 yards, and one touchdown. Received Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Northwestern State. Has already shown a talent for dropping in pass coverage, with another year under his belt he should also show much improvement against the run. Look for John Ford II to turn several heads this upcoming season.
JR. Draylen Ellis – Quarterback – Tennessee State
Transfer QB Draylen Ellis joins Tennessee St. for the 2022 season. Head coach Eddie George added the transfer this year. Ellis who was suspended indefinitely in January will be looking to redeem himself. The three-star recruit has had a troubled past at Austin Peay and new surroundings and a new coach may just be what he needs, With Tennessee State’s man in charge adding a new Offensive Coordinator this spring and looking to move to a no-huddle offense. Which plays right into Ellis’ skill set. The OVC’s leading yardage passer with 2,626 yards, 291 yards per game, 8 interceptions, and 19 touchdowns a year ago. He is poised to have another standout season.
The OVC as a whole is working very hard to improve. This is the 75th year and shows signs of continuing to compete for years to come. In February the OVC and Big South announced and signed a letter of intent to create an association of their respective conferences. This would begin with the 2023 season. According to the OVC official website, The unique agreement combines the two conferences’ football membership to ensure NCAA championship access. It will provide the football member institutions a schedule of games against all the teams in their multisport conference and additional games against schools from the other conference. This new model for FCS football also creates more stability for the multisport conferences. Also, the addition of Lindenwood University is good for both of the involved parties. Lindenwood brings a quality program from Division II and a well-established coach (Jed Stugart) into the ranks of DI football.
Several things can go wrong during any given day, or season. The worst thing that I think that could be possible would be teams are not competitive outside of the conference. Since this is our inaugural preview, I prefer not to dwell on any negativity.
THE BIGGEST CONF GAME OF THE YEAR :
UT Martin at Murray State (Oct. 8) – The Racers are 7-2 at home under coach Dean Hood. This is a must-have win if they are going to make their first playoff appearance since 2002. This is also Murray State’s final season in the OVC before moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2023.
THE BEST CHANCE FOR AN FBS UPSET WIN :
The OVC has been sneaky good over the past few years vs. their proverbial big brother FBS schools. There has been at least one surprise in seven of the last eleven seasons. I think there are two possible upset wins this year.
One may be UT Martin vs. Idaho St. The experience of the Skyhawks and the defensive play of John Ford II and DB Deven Sims could sway well. Also, the staple of a run-control offense can help limit the Broncos’ ability to control the clock in their favor.
The other possibility can be Murray St. vs. Ball St. The Racers as I have stated before may be looking to leave a mark on the OVC this season.
THE HAPPY CONFERENCE HISTORY NUGGET:
Historically, the OVC was a pioneer in racial desegregation with Morehead State signing the conference’s first black athlete, Marshall Banks, in 1958. The rest of the OVC soon followed in Morehead State’s wake. Today, the OVC is unique among NCAA Division I conferences in that it includes one historically black university, Tennessee State University, in a conference that otherwise consists of institutions that are not traditionally black. All other HBCUs in NCAA Division I are members of either the MEAC or SWAC, conferences made up entirely of HBCUs.
THE PREDICTION — WHO GOES TO THE FCS POSTSEASON:
UT Martin is the perennial favorite to repeat as OVC champion again this season. They possess a veteran roster containing three Preseason FCS All-Americans. With the success of last season and their first-ever FCS playoff win, they now have experience and a drive to go further.
THE SURPRISE — WHO WILL SHOCK THE CONFERENCE (AND WHY):
Eastern Illinois may be the sleeper in the conference this season. With a new coach Chris Wilkerson taking the helm and being an alumnus. The drive for success will be a breath of fresh air. The Panthers will need to address the offense, but with a new sense of pride, they may just be able to surprise. They have a very strong defense and several experienced players coming back. Yes, they will have to overcome obstacles, but their future seems bright.
THE TOP THREE (AND WHY)?:
#1 – UT Martin – Experienced coaching staff aided by a core group of veterans returning.
#2 – Southeast Missouri – Quite possibly the best running attack in the OVC, along with consistent improvement throughout.
#3 – Tennessee St. – There are many items to discuss with this group. I honestly believe that with some additions they have made, there will be an improvement and they will be right in the mix at year’s end.