SPARTANBURG — The last time The Citadel was picked to finish as high as second in the Southern Conference, Bulldogs football coach Brent Thompson was barely out of kindergarten.
But that’s where the defending Southern Conference co-champs were picked in SoCon preseason polls released Wednesday at the league’s media day. Both coaches and media voted The Citadel to finish right behind consensus favorite Chattanooga, which shared the league title with the Bulldogs last season.
That’s the highest The Citadel has been predicted to finish since 1982, when Art Baker was the team’s coach. And it’s a long way from the seventh-place finish projected for the Bulldogs a year ago.
“It’s great to get a little more respect, because our coaches deserve that and our players deserve that,” said Thompson, who replaces Mike Houston, gone to James Madison after two seasons. “They earned that with their performance last season.
“But with preseason polls, nobody has any idea what kind of football team they have right now. I’ve got a good idea of what we can do, but I certainly don’t know what we are yet.”
The Citadel was 9-4 last season, sharing the league title with Chattanooga at 6-1 in the SoCon. Bulldog victories included an FCS playoff victory at Coastal Carolina and an upset of SEC foe South Carolina.
The Bulldogs return 15 starters from that team, including six who earned preseason all-SoCon honors in voting by coaches.
“It’s a little bit different looking from the outside,” said senior linebacker Tevin Floyd, a first-team preseason pick. “But we want to keep it the same on the inside.
“Last year, we were picked seventh, took it for what it was and used it for motivation. This year, we’re picked second and still want to use it for motivation.”
Senior guard Kyle Weaver said the sign of increased respect around the league won’t change anything.
“For us, it’s not different at all,” he said. “Internally, we thought we were better than seventh last year. This year, it’s great we’re picked second, but it just means teams will come gunning for us even more.
“It doesn’t win us any games this year, and it doesn’t change anything for us.”
Chattanooga, also 9-4 and 6-1 last year, garnered seven of eight first-place votes by coaches, and 26 of 28 from the media. The Citadel got one first-place vote from coaches and two from the media.
Samford was picked third and Western Carolina fourth by coaches, while the media tabbed Western Carolina third and Mercer fourth, with Samford in fifth. Wofford, Furman, VMI and new team East Tennessee State made up the bottom four in both polls.
Four Citadel players were named to the first-team all-SoCon preseason team chosen by coaches: Offensive lineman Isaiah Pinson, defensive lineman Joe Crochet, linebacker Tevin Floyd and defensive back Dee Delaney.
Citadel fullback Tyler Renew, offensive lineman Ryan Bednar and defensive back Malik Diggs were named to the second team.
Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome was named the preseason offensive player of the year, while Chattanooga lineman Keionta Davis was tabbed defensive player of the year.
Preseason All-Conference Team
Offensive Player of the Year:
Detrez Newsome, RB, Western Carolina
Defensive Player of the Year:
Keionta Davis, DL, Chattanooga
First Team Offense
QB Al Cobb, Jr., VMI
RB Derrick Craine, Sr., Chattanooga
RB Detrez Newsome, Jr., Western Carolina
OL Isaiah Pinson, Jr. The Citadel
OL Brett Niederreither, Sr., Mercer
OL Armando Bonheur, Sr., Samford
OL Corey Levin, Sr., Chattanooga
OL Jacob Revis, Jr., Chattanooga
OL Anton Wahrby, Sr., Wofford
TE Tyler Sexton, Sr., Western Carolina
WR Karel Hamilton, Sr., Samford
WR Aaron Sanders, Sr., VMI
First Team Defense
DL Joe Crochet, Sr., The Citadel
DL Ahmad Gooden, So., Samford
DL Keionta Davis, Sr., Chattanooga
DL Miles Brown, So., Wofford
LB Tevin Floyd, Sr., The Citadel
LB Nakevion Leslie, Sr., Chattanooga
LB Tyson Dickson, Sr., Western Carolina
LB Daniel Riddle, Jr., Western Carolina
DB Dee Delaney, Jr., The Citadel
DB Trey Robinson, Sr., Furman
DB Jamerson Blount, Sr., Samford
DB Lucas Webb, Jr., Chattanooga
First Team Specialists
PK Henrique Ribeiro, Sr., Chattanooga
P Ian Berryman, So., Western Carolina
RS Dane Forlines, Sr., VMI