Citadel Alabama Football (copy) Brandon Rainey

The Citadel averaged 331.3 rushing yards and 41 points per game against FCS teams with Brandon Rainey at quarterback last year, and 264 rushing yards and 26.8 points without him. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

SPARTANBURG — Citadel football coach Brent Thompson on Monday unveiled the topic of his speech for the Bulldogs' first team meeting of the 2019 season:

The Southern Conference preseason polls.

SoCon coaches and media provided Thompson with his talking points by picking the Bulldogs to finish seventh in the nine-team league in polls released on media day.

"It's a flat-out joke," said Thompson, whose team returns 19 starters from a 5-6 squad that went 4-4 in the SoCon, tied for fifth place, in 2018. "I think that's the biggest thing that I've taken away from today, is how little respect we have right now, and that's OK with me.

"But you look at the way we ended the season last year, and the fact that we played a lot of the teams in this room to within a touchdown, and we're still picked seventh? We're going to use that as motivation. This is going to be the first thing we talk about in our team meeting."

Citadel Alabama Football (copy)

Citadel head coach Brent Thompson says it is a 'flat-out joke' that the Bulldogs were picked to finish seventh in the SoCon this season. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Defending champion Wofford is the consensus pick to win the SoCon again next season, with coaches and media both placing Furman second and ETSU third.

Last year, The Citadel defeated two teams ranked above it (Mercer and Samford) in the 2019 poll. And the Bulldogs lost to Wofford, Chattanooga and ETSU by a total of 11 points, including a one-point overtime loss to the Mocs and a 3-point loss to ETSU.

But the most important item that SoCon coaches and media may have overlooked is The Rainey Effect.

Before rising junior Brandon Rainey took over as starting quarterback in the eighth game of the season, the Bulldogs' triple-option offense averaged 264 rushing yards and 26.8 points while going 2-5, all against FCS teams.

In their final three games against FCS teams, with Rainey at quarterback, the offense averaged 331.3 rushing yards and 41 points per game in victories over Western Carolina, Samford and Charleston Southern.

And even in a 50-17 loss at No. 1 Alabama, Rainey and the Bulldogs put up 275 rushing yards and fought the Crimson Tide to a 10-10 tie at the half.

Rainey ran for 529 yards and three touchdowns in those four games, averaging 132.2 yards per game and finishing as the team's second-leading rusher despite not appearing in seven of 11 games.

An entire season with the 6-0, 205-pound Rainey at QB could make a big difference in 2019.

"It was just a different approach to playing football that Brandon has, and he was able to rally the guys," said Thompson, who is 20-14 in three seasons at The Citadel, including a 10-2 record and SoCon title in his first season in 2016.

"When you have a little bit more of a threat at quarterback and a guy who can pick up first downs, you are naturally going to have that effect on defenses."

Defensive tackle Joseph Randolph II, named preseason first-team all-SoCon by league coaches, agreed with his coach's view of the polls.

"I'm fired up, too," he said. "We're just gonna show everybody in the league what we can do."

• Citadel linebacker Willie Eubanks III and sophomore punter Matthew Campbell joined Randolph on the preseason first team. Offensive lineman Hunter Haas and Drew McEntyre were named second team along with kicker Jacob Godek.

• In addition to its deals with ESPN3 and ESPN+, the SoCon announced an agreement with Nexstar Broadcasting to carry 13 games in 2019 throughout the league's six-state footprint.

The Citadel will be featured on the "Ingles SoCon Game of the Week" on WCBD in Charleston on Oct. 5 at home against VMI, and on Nov. 2 at ETSU. Each team in the league will appear at least twice on the game of the week.

Defending champ Wofford will appear four times, and Furman three times.

• The Bulldogs are set to begin practice on Aug. 2, and will hold a media day on Aug. 17. Weekly news conferences are planned for Mondays during the season instead of Tuesdays.

2019 Preseason All-Southern Conference Football Teams

Offensive Player of the Year: Tyrie Adams, QB, R-Sr., Western Carolina

Defensive Player of the Year: Nasir Player, DL, R-Sr., ETSU

First team offense

QB Tyrie Adams, R-Sr., Western Carolina

RB Quay Holmes, R-So., ETSU

RB Tyray Devezin, Jr., Mercer

OL Bo Layton, R-Jr., Furman

OL Austin Sanders, R-Sr., Mercer

OL Nick Nixon, Sr., Samford

OL Justus Basinger, Sr., Wofford

OL Michael Ralph, Sr., Wofford

TE Owen Cosenke, Jr., Western Carolina

WR Bryce Nunnelly, Jr., Chattanooga

WR Javeon Lara, Sr., VMI

First team defense

DL Joseph Randolph II, Sr., The Citadel

DL Jason Maduafokwa, R-Sr., ETSU

DL Nasir Player, R-Sr., ETSU

DL Thad Mangum, Sr., Wofford

LB Willie Eubanks III, Jr., The Citadel

LB Adrian Hope, R-So., Furman

LB Marshall Cooper, Sr., Chattanooga

DB Tyree Robinson, Jr., ETSU

DB Brandon Dowdell, Jr., Chattanooga

DB Jerrell Lawson, R-Jr., Chattanooga

DB A.J. Smith, Jr., VMI

DB Ronald Kent Jr., So., Western Carolina

First team specialists

PK Grayson Atkins, Jr., Furman

PK Mitchell Fineran, So., Samford

P Matthew Campbell, So., The Citadel

RS David Durden, So., Mercer

Second team offense

QB Reece Udinski, Jr., VMI

RB Devin Wynn, Jr., Furman

RB Tyrell Price, Sr., Chattanooga

OL Haden Haas, R-So., The Citadel

OL Drew McEntyre, Sr., The Citadel

OL Ben Blackmon, R-Sr., ETSU

OL Tre’mond Shorts, R-So., ETSU

OL Andy Godwin, R-Sr., Furman

OL Cole Strange, R-Jr., Chattanooga

OL Blake Jeresaty, Jr., Wofford

TE Chris Ellington, Sr., Mercer

WR Thomas Gordon, Sr., Furman

WR David Durden, So., Mercer

Second team defense

DL Dorian Kithcart, R-Sr., Mercer

DL Justin Foster, Sr., Samford

DL Nelson Jordan, So., Samford

DL Mikel Horton, Jr., Wofford

LB Elijah McKoy, Jr., Furman

LB Will Coneway, R-Sr., Mercer

LB Jireh Wilson, Sr., Wofford

DB Jeremy Lewis, Sr., ETSU

DB Malique Fleming, R-Jr., Mercer

DB Mason Alstatt, Sr., Wofford

DB George Gbesee, Sr., Wofford

Second team specialists

PK Jacob Godek, Sr., The Citadel

P Luke Carter, Sr., Wofford

RS Rohan Martin, Sr., VMI

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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