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."
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