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Charleston Southern picked third in Big South, which will ally with Ohio Valley in 2023

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Charleston Southern is picked to finish tied for third in the Big South Conference this season. Rob Gantt/The Gazette

Charleston Southern’s 2022 football team was picked in a third-place tie with Gardner-Webb in the Big South Conference’s preseason football poll at the league's media day on July 26 in Charlotte.

North Carolina A&T was the league’s pick as the preseason champion, garnering 60 votes overall and six first-place votes. The Aggies are in their final season in the league, heading to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2023.

Campbell was picked second with 50 total votes while CSU and Gardner-Webb each tallied 44 points. Campbell and CSU each received two first-place votes while Gardner-Webb received one first-place vote.

League newcomer Bryant University, an affiliate member from the Northeast Conference, was picked fifth while Robert Morris was picked sixth in the six-team conference. Bryant returns 17 starters from a 7-4 team.

The Big South Conference will see significant change in the 2023 season as the league will form a football alliance with the Ohio Valley Conference. The new association will consist of nine teams starting next fall.

NCAA rules require an FCS conference to have six teams to qualify for its champion to receive an automatic bid to the playoffs. With recent departures, both the Big South (four teams) and OVC (five teams) were in danger of falling below that standard.

Over the last year, the Big South has lost Presbyterian, North Carolina A&T, Hampton, Monmouth, Kennesaw State and North Alabama. North Carolina A&T’s departure to the Colonial Athletic Association was announced Feb. 22.

The OVC has lost Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay and Murray State.

The Big South/OVC alliance will bring together Big South members Charleston Southern, Robert Morris, Campbell and Gardner-Webb with OVC teams UT Martin, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Eastern Illinois starting in 2023.

CSU head coach Autry Denson begins his third full season as head coach, not counting a four-game spring season in 2020.

The Bucs’ biggest preseason concern will be finding a replacement for quarterback Jack Chambers, who was one of the league’s most explosive players over the last two seasons. Chambers graduated from CSU but is using his final year of eligibility at North Carolina State.

“We have four really good guys competing and all four bring something different to the table,” Denson said. “They don’t have to be Jack. We want them to play to their personality and take the offense to the level it was when Jack was here.”

The conference also released it’s 2022 preseason all-conference team.

Three CSU players were selected to the first-team unit. On the offensive side, redshirt junior wide receiver Cayden Jordan was the lone pick. Jordan was a second-team all-conference pick in 2021, catching 53 passes for 752 yards. He is one of only four returning starters on offense.

First-team defensive selections included linebacker Garrett Sayegh and safety Hombre Kennedy, both graduate students. Sayegh was CSU’s leading tackler with 96 total hits and was a first-team all-conference selection in 2021. Kennedy, an Ashley Ridge High product, was a second-team pick in 2021 and tallied 43 tackles and three interceptions.

Graduate defensive end Anton Williams was a honorable mention selection.

Gardner-Webb senior running back Narii Gaither was the league’s preseason offensive player of the year, while Campbell senior defensive end Brevin Allen was the preseason defensive player of the year.

CSU is coming off a 4-6 season last fall, finishing 3-4 in Big South play. The Buccaneers open the 2022 season on Sept. 3 with a noon home game against Western Carolina of the Southern Conference.