(STATS) - There's no longer concern Big South football will lose relevancy or, worse, face disbanding.
In contrast, the FCS conference has gotten stronger.
Hampton and North Alabama have moved into the conference for the 2019 season. Hampton is immediately eligible for the conference title and an FCS playoff berth, although North Alabama is not eligible for either until 2022 due to its transition from Division II. During that time, the Lions will still play all of the other Big South teams.
The conference still looked similar Tuesday with Kennesaw State and Monmouth picked first and second, respectively, in the preseason poll on media day. That is how the two teams finished each of the past two seasons.
But change is good, and the newcomers will make it more competitive for every program moving forward. Hampton, formerly in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, has a rich tradition as one of the nation's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and North Alabama was a highly successful D-II program, winning three consecutive national titles from 1993-95.
"I believe expansion adds to the overall quality of the conference," Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. "We've brought in two excellent teams that will add to the competitiveness of the league schedule."
"The new teams are strengthening the league and our conference is getting better every year," Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said. "We are excited about the opportunity to go out and compete each week against the members in the Big South"
Having sponsored football since 2002, the Big South has had plenty of comings and goings in the last 10 years. Three of the stronger programs have left, Stony Brook joining CAA Football and Coastal Carolina and Liberty moving up to the FBS level. Presbyterian's struggling program also is leaving after this season for a transition to the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, but the Big South will still have seven programs committed to football.
Had the conference dropped below six programs, where it was before the Hampton and UNA additions, it would have lost its automatic bid to the playoffs.
Kennesaw State, which has gone 23-4 and reached the playoff quarterfinals in the last two seasons, will be led by its defense this season, including the Big South's preseason defensive player of the year, linebacker Bryson Armstrong. The Owls and Campbell tied for the most selections on the conference's preseason team with seven each.
Monmouth was third with five selections. It will be led by its offense with quarterback Kenji Bahar, the preseason offensive player of the year, at the controls.
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BIG SOUTH PRESEASON POLL
Head Coaches and Media Panel
1. Kennesaw State (14 first-place votes), 134 points
2. Monmouth (5), 122
3. Charleston Southern (1), 79
4. Campbell, 73
5. Gardner-Webb, 67
6. Hampton, 64
7. Presbyterian, 21
North Alabama ineligible due to Division I transition
BIG SOUTH PRESEASON TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - Kenji Bahar, QB, Monmouth
Defensive Player of the Year - Bryson Armstrong, LB, Kennesaw State
Offense
QB - Kenji Bahar, R-Sr., Monmouth
RB - Juwon Farri, So., Monmouth
RB - Pete Guerriero, R-Jr., Monmouth
WR - Caleb Snead, R-So., Campbell
WR - Keith Pearson, Jr., Presbyterian
WR - Jakobi Byrd, R-So., North Alabama
TE - Michael Wooten, R-Sr., Campbell
OL - Zack Evans, R-Sr., Charleston Southern
OL - Jacob Cuddington, R-Sr., Campbell
OL - Brandon Leahey, R-Sr., Gardner-Webb
OL - Gibril Ghee, R-Sr., Hampton
OL - Matt Price, R-Sr., Campbell
DEFENSE
DL - Damien Dozier, R-Jr., Campbell
DL - John Singleton, R-So., Gardner-Webb
DL - Desmond Johnson, R-Sr., Kennesaw State
DL - Andrew Butcher, Sr., Kennesaw State
LB - Bryson Armstrong, R-Jr., Kennesaw State
LB - J.D. Sosebee, R-Sr., Charleston Southern
LB - Colby Campbell, Jr., Presbyterian
LB - Darien Reynolds, Jr., Gardner-Webb
DB - Tymere Berry, R-Sr., Monmouth
DB - Dorian Walker, Sr., Kennesaw State
DB - Cincere Mason, R-So., Kennesaw State
DB - Dorian Jones, So., Campbell
SPECIAL TEAMS
PK - Matt Mosquera, Sr., Monmouth
P - Brad Dennis, R-Sr., Campbell
KR - Isaac Foster, So., Kennesaw State
PR - Isaac Foster, So., Kennesaw State
LS - Ethan Ray, R-Jr., Charleston Southern
HONORABLE MENTION
QB - Christian Lopez, Sr., North Alabama; RB - Shaquil Terry, Jr., Kennesaw State; WR - Ronald Bell, Gr., Hampton; OL - Eli Teeselink, R-Sr., Presbyterian; DL - Josh Ramseur, Gr., Gardner-Webb; LB - Jarrett Nagy, So., Presbyterian; LB - Charlie Patrick, Jr., Kennesaw State; DB - Justin Terry, Jr., Monmouth; PK - Colin Gary, R-Sr., Campbell; P - Kyle Reighard, R-Sr., Charleston Southern; LS - Jackson Hayes, So., Campbell
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