The Big South has seen plenty of change as of late, and unfortunately, not a lot of it was for the better.
Newcomer Bryant came into the mix this summer, which was good news for a league hurting in numbers. But a mass exodus saw four programs depart over the offseason. Those included Hampton, Kennesaw State, Monmouth and North Alabama. North Carolina A&T is also slated to leave next year.
NCAA rules require that a conference must field a minimum of six teams to qualify for an automatic bid to the playoffs. The Big South qualifies this year, but next year they’ll be dipping down to five.
To ensure that doesn't become an issue, the league reached a partnership agreement with the Ohio Valley Conference, another conference struggling in membership, for 2023 and that should help both stay afloat for the immediate future. For now, there are six programs competing in the Big South and here’s what they all look like heading into fall.
Bryant Happy to Have Full Schedule
The Bulldogs are making their Big South debut this fall after coming over from the NEC earlier this offseason. The program, though, had been struggling to find games to fill out this season after switching over. That's an issue that head coach Chris Merritt is happy is behind them.
"Bill Smith, our athletic director, and John Rupert did a great job getting our schedule filled," said Merrit. "We got all eleven [games] filled which was my biggest concern."
Bryant, as mentioned by Merritt, will play an 11-game slate this season that features all DI opponents including an FBS program and several playoff hopefuls.
The Bulldogs are looking to build upon a 7-4 run in which they just missed out on a postseason berth. With a full docket of games, Bryant will not have to worry about eligibility for playoff consideration.
They will begin their 2022 season against FIU on September 1.
Campbell Leans on Recruiting Class, Allen to Push Through
The Camels are primed for a run at a conference title and have the firepower to do it. Not only does Campbell boast the best 2022 recruiting class in the entire FCS (a class that also ranked above FBS programs like Arizona State, Washington and Kansas), but they also have the Big South’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in stud defensive lineman Brevin Allen.
“My coaches did a great job,” lauded head man Mike Minter when talking about his stellar recruiting class. “If you want to be able to play at the next level, come play with us at Campbell.”
Defensive back Myles Rouser leads the heavy-hitting class and Minter promised we’d see him on the field this season. Rouser is the highest rated recruit in program history. The aforementioned Allen should also help make the Camels defense one of the stoutest in the league. Allen has authored 126 tackles (30.5 for loss) and 16 sacks on his career thus far.
Campbell as a team, though, will need to improve on last year’s 3-8 campaign in which they stumbled down the stretch, losing six in a row to close out the year. This season they’ve been picked by the pollsters to finish second in the league.
The Camels will kick off the 2022 season against The Citadel on September 3.
Denson, CSU Move on from Chambers
Charleston Southern head coach Autry Denson made no bones about it: replacing former quarterback Jack Chambers will be a difficult feat.
“You don’t replace Jack,” Denson said simply. “What you do is you continue to build on the legacy and the standard that Jack has set. We have some very capable young men on campus … you challenge those guys not to be Jack Chambers but to honor and play up to that standard through their own personality.”
Chambers, who graduated from Charleston Southern and is using his final season of eligibility at NC State, threw for nearly 2,500 yards last fall and ran for another 477 while racking up 24 total touchdowns. Waiting in the wings in the QB room are Isaiah Bess, Deymon Fleming, Ross Malmgren and Tony Bartalo.
Last season the Bucs finished with a 4-6 record going 3-4 in Big South play. This year they will start their campaign on September 3 against Western Carolina.
Gardner-Webb Carries Momentum of Last Year’s Finale Win
Last November the Bulldogs rallied from behind to beat league power North Carolina A&T on the road. It was the bright spot amidst the doldrums of a season that only yielded four victories. Third-year head coach Tre Lamb, however, sees that win over the Aggies as a springboard into this season.
“I am truly encouraged that we are making great progress,” said Lamb. “We should see great improvement this year.”
Gardner-Webb is returning a lot of talent in 2022 including senior running back Narii Gaither who was named the Preseason Big South Offensive Player of the Year, the first such selection in program history for the Bulldogs. Gaither rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and had seven touchdowns in 2021. The Bulldogs finished last fall with a 4-7 record.
Their season will begin with a September 1 home game against Limestone.
He ran for over 1,000 yards and scored SEVEN touchdowns a season ago!@GWUFootball's Narii Gaither is the 2022 Preseason #BigSouthFB Offensive Player of the Year! pic.twitter.com/t1dDhBPVwH— Big South Conference (@BigSouthSports) July 26, 2022
Aggies Hope to Leave Big South in Style
North Carolina A&T is the preseason favorite to win the Big South and grab the league's auto bid to the postseason. Aggies head coach Sam Washington, however, understands that to live up to those first-place expectations will be easier said than done.
"The competition in this conference is very competitive," Washington stated. "You need to be on your A game every weekend."
Washington’s program, which just came over from the MEAC in 2019, is planning to hit the exit door next year for the CAA but for right now they have every intention of hoisting a Big South banner before they do. Last fall the Aggies went 5-6 (3-4 in conference play) but this year they landed seven players on the preseason All-Conference Team including standout receiver Jamison Warren and linebacker Jacob Roberts.
NC A&T will open their 2022 season against North Carolina Central in the annual Duke’s Mayo Classic on September 3.
Robert Morris Faces QB Questions
This offseason, the Colonials said farewell to quarterback George Martin, one of the conference’s most dynamic signal callers last year. Replacing Martin, who threw for 2,012 yards and and 14 touchdowns in 2021, will not be easy and head coach Bernard Clark still doesn’t know who it’ll be.
“Right now we’re not 100% sure to be totally honest,” Clark admitted. “We have some guys that are competing for the job … it’s a situation where, going through spring ball, no guy jumped out at us just yet.”
Anthony Chiccitt, Corbin LaFrance, Jake Simmons and Zach Tanner are all currently listed on RMU’s roster and could all be vying for the job come fall camp. The Colonials are coming off a 4-6 run last season and will be looking to improve upon a year in which they only won three conference games.
Robert Morris will open its season against Dayton on September 3.