BRIDGEPORT — Shepherd has been picked to win the first-ever Mountain East Conference football title after a vote conducted by the league’s coaches. The Rams collected eight of 11 possible first-place votes in earning 117 points.
The University of Charleston (two first-place votes) was pegged as runner-up with 101 points. Concord (94) was picked to finish third, followed by Glenville State (83) and West Liberty (79). Urbana (75, one first-place vote) and Fairmont State (51) were predicted to finish sixth and seventh, respectively. The Falcons were followed by Notre Dame College (40), UVa-Wise (31), West Virginia State (28) and West Virginia Wesleyan (27).
Shepherd returns eight starters on both offense and defense from a team that went 8-3 and earned a berth in the NCAA playoffs In 2012. The Rams will have to replace starting quarterback Bobby Cooper, but SU returns its entire offensive line, which will pave the way for Jihad Rasheed and Allen Cross. The Rams also boast a stout defense that has led the country in rushing defense in the last two seasons and boasts All-America candidates Howard Jones (defensive lineman) and Keon Robinson (cornerback/return specialist).
Charleston turned in a 9-2 season last year in which its two losses came by just a combined 10 points. The Golden Eagles will have to deal with the loss of one of the top all-purpose players in the country last year in Jordan Roberts, but return experience behind center in quarterbacks Maurice Leak and John Knox. UC also returns eight starters on a defense that allowed less than 16 points per game. All-America candidate Puma Nuredini handles the kicking and punting duties for UC.
Concord closed the 2012 season strong by winning five of its last six games, but the Mountain Lions will need to replace six starters on both offense and defense. Concord returns plenty of talent on defense including All-America candidates Jake Lilly (linebacker) and Riyahd Richardson (cornerback). Sophomore running back Calvinaugh Jones will be expected to shoulder the offensive load for CU after racking up 749 yards on the ground in 2012.
Glenville State was 6-5 last year with all five losses coming on the road. The Pioneers return one of the top running backs in the country in Rahman Lee, who rushed for 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. Quarterback Justin Feagin saw action in all 11 games last year for GSC, passing for over 600 yards and adding nearly 200 yards on the ground. Senior center and All-America candidate Jon Rasnick will anchor the offensive line. James Johnson returns to the defense after notching 92 tackles a season ago.
West Liberty surged to a 6-5 record in 2012 after winning four of its final six, including a one-point win over Shepherd.
West Virginia State will look to first-year head coach Jon Anderson to turn the Yellow Jackets around after a 2-9 campaign in 2012.
The 2013 season begins on Sept. 5 with several Mountain East Conference teams in action, and the MEC portion of the schedule begins on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The 2013 MEC preseason poll is as follows:
1. Shepherd (8) 117
2. Charleston (2) 101
3. Concord 94
4. Glenville State 83
5. West Liberty 79
6. Urbana (1) 75
7. Fairmont State 51
8. Notre Dame College 40
9. UVa-Wise 31
10. West Virginia State 28
11. West Virginia Wesleyan 27
() Indicates first place votes
(Editor’s note: The MEC supplied this preseason report).