JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Carson-Newman's football team will start the year ranked 17th in the first American Football Coaches' Association poll. The mark is C-N's first trip inside a preseason top 25 since starting 2011 ranked 20th.
The Eagles are one of two South Atlantic Conference teams to receive preseason love from the poll. Lenoir-Rhyne enters ranked behind the Eagles at no. 23.
Two Super Region II foes sit in front of C-N in the poll - preseason no. 1 Valdosta State and 16th-ranked West Alabama.
In addition to conference mate Lenoir-Rhyne, the Eagles' opponents in weeks one and two each drew votes in the opening poll. Wayne State accrued a single vote, while Colorado Mines garnered 11.
Carson-Newman finished 2012 ranked 13th in the AFCA's final poll. C-N opens the year as a narrow preseason favorite to win the SAC over Lenoir-Rhyne.
The Eagles return 19 starters and have three preseason All-Americans in running back Brandon Baker (Miami, Fla.), kicker Curt Duncan (Morristown, Tenn.) and offensive tackle Alex Taylor (Bristol, Tenn.).
The Eagles averaged a nation's best 378 yards per game last year on the ground and scored 52 rushing touchdowns - more than any school in any division - last season. Carson-Newman was held under 300 yards rushing just twice last season and the Eagles toted the ball for more than 350 yards in each of the final eight games of the year.
Carson-Newman must find a way to replace SAC co-offensive player of the year Brandon Haywood at quarterback. An offensive line that returns three starters who have been named to all-conference teams at various points in their Eagle careers and a tailback corps that returns 92 percent of their rushing yards gained should help aid in the transition at the position.
Defensively, the Eagles forced a bevy of fumbles early - recovering eight in the first three weeks of the season. On the flip side, Carson-Newman had just six total takeaways the rest of the year. Conversely, while the Eagles gave up yards and points by the bushel in the first four weeks, C-N turned into a second half defensive juggernaut in the latter portion of the year. The Eagles allowed 22 second half points the final six weeks of the regular season. Nonetheless, Carson-Newman does return eight starters from last year's unit.
The leading tacklers are back in Jonathan Sites (Hendersonville, Tenn.) and Greg Beauduy (Deerfield Beach, Fla.). But C-N must replace two All-SAC defensive backs as Issac Kinley and Oliver Davis depart the program following their respective graduations.