MARTIN, Tenn. -- After a wild 2011 football season where anyone of six teams could have claimed the Ohio Valley Conference championship and Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State laid claim to the title, Eastern Kentucky has been picked to win the 2012 crown by league head football coaches and sports information directors.
The University of Tennessee at Martin, under the direction of seventh-year head coach Jason Simpson, has been picked sixth in the preseason OVC poll released this morning at the annual football media day in Nashville.
Eastern Kentucky totaled 124 points to top the poll. The only other school to receive first-place votes was Jacksonville State, who picked up the remaining six votes and had 117 total points. Murray State was picked third (85 points) and followed closely by Tennessee Tech in fourth (83). The poll was rounded out by Tennessee State (69), UT Martin (67), Southeast Missouri (44), Eastern Illinois (42) and Austin Peay (17).
UT Martin dropped the final three games of last season, all of which were on the road, to finish 5-6 overall and 4-4 in Conference play (tied for fifth place). Simpson has never had a losing season in OVC play; this season his squad returns seven offensive and eight defensive starters. The offense is led by senior signal caller Derek Carr who threw for 2,482 yards and 25 touchdowns this past season for the high-octane Skyhawk offense.
The team also returns the running back tandem of Jason McNair and Tevin Barksdale who combined for 1,467 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Returners on the defensive side of the ball for UTM include linebacker Ben Johnson, who had a team-best 96 tackles and space-eater Montori Hughes, who had 30 tackles and 6.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago after transferring from the University of Tennessee.