After narrowly missing out on the postseason, Tennessee State has been pegged as a contender in the Ohio Valley Conference.
TSU was picked to finish third out of the nine teams and received two first-place votes in the OVC preseason poll, which was announced Monday after a vote of league head coaches and sports information directors.
The Tigers went 8-3 in 2012 and return all 11 defensive starters. They are led by junior cornerback Steven Godbolt III, who was tabbed as the OVC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He was one of a conference-best seven TSU players named to the All-OVC preseason team.
Defending regular-season champ Eastern Illinois is picked to repeat and collected 12 of the 18 first-place votes. Eastern Kentucky received four first-place votes and is projected to finish second. Austin Peay, led by first-year coach Kirby Cannon, is picked to finish last out of nine teams.
Godbolt intercepted six passes in 10 games last year to lead the Football Championship Subdivision in interceptions per game (0.60). The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from Cross City, Fla., also had 45 tackles, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He is the first defensive back named preseason player of the year since the award’s inception in 2008.
Joining him on the defensive team was TSU defensive end Antonio Harper, linebacker Nick Thrasher and defensive back Daniel Fitzpatrick. Harper, a senior, had 36 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2012. Thrasher was third in the conference with 105 tackles. The junior also had nine tackles for loss. Fitzpatrick, a junior, had 61 tackles, five tackles for loss, one interception and eight pass breakups.
TSU placed three on the offensive team. Center Demetrius Rhaney and guard Kadeem Edwards return to the offensive line for their senior season. Junior tight end A.C. Leonard was also honored after he caught 51 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns in his first year after transferring from Florida.
The Tigers started 7-0 last year before dropping three of their final four games. They finished fifth in league play with a 4-3 mark.
TSU and fourth-year head coach Rod Reed open the season on Sunday, Sept. 1, against Bethune-Cookman in the John Merritt Classic at LP Field.