BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The University of North Alabama has been picked as the favorite to win the 2014 Gulf South Conference Football Championship in a pre-season poll of league coaches released Wednesday by the league office.
After going 10-3 a year ago and winning a share of the 2013 GSC title, UNA received five five first-place votes and one second-place vote for 35 total points in the poll. The Lions were followed by Delta State in second place with two first-place votes and 30 points. Valdosta State was third (26), followed by West Alabama (21), West Georgia (17), Florida Tech (12) and Shorter (6).
“To be picked to win the conference is a compliment to the rebuilding that has gone on here over the last two years,” said UNA Head Coach Bobby Wallace, who enters the 2014 season as the winningest football coach in Gulf South Conference history. “It's a reflection on the senior class leadership we had last year, on the player's who have been in the program buying-in and doing what we've asked them to do, and on the last two recruiting classes we have had leading into this year.
“I'm proud for them that we have gotten recognized so quickly but the pre-season doesn't mean anything,” Wallace said. “You have to play the games and where you are at the end of the season is what matters.”
Wallace, set to start the third year of his second stint at UNA, inherited a squad in 2012 that returned just three starters. The Lions fought to a 5-5 finish that season then returned to the NCAA Division II Playoffs for the ninth time in the last 11 years in 2013, reaching the quarterfinals.
UNA's 10 all-time GSC football crowns are the most by any current or former league member in conference history. The 2014 poll marks the 11th time that the Lions have been the pre-season pick to win the GSC title.
There were five UNA Lions named to the pre-season All-GSC squad with two on offense and three on defense. Returning All-GSC Offensive Lineman Keith Jones of Birmingham, Ala., and junior receiver Lee Mayhall of Jackson, Tenn., were pre-season All-GSC picks on offense. On defense, UNA's list of honorees includes sophomore defensive back Levi Fell of Muscle Shoals, Ala., sophomore defensive back Philbert Martial of Mobile, Ala., and senior defensive lineman Taylor Carney of Killen, Ala. Martial was the 2013 GSC Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and Carney was a first-team All-GSC pick in 2013.
UNA returns 32 lettermen and seven starters from its 2013 squad, led by an abundance of returning skill players in quarterbacks Luke Wingo and Jacob Tucker, running backs Lamonte Thompson and Diamond Simmons and receivers Lee Mayhall and Korey Jones. The Lions lost nine starters on defense but had a wealth of depth last season and return 17 lettermen from a squad that led Division II in interceptions with 29.
The Lions open their 2013 season on the road at Mississippi College on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. It will be the latest season-opening game for a UNA football team since 1975. It will also be UNA's sixth road game in its last eight contests. The Lions played five of their last seven games on 2013 on the road, travelling more than 6,000 miles.
Wallace enters the 2014 season as the winningest football coach in GSC history with an overall 123-74-1 record in his 17 total years in the league at UNA and West Alabama. He has a 97-44-1 record in his 12 seasons at UNA with four GSC titles and seven NCAA playoff appearances.