Emory & Henry College rattled off five straight wins to close the 2016 season, and the conference's head coaches have picked the Wasps to maintain that momentum as they top the ODAC Football Preseason Poll. E&H earned 32 points including five first place votes, putting them six tallies clear of defending champion Randolph-Macon College. The Yellow Jackets and Hampden-Sydney College, positioned fourth in the survey, split the remaining two top nods. Washington and Lee University slots in between the two rivals in third with 24 points.
Randolph-Macon boasted one of the country's stingiest defenses in 2016 behind ODAC Coach of the Year Pedro Arruza. R-MC allowed just 14.3 points and 301.5 yards per game and paired that with a big play offense led by J. Stokely Fulton Offensive Player of the Year, running back Tre Frederick. That combination helped the Jackets to a 9-2 overall record and 6-1 mark atop the ODAC standings to secure the program's 10th conference title.
R-MC traveled north to Johns Hopkins University for NCAA Division III Tournament first round action. A 21-point first quarter by the host Blue Jays proved the difference in the contest as Randolph-Macon matched JHU the remainder of the contest in a 42-21 season-ending decision.
Two things are very evident when looking at ODAC football entering the 2017 season. Catholic University completed its move to the NEWMAC, leaving the ODAC with seven squads until new full-time member Ferrum College joins the ranks in 2018-19. Still, the parity in the conference may be as tight as any other time over the past decade.
There will be plenty of talent returning to the league with 34 All-ODAC selections dotting rosters this fall. That includes 10 from the 2016 All-ODAC First Team. R-MC leads the way with three first team honorees, each from the offense. Frederick will look for the appropriate encore to his 1,300-yard rushing season behind offensive lineman Greg Castle, who is a Preseason First Team All-America pick by D3football.com. All-purpose back Eric Hoy adds to the Yellow Jackets' versatility in multiple formations.
Shenandoah University, which welcomes back a conference-best seven of its 10 overall all-conference standouts, features the first team passing duo of quarterback Hayden Bauserman and receiver Michael Ashwell. Washington and Lee returns one first teamer on each side of the ball with Chris Osier manning a spot on the offensive line and Max Garrett leading the linebacking corps.
Bridgewater College has first team defensive back Isaac Evans to lead its secondary, while lineman Da'von Keith looks to at least duplicate the 12 sacks he recorded for E&H last year. Ty Shwallon returns to Guilford College's offensive line, helping a Quakers offensive unit that gets a further shot in the arm given the return from injury of former first team running back De'Eric Bell.
The 2017 season kicks off with non-conference play on Friday, September 1. The first conference game is Thursday, September 28. The final week of the regular season is Saturday, November 11, with the NCAA Tournament following thereafter. The Stagg Bowl ends its 25-year run in Salem, Va., on Friday, December 15 in primetime. If you can't make it to the games, be sure to check the schedules online for live video, audio, and statistics links.
For more on ODAC football and its teams entering the season, check out the football virtual guide. The virtual guide includes specifics about each team as well as interviews with all seven head coaches (also posted below) from their annual preseason meeting.
Listed below is the 2017 ODAC Football Preseason Poll. For more information on ODAC Football, visit the websites of any of the participating schools, or go to the ODAC's home on the Internet at www.odaconline.com. Don't forget to become a fan of the ODAC on Facebook and follow @odacathletics on Twitter and Instagram.