Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
VALDOSTA — After a competitive season, the reigning Division II National Champions Valdosta State Blazers are poised for the 2013 season. The Blazers, who started team practices on Monday, got some good news Wednesday from the Gulf South Conference office.
After the GSC coaches gathered Wednesday to decide who they thought would be the favorite team to win the big trophy, it was decided that Valdosta State and West Alabama would be co-favorites to win the 2013 Gulf South Conference title.
The VSU Blazers and UWA Tigers each received three first-place votes and two second-place votes for a total of 23 points.
Both of the teams faced off twice last season, with UWA knocking off VSU in the regular season 39-28 at the first meeting. In the second matchup, the Blazers met the Tigers in a conference battle during the playoffs. The Blazers stole the show, running away with a 49-21 victory.
The irony is, this was the first tie in 19 years of the poll. In addition to that, this tie marked only the second time in the 42-year history of the poll that two schools have tied in the pre-season favorite poll. Valdosta State was part of the last tie in 1994, when the Blazers shared the “pre-season favorite” title with conference rival, North Alabama.
The first-place ranking made it the eighth time that Valdosta State has been named as the pre-season favorite. That stat makes the Blazers tied for second-best among all GSC schools in the history of the poll.
Conference rivals, North Alabama, came in third during the poll with 14 points while Delta State and West Georgia tied for fourth with 12 points. A new team in the conference, Florida Tech, finished the poll with six votes. This will be Florida Tech’s first year in NCAA Division II football.
In addition to the pre-season favorite poll, the coaches selected players for the pre-season All-Gulf South Conference team.
Six Valdosta State Blazers landed on the list. Quarterback Cayden Cochran, running back Cedric O’Neal and wide receivers Seantavious Jones and Regginald Lewis all were selected for the honor after being named first team All-GSC at the finish of the 2012 season. These members of the offense were joined by two defensive players. Linebacker Chris Pope, who was also first team All-GSC last year, as well as defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil, who garnered second team All-GSC awards for the past two years.
North Alabama led all teams with 10 pre-season players on the list while West Alabama had seven. West Georgia compiled four and Delta State received three.