greg.mcilvain@gaflnews.com



VALDOSTA -- Valdosta State's football team has started the 2002 season in the same place it finished 2001 -- No. 1 in the South Region.

The Division II Football Committee released its first regional rankings Tuesday, and the Blazers were ranked No. 1. The rankings are an indicator of how the regional committees are considering the teams as they choose four from each region for the playoffs.

The South Region has six unbeaten teams and a seventh, Catawba, which is two points away from being unbeaten. One of the unbeatens, No. 3 Tuskegee, won't be in the playoffs because it plays Division I-AA Alabama State on Thanksgiving Day -- after the playoffs begin.

Otherwise the poll is dominated by the Gulf South Conference and the South Atlantic Conference. Gulf South members include VSU (5-0), No. 4 Central Arkansas (5-0) and No. 7 Harding (5-0). The SAC is represented by No. 2 Carson-Newman (5-0), No. 5 Catawba (3-1) and No. 6 Tusculum (5-0).

Tuskegee and No. 9 Fort Valley State (4-2) are from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and No. 8 Virginia State (4-1) and No. 10 Fayetteville State (4-1) are from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association -- a conference which cried for respect last season after champion Virginia Union (8-2) wasn't selected for the playoffs. No CIAA team has gone to the Division II playoffs since Hampton (1993).

Upcoming big games for South Region teams: Virginia State at Fayetteville State, Oct. 19; Tusculum at Carson-Newman and Tuskegee at Fort Valley State, Oct. 26; Catawba at Tusculum, Nov. 2; Carson-Newman at Catawba, Nov. 9,

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MORE NOS. 1: The other No. 1 teams this week are: Midwest, St. Cloud State (5-0); Northeast, Grand Valley State (4-0); and West, Central Washington (6-0).

While Grand Valley State made the championship game last year, St. Cloud State and Central Washington are improved programs. Both finished 4-7 in 2001.

The South champion plays the West champion in the national semifinals on Dec. 7.

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NATIONAL NEWS: As the top teams keep on winning, the national polls don't change. Valdosta State continues to be No. 2 in the coaches' poll and No. 3 in two other national polls. Grand Valley State is No. 1 in all the polls.

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TOUCHDOWN MAKERS: Valdosta State's Reggie Mosley set school career touchdown record with his 40th score last Saturday. Grand Valley State's all-everything wide receiver David Kircus caught his 50th touchdown pass Saturday, a new NCAA Division II record.

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GULF SOUTH NOTES: It was a good weekend for VSU to flex its muscles. One of those watching the 51-10 win at Ouachita Baptist was OBU's athletic director, David Sharp. He's the new South Region committee chair.

He also talked about the dilemma the committee faces -- the Harding problem.

Each year, each Gulf South Conference school does not play two other conference members in football. This year and next year Harding won't play Valdosta State or Central Arkansas. Harding, VSU and UCA are the three unbeaten Gulf South teams after three weeks of conference play.

Harding plays at West Georgia this weekend, a game which UWG could be seeking some revenge. Harding, in a 43-31 win last year in Arkansas, added a late touchdown after kneeling down on the previous three plays.

After West Georgia, Harding has three home games in its last five, and doesn't leave Arkansas. The biggest challenges may be a Oct. 26 home game with Arkansas-Monticello and a Nov. 9 game at Southern Arkansas.

VSU plays at Central Arkansas next weekend. Central Arkansas goes to Southern Arkansas this Saturday. After the physical beating Southern Arkansas gave VSU two weeks ago, it's hoped the Muleriders can play a spoiler to the other league teams.

Seven of the 12 conference schools already have two conference losses. VSU and Central Arkansas could separate the pack even further by beating Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Arkansas, both 2-1.

In other conference games Saturday, Delta State is at Arkansas Tech, Henderson State is at West Alabama and





North Alabama is at Ouachita Baptist. It's homecoming at VSU, West Georgia, Arkansas Tech and West Alabama.

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