At most Ohio Athletic Conference football media days, the biggest drama comes from the lunch menu.
This year might be different.
Or it could be the norm.
Division III college football fans will find out July 27. That’s the day the 2017 season officially begins for the OAC as it hosts its media day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
The event entails longtime commissioner Tim Gleason talking up the OAC, plus the league’s 10 coaches and select players doing the same about their teams.
Another highlight is preseason voting by coaches and media for order of finish in the OAC.
The No. 1 spot has been reserved — and rightfully so — for perennial D-III power Mount Union.
It could be different this week, as some voters might think long and hard about which team to put on the top line.
Will it be the Purple Raiders or John Carroll?
In most years, the thought of that question seemed pointless. But how things changed with one historic victory.
One of the lasting impressions from 2016 — which will surely be a topic of discussion on July 27 — is JCU’s 31-28 win over Mount Union to clinch the OAC outright.
The Blue Streaks’ historic win — it ended the Purple Raiders’ 112-game regular-season winning streak — sent shock waves through the college football world.
It is enough to push JCU atop the preseason OAC polls? Blue Streaks fans shouldn’t hold their breath.
Mount Union has built enough equity to last at least another decade, maybe more.
The Blue Streaks don’t return a ton of starters this season. But it’s more about quality then quantity.
The entire defensive secondary has to be replaced, but the front seven should be as strong as ever with linebackers Mason McKenrick (a Mentor grad and first-team preseason All-America pick) and Anthony Christopher (Lake Catholic) back.
Ray Brown (an honorable mention All-America in 2016) is back to anchor the defensive line, as is emerging Conner Bogard (Benedictine), who was seventh on the team in tackles (43) as a freshman in 2016.
On offense, quarterback Anthony Moeglin (2,800 passing yards, 29 touchdown passes in 2016) is back, as is the running back tandem of Ro Golphin (Gilmour) and Sam Kukura (Kirtland), who combined for 1,932 rushing yards and 25 TDs last season.
Coach Vince Kehres’ Purple Raiders return a ton of starters, including quarterback Dom Davis (2,143 passing yards, 21 TD passes in 2016).
Coaches always talk how preseason polls don’t matter, and they’re right — to a point.
In this case, it will be interesting to watch how preseason voting unfolds. JCU had come close to beating Mount in 2013 and 2014 before finally breaking through two years later.
Plus, final impressions go a long way, and JCU did get its win in Alliance last November.
In the NCAA D-III playoffs, each team made it to the national semifinals before bowing out with identical 12-2 marks, so that’s a wash.
What’s different is JCU has a new coach in Rick Finotti, a former assistant at Michigan under Coach Jim Harbaugh who guided St. Edward to two state titles.
Another factor to consider: Mount might enter this season No. 2 in the D3football.com preseason poll, but it no doubt isn’t forgetting the loss to JCU.
“If you’re asking if we’re a motivated football team, that answer is yes,” Kehres told The News-Herald in the offseason.
There’s also motivation on the JCU side, as it checks in at No. 8 in the preseason, behind Mount and Wisconsin-Whitewater — teams the Blue Streaks defeated in 2016.
“I think it’s more of an advantage to make us underdogs,” said McKenrick, reacting to the preseason poll. “It’s only going to make us more determined and better.”
Contact Podolski at MPodolski@News-Herald.com; On Twitter: @mpodo.
>> Photo gallery from 2016 John Carroll vs. Mount Union