At last, the riddle of first-place preseason vote for Savannah State is solved

There was a fascinating footnote that I never got past in the MEAC’s preseason football polling: Someone had voted Savannah State as No. 1.

Yes, that Savannah State. The former independent just now moving into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The one that just rebuilt its football staff, again. The one that last posted a winning season in 1998.

Savannah, of course, ended up finishing last among the MEAC’s 11 football schools in a secret ballot voted on by the league’s coaches and sports information directors. But no other team in the MEAC’s bottom five received even a single first-place nod. So, the intrigue surrounding the program’s one true believer remained.

Until, that is, Savannah State held its annual football media day. Turns out, the lone voter was none other than SSU’s first-year skipper.

“We’re playing to win the MEAC championship this year,” Steve Davenport boldly predicted on Sunday. “That’s our goal. I didn’t place us No. 11 with my vote. I don’t know if (Savannah State’s sports information director) wants me to tell that, but I voted our guys No. 1, public opinion be damned. We’re going to try to win the MEAC championship. As a leader of men, I don’t see a team on the schedule that beats us until they beat us.”

You’ve got to love the spirit displayed by Davenport, hired away after four seasons as the running backs coach at Alabama-Birmingham. After all, Savannah State returns 16 of 22 starters from the 2010 squad, including nine on defense and seven on offense.

But that group only managed to win a single game last season, finishing dead last in the nation for pass-efficiency defense, No. 114 out of 117 FCS programs in total defense and No. 113 in total offense. In fact, SSU ranked No. 111 or worse, as The Savannah (Ga.) Morning News’ Noell Barnidge rightly notes, in 11 of the championship subdivision’s 17 principal statistical categories.

They weren’t bad … they were awful. So, you have to wonder: Where does this confidence come from?

“I don’t want to come across as arrogant; it wasn’t an arrogant move,” Davenport added. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, in your ability and in your team, then how do you lead them? I mean, I don’t know what my answer would be if one of my players stood up and said, ‘Coach, why didn’t you vote us No. 1? Why didn’t you think that we were going to be the best?’ So it was a natural move from my perspective. I’m going to vote them No. 1 next year, too.”

It will be interesting to see if that vote makes more sense next season. Davenport certainly has his work cut out for him.

Savannah State begins its new campaign on Sept. 3 against Albany State University in Macon, Ga.

MEAC FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
(As voted upon by MEAC football coaches and sports information directors; first-place votes in parenthesis):1. South Carolina State (6) 468 points
2. Bethune-Cookman (8) 454
3. Florida A&M (5) 420
4. Hampton (1) 321
5. Norfolk State (1) 274
6. Morgan State 250
7. North Carolina Central 162
8. Delaware State 158
9. North Carolina A&T 128
10. Howard 96
11. Savannah State (1) 63

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