Running back Juwon Farri has been photogenic while chewing up nearly 2,500 yards during a standout college career, so he may be the ideal candidate for a posterboard that spotlights the new Big South-OVC Football Association.

Leading into its inaugural season, the FCS partner league released a preseason watch list of players, which included Farri, at its media day on Tuesday. The 5-foot-8, 205-pound power back is quite the tie between the Big South and Ohio Valley conferences, now a graduate transfer to Eastern Illinois, an OVC school, after he previously played at Monmouth and earned a trio of All-Big South first-team honors as well as the conference’s 2021 offensive player of the year award.  

The prospect of the Big South-OVC having a banner inaugural season reflected well with the watch list. Over 92 percent of the 64 spotlighted players previously earned league honors in one of the two conferences. Among only five exceptions, three are transfers who earned an all-conference honor at a former school.

It also helps a fledging conference to flex muscle by having three, not just two, undefeated champions. The 10 head coaches installed OVC co-champ Southeast Missouri (9-3, 5-0) as the preseason favorite, with Big South champ Gardner-Webb (7-6, 5-0) second and OVC co-champ UT Martin (7-4, 5-0) third. The other seven teams finished below .500 in-conference in what were top-heavy standings.  

Much like the ASUN and WAC combining to form the United Athletic Conference, the Big South and OVC’s partnership was born out of the dizzying conference realignment that has been occurring across college athletics, blending complementary geographies and similarity of schools, and driven by OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche and recently retired Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander. The Big South-OVC begins with an initial four-year term, with each team playing a six-game conference schedule and the champion earning an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

“The slogan is ‘Stronger Together,’ and I think that’s true,” DeBauche said on the ESPN+ broadcast of media day. She was joined for an on-air interview by new Big South commissioner Sherika Montgomery.


Last year’s two playoff qualifiers were at the top of the Big South-OVC watch list – Southeast Missouri led with 11 players and Gardner-Webb tied with Eastern Illinois for the second-most with 10 each. Among the standouts, SEMO returns a pair of second-team Stats Perform FCS All-Americans, running back Geno Hess, the 2022 OVC offensive player of the year, and Zack Gieg, the Rimington Award recipient as the FCS’ top center, while Gardner-Webb has one in defensive end Ty French, the Big South defensive player of the year. UT Martin, which didn’t make the playoffs, had an NFL prospect, defensive end Daylan Dotson, among its six selections on the watch list.

If any Big South-OVC dark horses were suggested on media day, Tennessee Tech was picked fourth in the poll, and Eastern Illinois had the 10 players on the watch list followed by Bryant with the fourth-most (seven), including quarterback Zevi Eckhaus, who ranked fourth in the FCS in passing yards (3,228) last season.

Big South-Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Poll

  1. Southeast Missouri (2022 Records: 9-3, 5-0 OVC), 96 points (6 first-place votes)
  2. Gardner-Webb (7-6, 5-0 Big South), 86 (2)
  3. UT Martin (7-4, 5-0 OVC), 85 (1)
  4. Tennessee Tech (4-7, 2-3 OVC), 58 (1)
  5. Tennessee State (4-7, 2-3 OVC), 57
  6. Bryant (4-7, 2-3 Big South), 48
  7. Lindenwood (7-3, 2-3 OVC), 45
  8. Eastern Illinois (2-9, 1-5 OVC), 33
  9. Charleston Southern (2-8, 2-3 Big South), 30
  10. Robert Morris (0-11, 0-5 Big South), 12