More than a month remains until the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets take the field for the first time under first-year head coach Hunter Sims, but the American Southwest Conference has already released its football preseason coaches and media projections.
The Yellow Jackets, coming off a 1-9 campaign, are picked to finish seventh in the eight-team league.
For the 14th year in a row, Mary Hardin-Bayor (11-2, 4-1) is the ASC preseason favorite, garnering 115 points and 13 of 16 first-place votes. Hardin-Simmons (9-2, 4-1) is picked second with 97 points and two first-place votes, while East Texas Baptist (7-3, 4-1) is tabbed third with 80 points and one first-place vote. The three aforementioned teams split the 2015 ASC championship.
UMHB (2003-16), Hardin-Simmons (1999-2002) and former ASC member Mississippi College (1998) are the only teams to ever appear atop the ASC preseason football poll.
Picked fourth in 2016 is Louisiana College (3-7, 1-4) with 75 points followed by fifth-place McMurry (4-6) — which is eligible for the conference title but unable to advance to the NCAA Division III playoffs due to its provisional status — with 41 points. Sul Ross (3-7, 1-4) is sixth with 40 points followed by HPU with 24 points and Belhaven (2-8), which is ineligible for both the conference title and the NCAA playoffs as it is still reclassifying from the NAIA ranks.
Hardin-Simmons senior quarterback Ryan Breton has been tabbed the preseason offensive player of the year while the preseason defensive player of the year nod went to UMHB senior defensive end Teidrick Smith. Nico Franco, the Hardin-Simmons senior kicker/punter, has been named the preseason special teams player of the year.
The 2016 regular season begins Thursday, Sept. 1 when Belhaven hosts Millsaps. The rest of the ASC squads begin their season on Saturday, Sept. 3 as Howard Payne hosts Southwestern Assemblies of God at 7 p.m. — one of only four games at Gordon Wood Stadium this season.
The remainder of HPU’s schedule includes home dates against UMHB (1 p.m., Oct. 8), McMurry (4 p.m., Oct. 29 - homecoming), and Belhaven (1 p.m., Nov. 12). Road games for the Yellow Jackets include Austin College (noon, Sept. 10), Wayland Baptist (2 p.m., Sept. 17), Louisiana College (1 p.m., Oct. 1), Hardin-Simmons (1:30 p.m. Oct. 15), East Texas Baptist (6 p.m., Oct. 22) and Sul Ross (6 p.m., Nov. 5).