Shepherd, the three-time defending MEC champions, will have a new look this year as Ernie McCook takes over the reigns for the legendary Monte Cater. The Rams will also need to replace prolific quarterback Connor Jessop as well as the school's all-time sack leader Myles Humphrey on defense. Shepherd does have several key playmakers back, including wideout Ryan Feiss who had nearly 1,400 yards receiving last year and has an experienced defensive backfield that will try and free up the defensive line and linebackers to stop opposing offenses.
Fairmont State checks in at No. 2 in the preseason poll with 88 points, just a single point ahead of their Falcon counterpart, Notre Dame. Both teams had postseason hopes all the way until the final week of the regular season in 2017 but were left on the outside looking in. Fairmont State brings back nine starters on offense and seven more on defense as it looks to make a push for a conference championship. Notre Dame graduated productive quarterback Malik Grove, but running back D.J. Greene and wideout Marvelle Ross provide playmaking ability behind the steady offensive line led by Michael Kyle and Austin Treneff.
The campuses of the University of Charleston and West Virginia State are as nearly as close as the two are in this year's preseason poll with UC in fourth (63 points) and West Virginia State in fifth (61 points). Injuries at quarterback last year prevented the Golden Eagles from building any consistency throughout last season, but the defense was among the best in the country. Defensive lineman John Cominsky is back for his senior season after finishing second in the country in tackles for a loss last year with 23.0.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 6-5 season -- the program's first winning season since 2008. WVSU's offense was one of the best in the country last year, and quarterback Austin Hensley looks to pick up right where Matt Kinnick left off. The key in head coach John Pennington's second season will be improving last year's defense that gave up over 400 yards and 34 points per game.
Glenville State is ninth (35 points), Urbana is 10th (34 points) and Concord is 11th (12 points) in the preseason poll. The Pioneers got off to a slow start last year but still finished 4-7. Quarterback Jaylen McNair showed flashes last season and will look to build off that experience. The Blue Knights have continued to improve under Tyler Haines with the team's five wins being the most in a season since the first year of the MEC (2013). UU will rely on several key defensive players to lead the way in Duray Hall and Mikal Toliver. Concord will try to make strides under third-year head coach Paul Price. The Mountain Lions will be strong in the defensive backfield, but will have to improve on an offense that averaged only 15.9 points per game.