Tuesday, July 12, 2016

SWAC 2016 Preview

The SWAC is will once again forego FCS playoff participation for a birth in the second annual Celebration Bowl, which creates a matchup against the champion of the MEAC, the other FCS HBCU conference. Alcorn State is once again the odds on favorite to head back to the bowl, but look out for Grambling, which could make a move as Jay Hopson has moved on as head coach at Alcorn State. Brian Jenkins should also have Alabama State in a position to give a good push as well. Don't be shocked by some surprises along the way, as that is a trademark of SWAC football. Here is a look at the conference for 2016.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Alcorn State
2. Alabama State
3. Jackson State
4. Alabama A&M
5. Mississippi Valley State

1. Grambling State
2. Southern
3. Prairie View A&M
4. Texas Southern
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Alcorn State Braves
Jay Hopson used a solid four year run in which he brought the Braves back from the abyss to elevate himself to an instate promotion and raise at Southern Mississippi. Now Alcorn will have to keep from tumbling back into the abyss under new head coach Fred McNair.
Lenorris Footman is back at QB and will start as a junior in 2016. He passed for 1106 yards last season with 14 TDs and 4 picks, but largely shred time with John Gibbs, who has moved on. Footman must imrove upon his completion percentage, which was a whoppingly low 43.5%.
Darryan Ragsdale is gone at RB, so Footman is the leading returning rusher with 1023 yards and 11 TDs. Marquis Warford and Arron Baker should get first crack at taking the open RB job in camp. Tavres Johnson and Darius Dean are both back as sophomores as well, and could push for time.
Warford was also the team's leading receiver last fall, and the next two leading receivers have graduated. Jaborian McKenzie, Charles Hughes, and Brandon Campbell all have opportunities here, among others.
The defense should be in solid shape with good players returning all over the field. The line is loaded with Stacey Garner and Michael Brooks at DE, LB is set with Darien Anderson and Michael Hurns, and the secondary, despite losing Anthony Johnson, brings back Eric Foster in a leadership role.
Projected Win Total: 9

Eastern Division
Alabama State Hornets
Spring practice was reinstated after a loss of that right due to low APR scores. Brian Jenkins was brought in from Bethune-Cookman to improve this program on and off the field, and he has the needle pointed in the right direction. Jenkins is one of the more underrated coaches in the nation, and he should have the Hornets pushing for the top spot in the East in short order.
Ellis Richardson, who got some good experience last season, steps in at QB this fall as a sophomore. He passed for 739 yards in nine games, and tossed 6 TDs to 3 INTs. I am projecting him to improve on his 58.3% completion ratio, and he could end up being one of the better QBs in the conference by the end of the year.
Khalid Thomas is back as the leading rusher from a year ago, and could push the 1000 yard mark this fall. He ran for 720 yards last season, and scored 5 times. Richardson is also a solid runner, and rushed for 8 TDs last fall. Look for sophomore Alex Anderson to once again be the primary number two back.
Joshua Davis and Jamir Hannah are both back after leading the Hornets in receiving a year ago, although they combined for just 44 receptions and 6 scores. Brandon Barnes, DeMario Bell, Austin Beamus, and Wyndell Archie should add depth.
LB Kourtney Berry was the SWAC defender of the year last season after racking up 130 tackles, and leads a deep and experienced defense that should see marked improvement this fall.
Projected Win Total: 7

Jackson State Tigers
Former Mississippi State assistant Tony Hughes takes over at Jackson State after the Tigers hit a low mark with just 3 wins last fall. Expect some dividends early, but a building process is in order.
A positive comes at QB right away, as La Montiez Ivy is back after passing for 2199 yards and 15 TDs to 8 picks. He did complete 60.6% of his passes last fall, and should get better this season. Jorian Marikawa is back as the primary backup.
The Tigers have some returning talent at RB, but someone needs to step up and be a star for the Tigers to move forward this fall. Robert Johnson led the team in rushing last fall, but had just 409 yards and failed to reach 100 carries. Joshua Bates returns as a senior as well, but rushed for just 193 yards, and never scored in 2015.
Devin Fosselman, the leading receiver with 58-872-5, has moved on. Daniel Williams does return, and put up a line of 54-802-7, and will step into the lead role. Will Golston will be the first receiver to get a crack at the open starting job this fall, but there is little depth to speak of after that.
The defense was a bit of a mess last fall, so Hughes has brought in a huge group of newcomers who all expect to have some impact immediately.
Projected Win Total: 4

Alabama A&M Bulldogs
It's win now or else for Bulldog coach James Spady, one of a list of FCS coaches on the hot seat entering 2016.
Tootie Ballard is back as the starting QBM but he has not been what anyone could call special up to this point. He passed for 1516 yards and 9 TDs, while throwing just 3 picks, but he completed just 44.7% of his passes as a junior. That number should be much hugher at this stage of his development.  He also is not a great runner by any means, as he rushed for just 340 yards and an additional 4 scores.
Harvey Harris is back at RB, but rushed for just 449 yards on 109 carries. He also scored just 4 times last season. There is very little depth behind him, so the job appears safe, for now.
The good news is that the receiving corps returns intact, led by Tevin McKenzie and Devone Johnson, and so serves a core building block for this offense.
Bryan Brower is back at LB to lead the defense, but this unit was victimized more times than not last season, so improvement is a must.
Projected Win Total: 3

Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils
The home of Jerry Rice has not been the same in years, and it looks like a trip back to the Eastern Division basement once again for the formerly proud Delta Devils.
QB play was a mess, but it usually is with one win football teams. Expect an open camp battle between Ruban Thurston and Slade Jarman, who both played last season, but neither did enough to stake any claims to the job.
Star power and depth are lacking at RB as well, as Thomas Stokes returns after rushing for just 442 yards and one score last season. If anyone can come up from the ranks and push him, it would likely be welcomed.
Terrence Barron and Joshua Banks are both back at WR, but combined for just 42 receptions and 2 TDs last season, which was probably more of an effect from bad QB play than anything else. Booker Chambers is getting a ton of notice as well, but more for his kick return skills than his receiving skills (15 receptions last season).
Ladrelin Cheatam is back to lead the defense at MLB, but the star on defense is S Marquis Green, who led the league with 7 picks as a freshman,
Projected Win Total: 1

 Western Division
Grambling State Tigers
Grambling football is back with a vengeance after some dark times just a few years ago. With an explosive play maker back at QB, look for GSU to push Alcorn State for a Celebration Bowl bid this season.
That exploxive QB is none other than Johnathon Williams, who passed for 3135 yards and 37 TDs. His only area of extreme concern will be turnovers, as he did manage to toss 18 picks last fall. If that number could drop, he may be a candidate for FCS QB of the Year honors.
The running game is in good hands as two solid backs return in  Martez Carter (876 yards) and Jestin Kelly (720 yards). They combined to rush for 13 scores last season, and Williams is a solid runner as well.
Chad Williams racked up 1012 yards receiving last fall, and returns for his junior season. He added 10 TDs to the mix to be one of the top receivers returning in FCS football in 2016. Chester Rogers also returns after catching 46 passes for 707 yards and 6 TDs. Verlon Hunter is the primary number three receiver in this offense, and also returns. Junior Dominique Leake also returns to add depth.
The defense will once again depend on LB Arkez Cooper and S Guy Stallworth to lead the way.
Projected Win Total: 9

Southern Jaguars
The Jaguars return a pretty good QB in their own right this fall in junior Austin Howard, who passed for 16 TDs to just 4 picks last season. He added 2292 passing yards, and completed an impressive 65.4% of his passes. He could be underrated this fall, which works to his advantage.
The run game returns a star in Lenard Tillery, who rushed for a solid 1211 yards last season and scored 14 times. He is one of the best returning backs in the nation. Tillery averaged 6.1 yards every time he ran the ball in 2015. With Malcolm Crockett gone as the primary backup, look for John West, Deonte Shorts, and Herbert Edwards all to battle for backup work in camp.
There are some losses in the receiving corps, and that is what sets the Jaguars apart from Grambling this fall. Willie Quinn, last season's leader, is gone, as are Mike Jones and Montrell Jones, which will effect depth. Randall Menard will have to step up into a larger role after catching just 27 passes last fall. Nico Talbert will have first crack at replacing Quinn, but will see some push from Dillon Beard and others.
LB Aaron Tiller is a leader on defense, and had 10 sacks last fall. Kentavious Preston and Roshaud Turner also return to give the Jaguars one of the most impressive LB units in FCS football. Danny Johnson is back to lead the secondary as well.
Southern did not have spring practice after posting low APR scores.
Projected Win Total: 6

Prairie View A&M Panthers
Trey Green is yet another solid QB in the Western Division after passing for 2614 yards and 21 TDs to just 3 INTs last fall. He could use some accuracy help at times, and I expect a bump with his 58.8% completion ratio this fall.
Where the Panthers fall short in 2016 may be with the run game, as both leading rushers from last season are gone. No back on the current roster ran the ball more than 9 times last season. In short, the RB position is wide open heading into camp.
The WR corps has suffered losses as well, as two of the top three leading receivers from last season have moved on. Khadarel Hodge is back after catching 28 passes, and was the number two last fall. Someone from a group that includes Nick Pitre, Raymond Jackson, Anthony Wiltz, Andrew Michael III, and Rayshaun Givens needs to step up and claim some work.
DeVohn Reed and Marquice O'Leary are back on defense, and despite winning 9 games last season, this unit was prone to occasional implosions. This will be worth watching in 2016.
Projected Win Total: 5

Texas Southern Tigers
Former Pittsburgh coach Mike Haywood has his second chance in waiting as he inherits the Texas Southern job. If he can win here, he may use it as a spring board to show he is ready to get back into the big time after some personal issues forced him out for some time.
Averion Hurts has returned at QB after passing for 997 yards and 14 TDs to just 3 picks, but he has to get better when it comes to completing his passes, as 53.2% on completions will not move the needle. There is virtually nobody behind him, so he has to be the man this year.
There is experience back at RB, but the Tigers need someone between Darrell Robinson and Brad Woodard to step up and be a star. Robinson rushed just 88 times last fall for 533 yards in 10 games, while Woodard ran the ball just 71 times in 9 games.
Derrick Griffin is the best TE/WR combo package in the nation, and also plays basketball. He scored 11 times last season on 36 catches for 709 yards, and could have an even bigger impact this fall. Malik Cross is gone, so Larry Clark III has to step into a bigger role after catching 24 passes last fall. Tracy Johnson and Austin Watts add depth.
The Tigers gave up buckets of points last fall, so improvement by this group will be huge if it can be found. Jamal Lucas and Zack Bamijoko are back at LB and Archie Rice leads the secondary.
Projected Win Total: 2

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions
Former Howard QB legend and OC Ted White has come on as OC to rebuild an offense that has lost their way in recent seasons. A new spread attack is being installed, so look for some bumps along the way during the construction period.
Brandon Duncan was a little bit all over the place last fall, but is looking for consistency in 2016 after passing for 1027 yards and 8 TDs to 8 picks last season. He completed just 53.7% of his passes, and needs a rebuild in his outlook at the position.
The Lions need a star at RB, and they have few options here. Brian Handley completed his senior season, and so it is up to KeShawn Williams and Marcus Terrell to compete with Dante McDonald and Draylon Willis, and Nolan Sorensen for work.
Willie Young will be looking for a breakout season in the new offense after catching 49 passes last season for 584 yards. John Hawkins, who caught 30 passes, returns as well as the seoncd option in the passing game. Cody Swain and Patrick Rowland should see more work in the new offense this fall.
The defense gave up less than 20 points only once all last season, and will also need a rebuild. LB Willie Dunacn returns after a 118 tackle performance, but the rest of the defense is thin, and could be a major liability.
Projected Win Total: 1

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