By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Bethune-Cookman is stacked on offense and defense and is poised to lead the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference again in 2013, according to the Add's HBCU Sports Report's 2013 MEAC Conference Predictions.
They will be pushed by a tough, defensive-minded North Carolina A&T squad and perennial MEAC power South Carolina State. Two others on the rise who could change everything: North Carolina Central and Howard.
Here are the breakdowns for each MEAC squad:
- Bethune-Cookman - The Wildcats return the potent 1-2 punch of quarterback Quentin Williams and running back Isadore Jackson, each accounting for double-digit touchdown totals for a team that was 8-0 in the MEAC last season and hasn't lost a conference game since October 2011. On defense, they return their top two tacklers in Jarkevis Fields, Nick Addison and fellow All-MEAC defender LeBrandon Richardson.
- North Carolina A&T - Scoring on the Aggies defense, which was ranked second-best in FCS football in 2012, is going to rough again this year. All-American cornerback D'Vonte Graham leads a secondary that had the nation's top pass defense last year and returns all four starters. The Aggie offense struggled in passing the game, but return quarterback Lewis Kindle and their second-best rusher in Ricky Lewis.
- South Carolina State - In 2012, South Carolina State quarterback Richard Cue doubled his second year production from his first year, passing for 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He's looking to continue his improvement for a Bulldog program that dropped below .500 for the first time in 12 years. Head coach Buddy Pough's defense last season ranked in the middle of the MEAC pack in 2012, but does return nine starters.
- North Carolina Central - The Eagles 6-5 season last year truly was feast or famine. When they won, they scored a lot of points - they averaged 28 per game behind returning All-MEAC quarterback Jordan Reid who completed 62 percent of his passes and threw 13 touchdowns (second best in the MEAC). But when they lost, they gave up 28 points per game, Freshman standout Ryan Smith with 65 tackles and three interceptions returns, as does the MEAC's top punter (Matthew Cornelius) and place kicker (Oleg Parent).
- Howard - The Bison couldn't keep up the momentum of a 4-1 start in 2012 as the defense gave up an average of 35 points a game the rest of the season as the defense was the MEAC's third worst. But quarterback Greg McGhee, who had 11 TDs, 448 yards rushing and 1,038 passing, returns as does All-MEAC running back Aquanius Freeman. All-MEAC defenders Julien David (a MEAC-leading 108 tackles) and Damon Greshan Chisholm (five sacks, 41 tackles).
- Florida A&M - Damien Fleming, the 2013 MEAC Preseason Co-Offensive Player of the Year, more than made up for the Rattlers lack of a running game last season. He was second in total offense and passing and is the top returning quarterback this season. James Owens,FAMU's second leading rusher in 2012 and preseason All-MEAC this season, returns. Linebacker Brandon Denmark and defense back Devontae Johnson are back from the MEAC's fourth best defense.
- Delaware State - The Hornets will have a huge hole to fill as the MEAC's top quarterback, Nick Elko, has graduated. Senior Cory Murphy, who didn't attempt a pass last year, will take his place. Leading rusher Malcolm Williams returns to shoulder a lot of the offensive burden until Murphy can get his footing. Second leading tackler Terrick Colster in the seondary and defensive lineman Rodney Gunter leads a defense that needs to improve, especially against the pass.
- Norfolk State - Quarterback Nico Flores will not have to share the signal-calling duties as he did last year for a passing offense that was one of the MEAC's best. One of his favorite targets, Derrick Demps, will be back as will a good offensive line. A stout defense, the MEAC's second best overall defense in 2012, returns stalwart linebacker Lynden Trail. Trail had 70 tackles and six sacks last season. Defensive lineman George Riddick, who had 40 stops and 5 sacks in 2012, is also back.
- Hampton - Things aren't looking too good for the Pirates, won only three games last season. They lost their top passer and top rusher from a good offense, and won't have a lot of firepower returning. Hope lies in a defense that was fair in 2012 and returns linebacker Delbert Tyler (80 tackles in 2012) along with ballhawks Carvin Johnson and Aaron Matthews.
- Morgan State - The Bears should improve on offense as dual threat quarterback Robert Council returns. Council led Morgan State in rushing and passing, though he shared passing duties with fellow returner Seth Higgins. The real issue is defense. The Bears had the MEAC's worst pass defense and worst overall defense. Ten maturing defensive starters return, including linebacker Chris Robinson (40 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2012) and lineman Demarco Bisbee.
- Savannah State - 2012 was a tough season for the Tigers who anchored the bottom of nearly every statistical category in the MEAC. New head coach Earnest Wilson does finds a perfect returning compliment to his pass-happy ways as his "Air Raid" offense has quarterback Antonio Bostick (1,629 yards passing and 8 touchdowns) back. One of his top targets, All-MEAC receiver Simon Heyward (751 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns) is also back. Defense MUST improve.
MEAC Predicted 2013 Finish
2) North Carolina A&T
3) South Carolina State
4) North Carolina Central
6) Florida A&M
7) Delaware State
8) Norfolk State
10) Morgan State
11) Savannah State