By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference race will be a tight battle among the Miles offense, the Tuskegee defense, a pass-happy Fort Valley State and a stingy Golden Rams defensive unit.
In fact, five of the conference's 11 teams have a legitimate shot at playing in the SIAC's championship game in November.
Miles returns the nucleus of their high-scoring offense from 2012 while Tuskegee and Albany State returns the bulk of two stalwart defensive units.
New to the SIAC this year will be an intriguing Central State program that continues to rebuild after just its eighth season of play.
Here are the team-by-team breakdowns:
- Miles – Stopping the Miles offense has been a problem for SIAC opponents. The Golden Bears, led by All-SIAC quarterback David Thomas, topped the SIAC in scoring, passing and total offense and was third in rushing. Thomas returns, as does All-SIAC performers Floyd Graves (RB) and Antonio Pitts (WR). The Miles defense was super stingy and has six starters coming back, including defensive back Joe Beckham and linebackers Reginald Virges, Julanta English.
- Tuskegee – How do you replace all-everything running back Derrick Washington, who has graduated? At Tuskegee, you reload. The defending SIAC champion Golden Tigers return second leading rusher Michael J. Thornton and starting quarterback Justin Nared. Tuskegee is loaded on defense, led by All-SIAC linebackers Quavon Taylor and El-Malik Chinn and defensive lineman Kevdrick Blue and Reginald Woods.
- Fort Valley State – Last season’s pass-happy offense, which finished second in passing yards per game, loses quarterback Antonio Henton, SIAC’s top passer in 2012. No clear replacement has been found. Running back Seth Hill leads an experienced backfield. Leading an improving defense will be SIAC Defensive Player of the Year and All American candidate Leron Furr after finishing last season with 110 tackles and 6.5 sacks and All-SIAC lineman Bernard Little.
- Albany State – Eight starters return from the SIAC’s top defense in 2012, led by All-SIAC safety Dexter Moody who led the conference with seven interceptions last season. Their top five tacklers return, including Tarvarius Washington, Larry Whitfield and John Rouse. The Golden Rams are still trying to solidify the quarterback spot and find a running back to replace graduated Nathan Hoyte.
- Morehouse – Injuries ravaged the Maroon Tigers in 2012, torpedoing a promising season. Even though they lose the school’s all-time leading rusher, offense figures to be the spur for Morehouse to bounce back from their first losing season in five years. Three talented quarterbacks vie for the starting job while budding star running back Shedrick Hamilton returns. Defense may be the problem from the Maroon Tigers.
- Stillman – Optimism reigns at Stillman as a good offense looks to improve even more in 2013. Josh Straughan returns after an encouraging inaugural season as quarterback. Two experienced running backs who missed 2012 and two talented transfers vie for backfield time. Last year’s porous defense is improving and returns a nucleus of All-SIAC players Peter Dele (DL) and Carlos Wilson (LB) and 10 of 11 top tacklers.
- Central State – Don’t sleep on Central State, where a winning program was disbanded in 1997, reinstituted in 2005 and climbs into the SIAC this season. Senior quarterback Michael Wilson had 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns passing and receiving last season and returns his offensive line and three top receivers. On defense, they must replace leading tackler Darius Wilson. Preseason All Conference safety Joseph Blount will step up, as will linebackers Robert Martin and Blake Riley.
- Lane – The SIAC’s top passing attack returns quarterback Chris Rini, who passed for 1,131 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. He added 276 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Eric Knowlton becomes the featured running back behind a veteran offensive line. The Dragons have to shore up their run defense, which was one of the conference’s worst. But the defense returns six starters from the SIAC’s third best unit, including ball-hawking Jack Howard.
- Kentucky State – Justin Williams will be a huge part of where the Thorobreds go this year. In a tough season, the All-SIAC running back was their leading rusher, led KSU in total offense and even threw 18 passes. Kentucky State struggled on defense, but a talented and very good secondary, led by Jeremy Lewis and Eric Rawls, returns completely in tact. All-SIAC and KSU leading tackler in 2012 defensive lineman Kenny Townsend anchors the front.
- Benedict – The Tigers struggled on both sides of the ball last year, but has a few glimmers of hope this year. Quarterback Marcus Graham had a good year as a freshman, passing for 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. Top target, wide receiver Kendariss Brown, is back as is top rusher Chris Johnson. Defensive back Martin Epps anchors a young defense that was one of the SIAC’s worst last year.
- Clark Atlanta – The Panthers defense will have to carry the offense while it tries to recover from a dismal showing during a two-win season last year. All-SIAC defensive lineman Bre’nard Williams leads a solid defensive unit that will be particularly tough on the run. The CAU offense struggled after scoring less than ten points per game and averaged just over 209 yards a game. They will lean on returning running back Antonio Ford while the quarterback situation gets settled.
2013 Predicted Order of Finish
3) Fort Valley State
4) Albany State
7) Central State
9) Kentucky State
11) Clark Atlanta
Fort Valley State