|South Carolina State's blistering defense looks to pick up where they left off in 2013|
By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Big storylines abound all over the country on this, the first day of the 2014 HBCU football season.
Winston-Salem State looks to continue their dominance in the CIAA and Division II, even though they lost their coach, Connell Maynor to Hampton, a squad that is hoping to turn their fortunes around in the MEAC. Will stellar defenses lead Tennessee State, South Carolina State and Bethune Cookman to titles and deeper runs in the FCS playoffs?
Where to start…
The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC)
Virginia-Lynchburg vs. Alcorn State
Alcorn State, picked to finish second in the SWAC East this season after a nine-win season last year, gets a tune-up of a season opener when they host Virginia-Lynchburg, VUL won't have it easy. Seven Braves are first-team All-SWAC this season while four others made the second team.
University of Faith vs. Mississippi Valley State
|Photo from SWAC.org|
It will likely be a great way for new Delta Devils head coach Rick Comegy to start his tenure in Itta Bena. Mississippi Valley State faces an uphill climb in the SWAC after a lackluster season, though the talent level is up. University of the Faith, which plays in the American Small College Athletic Association, isn’t, um, exactly Southern or Jackson State.
Florida A&M vs. Jackson State
Meanwhile, two teams also in the throws of transition take the field in Jackson, Miss. today in the W.C. Gordon Classic. Comegys was dumped by Jackson State even though his teams became some of the best in the conference and narrowly lost last season’s SWAC championship in overtime. Now former NFL star receiver Harold Jackson has taken over and looks to put the Tigers in position to battle for a SWAC title. FAMU hit rock bottom the last two seasons, going 3-9 in 2013. Head coach Earl Holmes has high hopes for a squad that 16 returns starters.
Grambling State vs. Lamar
|Grambling quarterback D.J. Williams (photo by dallasnews.com)|
Grambling is looking to put all of the drama from last season in their rear view mirror and begin 2014 on a winning note. First year coach Broaderick Fobbs, a former running back for legendary coach Eddie Robinson, is an offensive guy and hopes to add some juice to a squad that only one one game last season. The Cardinals from the Southland Conference are no pushover. They won five games last season and are in the middle of a program resurgence.
Alabama State at Sam Houston State
Sam Houston State lost 56-35 to FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington last week. That could mean a couple of things: 1) they can score, as they put up 35 on the nation's top team, and 2) defense is apparently an issue. The latter doesn't bode well for Alabama State, a team that gave up an average of 26 points a game last season. The Hornets will try to keep up as quarterback Daniel Duhart (1,900 yards passing and 18 touchdowns) and running back Malcolm Cyrus (759 yards rushing and six touchdowns) return for 2014. Still its a tough one for the Hornets. Sam Houston State has a 22-game home winning streak.
Alabama A&M and North Carolina A&T
In this year’s installment of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Orlando, Fla., two teams who went in opposite directions last season meet. Alabama A&M fell off after a great 2012 season while the Aggies have had back to back winning seasons for the first time in 13 years. A&M is a young team while A&T has had to retool on offense.
Texas Southern vs. Prairie View A&M
It should be called the battle of Houston as the Tigers and Panthers fight it out for area supremacy in the Labor Day Classic. Prairie View was an offensive machine last season, finishing first in yardage per game and rushing yardage. Texas Southern was in the middle of the pack on defense and terrible on offense in 2013. They will need to step up, starting today.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
Delaware State vs. Monmouth
The Hornets have high hopes after finishing 5-6 last season. They return a number of starters on defense, where that experience looks to carry them early. Monmouth was 6-6 last season, playing well in most of their games. But they've lost 16 lettermen from that team and they aren't expected to make to much noise in the Big South conference as the Hawks have been picked to finish fifth.
Hampton vs. Old Dominion
The Connell Maynor era opens up on the road for Hampton, where the Pirates were 1-6 last season. Hampton is still trying to decide who will be their quarterback, either Bryan Bailey (1,131 yards passing and nine touchdowns in 2013) or Jaylian Williamson (676 yards passing and five touchdowns - three against North Carolina A&T - last season). Their defense needs to be on point. Old Dominin quarterback Taylor Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS in 2013 when he threw for other 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns.
South Carolina State vs. Benedict
Benedict opens the Division II football campaign as other D-II teams dont begin play until next week. They drew a toughie. South Carolina State returns seven starters from the nation's second best defense, including the meat of in All American defensive linemen Andrew Carter and Alex Glover. Benedict doesn't have an established starter quarterback or wide receiver.
Savannah State vs. Middle Tennessee State
Savannah State head coach Earnest Wilson III must figure it can only get better this season. His team finished last season 1-11. They return quarterback Leon Prunty, who had 1,400 yards passing and 11 touchdowns last season, along with his linebackers Marquis Smith (124 tackles in 2013) and Justin Dixon (122 tackles). But Middle Tennessee, from Conference USA, won't be playing the good host outside of Nashville today. They finished 8-5 and appeared in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2013. They return seven starters on defense.
Morgan State vs. Eastern Michigan
Morgan State finished 5-7, but a very competitive 5-7 as they finished third in the MEAC and return 17 starters for new head coach Lee Hull. But Eastern Michigan, under first year head coach Chris Creighton, also return 17 starters including super senior running back Bronson Hill. But the Bears will be playing with heavy hearts after the preseason death of freshman lineman Marquese Meadow.
Bethune Cookman vs. Florida International
Bethune Cookman has high hopes for 2014 after a stellar 2013. They enter the season as the 22nd ranked FCS team in the country and ranked second in the ADD'S HBCU SPORTS REPORT Preseason FCS HBCU Top Ten poll. The biggest thing - the Eagles defeated Division I Florida International easily last season, their first over an FBS opponent. FIU is seeking revenge as 19 starters return from last year's loss.
North Carolina Central vs. East Carolina
These two North Carolina schools have never faced each other before, so the 5-7 North Carolina Central Eagles will have a little extra incentive to knock off East Carolina, who won ten games in 2013. New Central coach Jerry Mack is hoping his squad can control the football and keep the Pirates off the field because ECU quarterback Shane Carden is the real deal. He passed for 4,600 yards last season, and 7,255 and 56 TD's in just two seasons.
Edward Waters vs. Tennessee State
While Edward Waters has stepped up their recruiting and has been competitive against Division II teams, they are still an NAIA program heading up against one of the nation's toughest defenses. Tennessee State, ADDS HBCU SPORTS REPORT Preseason FCS HBCU number one pick for 2014, has Daniel Fitzpatrick, the nation's top defensive back who had eight interceptions last year; Anthony Bass, the reigning Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year; and Nick Thrasher, who had over 110 tackles in 2013. They also have back quarterback Michael German who had 1200 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.