By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Friday’s SWAC Football Media Day kicks off the 2017 football year for the ten SWAC members with a number of questions for each team. We take a look at some of the things that may be on their minds heading into the new season:
Alabama A&M will spend their first three weeks of the season along I-65, playing UAB, Vanderbilt and South Alabama. They will ride their sturdy running back Jordan Bentley. He rushed for 851 yards and nine TDs during his freshman season last year and should be better. But they lose his running mate, quarterback DeAngelo Ballard, who helped the Bulldogs become the top rushing team in the SWAC last season. The defense will be a highlight as AAMU returns top tacklers Kenneth Davis and Tere Callaway.
Alabama State is in offensive rebuilding mode. Who replaces star running back Khalid Thomas? Who replaces quarterback Quinterris Toppings, who was also the team’s second-leading rusher? On defense, Kourtney Berry is gone, but Darron Johnson and Jarkeith Ruffin return while and Robert Pritchard had a big spring game in his first spring with the Hornets.
Alcorn State has a good question to have – which one of your experienced quarterbacks will be the starter this year, Lenorris Footman (1,586 yards passing and 13 touchdowns) or Noah Johnson (1,567, 21 TDs)? They also get back top rusher DeLance Turner (Johnson was also one of their better runners). They also return the bulk of their defense, though not their two top tacklers.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff honestly has no place to go but up after finishing 1-10 last year. They had the worst scoring offense in the SWAC (13 points per game) and was last in total defense, giving up 490 yards a game. Brandon Duncan returns as the starting quarterback, so they will have experience there. UAPB is also looking for Keshawn Williams to show some explosion at running back, which is needed as UAPB averaged a paltry 77 yards a game on the ground. The UAPB offensive line promises to be a stronger and more experienced unit this season.
Grambling looks good. Period. With a few changes, this team looks a lot like the one that was one of the nation’s best and should have beaten Pac-12 Arizona on the road last year. Quarterback Devante Kincaide, the SWAC’s leading paser, is back, thought he lost his top receiver in Chad Williams. Their leading rusher, Martez Carter, also returns. The defense lost a lot of senior leadership, but brings back a lot of experience. This team hasn’t lost a SWAC game since November 2014.
Jackson State was a team that could stop people but couldn’t move the ball, which is why they went 3-8 last season. But the spring game showed that the offense is ready to step up. Led by returning quarterback Brent Lyles, they had 753 yards and ten touchdowns. Khalil Johnson returns on defense, along with Dario Robinson and Shawn Bishop.
Mississippi Valley State will have a rough start of the season – North Dakota State, FCS teams Southern Illinois, Grambling, and Charleston Southern. That isn’t tough – that’s brutal for a team that was last in offense and near the bottom in the SWAC in defense last season. Austin Bray does bring experience back at quarterback, with Joshua Banks being a solid receiver. But they have to fix a rush defense that gave up 200 yards a game and a run offense that AVERAGED an embarrassing 25 yards a game.
Prairie View A&M was a team that just couldn’t get over the hump that was Grambling and Southern last season. Take away being completely overmatched in losses to the SEC’s Texas A&M and the Big 12’s Rice and you have a team that was on the SWAC verge. Either Trey Green or Jalen Morton should start at quarterback again as the two split duties last season. Darius Floyd returns at receiver after a solid freshman year.
Southern’s good news is that QB Austin Howard is back. He was the SWAC’s second-leading passer last year for an offense that was second in scoring and total offense. So is star receiver Willie Quinn. But the third portion of the trio, running back Lenard Tillery, is gone. So who replaces him is a big question since Tillery rushed for 1,743 and the most prolific returning runner, Herbert Edwards, ran for 165. Defensively, nine of the team’s 11 leading tackles from last year return, including top tackler, Aaron Tiller.
Texas Southern went 4-7 last year, but lost three games by four or fewer points. The Tigers will have a new quarterback in Jay Christopher who takes over as a senior. The Tigers’ defense was okay, but the offense will have to step it up passing and rushing as they ranked the bottom half of the conference in both areas.