Friday, July 14, 2017

Grambling, Alcorn State Picked to Win SWAC West and East Divisions


With 14 players and the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Devante Kincaide, defending SWAC champs Grambling has been picked to win the conference title again this year.

In a poll of SWAC head coaches and sports information directors, the Tigers, who haven't lost a SWAC game since 2014 were picked to win the West Division while the team they defeated in last year's SWAC title game, Alcorn State was chosen to win the East Division.  Grambling led all SWAC teams in votes with 85 while Alcorn State was second with 80.

The West Division predictions mirrored the exact finish in last year's SWAC West standings.  In the East, Alcorn is followed by Alabama State, Jackson State and Alabama A&M in the predictions.
Last season's standings in the had Alabama A&M, Alabama State and Jackson State following behind Alcorn State.

Here is the SWAC predicted order of finish:

East Division 

Alcorn State (80 votes)
Alabama State (66)
Jackson State (59)
Alabama A&M (45)
Mississippi Valley State (20)

West Division 

Grambling State (85 votes)
Southern (68)
Prairie View A&M (59)
Texas Southern (37)
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (21)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Notes and Observations About Each SWAC Football Team Heading Into Media Day


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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CAU's Johnathon McCrary, Tuskegee's Osband Thompson Named SIAC Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year; Benedict Leads With Ten All-SIAC Picks


Clark Atlanta University's high-flying quarterback Johnathon McCrary and Tuskegee tackling machine Osband Thompson have been named the 2017 SIAC Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference announced Tuesday.

In the vote of SIAC head coaches and sports information directors, McCrary was chosen after a season in which he threw for nearly 2,000 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns last season for the Panthers.  The Vanderbilt transfer averaged 211.4 yards passing a game including SIAC single-game highs of 456 yards passing and five touchdowns.

Thompson has been a perennial star in each of his four seasons at Tuskegee.  Last season, he had 137 tackles, forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass for one of the nation's top teams in Tuskegee.  He had 67 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.   Thompson is the reigning SIAC Defensive Player of the Year and Division II Conference Commissioners Association Super Region 2 Defensive Player of the Year.

The Preseason All-SIAC First and Second Teams were also announced Tuesday with Benedict, picked to finish third in the East Division, leading the way with ten players chosen:

First Team

Johnathan McCrary, QB, Clark Atlanta, Sr.
Ryan Edwards, TE, Morehouse, Sr.
Okechi Ntiasagwe, WR, Benedict, Jr.
Dre Martin, WR, Clark Atlanta, Soph.
Marcus Holliday, RB, Lane, Jr.
Ger'Kerry Jackson, RB, Miles, Jr.
Tedrick Colfield, OL, Albany State, Sr.
Leeward Brown, OL, Tuskegee, Sr.
Marcus Campbell Jr., OL, Kentucky State, Jr.
Justin Brown, OL, Benedict, Jr.
Howard Bush, OL, Lane, Sr.
Charles Williams, DL, Benedict, Sr.
Rodriguez Jones, DL, Kentucky State, Sr.
Aaryn Guy, DL, Benedict, Jr.
Kaelan Bonds, DL, Miles, Sr.
David Smith, LB, Morehouse, Sr.
Osband Thompson, LB, Tuskegee, Sr.
Kendrick Frazier, LB, Benedict, Sr.
Edward Kirkland, DB, Benedict, Sr.
Jonah McCutcheon, DB, Tuskegee, Sr.
Travonte Brown, DB, Benedict, Soph.
Kenneth Morgan, DB, Clark Atlanta, Soph.
Nick Christiansen, K, Miles, Sr.
Juan Serna, P, Fort Valley State, Sr.
Ricci Nuckles, KR, Morehouse, Soph.
Deandre Jackson, PR, Clark Atlanta, Sr.

Second Team

Marcus Reynolds, QB, Lane, Jr.
Darius Nelson, TE, Benedict, Jr.
Jules St. Ge, WR, Kentucky State, Soph.
Javarrius Cheatham, WR, Tuskegee, Jr.
Jamari Clark, RB, Fort Valley State, Jr.
Lavelle Cloyd, RB, Kentucky State, Sr.
Darius Thomas, OL, Central State, Soph.
Craig Hinson, OL, Central State, Soph.
Christopher Ruffin, OL, Benedict, Jr.
Darius Preyer, OL, Clark Atlanta, Jr.
Lowell Richardson, OL, Tuskegee, Jr.
Antonio Johnson, DL, Morehouse, Jr.
Voris Bryant, DL, Morehouse, Sr.
Devonte West, DL, Fort Valley State, Sr.
Mekiye Kingston, DL, Clark Atlanta, Jr.
Zavondric Shingleton, LB, Albany State, Sr.
Anthony Hardy, LB, Miles, Sr.
Keonte Reynolds, LB, Kentucky State, Jr.
Nick Scott, DB, Albany State, Sr.
Ryan Luckett, DB, Kentucky State, Sr.
Robert Cummings, DB, Benedict, Soph.
Kentron James, DB, Fort Valley State, Jr.
Carlos Saldana, K, Clark Atlanta, Soph.
Nick Christiansen, P, Miles, Sr.
Deondre Jackson, KR, Clark Atlanta, Sr.
Ladarrell Pettway, PR, Tuskegee, Soph.

Tuskegee and Albany State Picked To Win SIAC West and East Divisions


In no surprise to anyone in the universe, Tuskegee was picked to finish first in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's West Division, in a poll of conference head coaches and sports information directors released Tuesday.

The Golden Tigers picked up 11 of 15 first place votes after finishing last season in the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs.  They had the SIAC's top offense and defense last season, and return the conference's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Osband Thompson, and experience at quarterback in new starter Jamarcus Ezell who played in all 12 games as Kevin Lacey's understudy.

Albany State has a new head coach in Gabe Giardina, but returns many of the cogs from what was one of the SIAC's stingiest defensive units. The Golden Rams had the top overall record in the SIAC East last season, but fell to Fort Valley State in a game that would have put them into the SIAC championship game.

Here is the full predicted order of finish for the SIAC East and West Divisions:

East Division

1) Albany State - 65 votes, six first place votes
2) Fort Valley State - 55, (4)
3) Benedict - 52, (4)
4) Clark Atlanta - 42 (2)
5) Morehouse - 26

West Division

1) Tuskegee - 75, (11)
2) Miles - 60, (3)
3) Kentucky State - 48, (2)
4) Lane - 37
5) Central State - 21

Monday, July 10, 2017

Questions and Observations Heading Into Tomorrow's SIAC Football Media Day


Heading into tomorrow’s Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference 2017 football Media Day, there are a few early questions and observations that would be worth keeping in mind for each SIAC team.  They are:

Albany State was stingy on defense but a little shaky on offense last season.  To fix that, the Rams brought in new head coach Gabe Giardina. Giardina, in his first head coaching job, is the former offensive coordinator at Charleston Southern where in two of the past three seasons his offenses averaged 400 yards a game and twice made the NCAA FCS playoffs.

Benedict has good news in that George Myers Jr. is back.  He ran for nearly 1,100 yards, with two games of more than 220 yards rushing and two more with over 165. But passing – throwing it and stopping it – are major issues of concern that head coach Mike White will have to address heading into this season.  They were at the bottom of the SIAC in both categories last season.

Central State has to do better scoring and stopping teams from scoring.  They were last in both categories last season. They ran the ball superbly last year, but had the SIAC’s worst red-zone offense, couldn’t kick the ball well and ranked at the bottom of the league in turnover margin. And they lost their leading rusher to graduation.  Transfer Trent Mays will push last year’s starting quarterback Lavon Meeks, who had a decent season.

Clark Atlanta is poised to take the next step towards the upper echelon of SIAC teams as quarterback Johnathon McCrary proved last year that he is one of the best signal-callers in the conference and turned the CAU offense into the league’s second best last season.  The defense will need to improve and lost their leading tackler to graduation. 

Fort Valley State won’t have much time this season to figure it out. Their first five games include West Georgia, Valdosta State, and the SWAC’s Southern – all on the road. That stretch also includes a match-up with the league’s highest scoring offense last year, Miles.  The defending SIAC champs also must replace quarterback Otis Brown.  Jamari Clark returns after a solid freshman season at running back

Kentucky State’s 2016 midseason in which they won four of five games – including shocking nationally-ranked Tuskegee – was one of the biggest headlines from the SIAC last season.  The SIAC’s Coach of the Year, John L. Smith, returns the SIAC’s Freshman of the Year in quarterback Jules St. Ge, who is a dual threat, though more of a runner.

Lane has the Marcus Show returning to Jackson this season in junior running back Marcus Holliday and his classmate, quarterback Marcus Reynolds.  Holliday led the SIAC in rushing last season while Reynolds threw seven TDs during an injury-filled 2016.  Though a good secondary lost some players to graduation, the Dragon has some solid players returning to a pretty good defensive unit.

Miles lost their high-powered quarterback-running back duo in David Whipple and Jamarcus Nance to graduation. They have to figure out who will step into those spots. The returning quarterback with the most experience is Tommy Neeley who only completed 15 passes last season. Ger’Kerry Jackson showed flashes last year at running back. The Tigers won’t have long to figure things out. They start out against SWAC power Alcorn State and then go to West Georgia. They do have the SIAC’s best kicker in Nick Christiansen.

Morehouse’s biggest change this year is on the sidelines – Henry Williams takes over for the departed Leon Murray as offensive coordinator and brings a wide-open, spread the field offense that could be a solid match for athletic returning quarterback Kivon Taylor.  David Smith, the SIAC’s third-leading tackler as a sophomore, is back to lead a solid defense.

Tuskegee had the SIAC’s best offense and best defense, was ranked among the nation’s top teams and now they have a new athletic director in venerable head football coach Willie Slater. But the Golden Tigers have lost their offensive leader in quarterback Kevin Lacey. Jamarcus Ezell was a solid understudy last season as a freshman, throwing five TDs and playing in all 12 games.  Returning to a stalwart defense is Osband Thompson, a senior linebacker who has been a tackling machine his entire career.