Doug Williams laughs that a lot of his football players at Grambling State didn't know much about him when he returned to his alma mater for a second stint as head coach.
Dezmond Spivey knew him well. He just laughs at Williams' style.
"He's a character, he's a comedian," Spivey said. "When he imitates Coach Rob, he goes 'only in America' and certain things. And I can say this, when there's a scenario to be given, he has one for every single thing."
Spivey's father played with Williams for one season at Grambling State under Coach Rob - the legendary Eddie Robinson - so Dezmond has a history with the Tigers' new coach that includes attending his football camp and playing with his sons.
There is one scenario that Williams doesn't have to joke about: winning the Southwestern Conference championship.
He's serious about it after winning three as a Grambling quarterback from 1974-77 and three as the head coach from 1998-2003.
Williams' return to the most-esteemed black college football program was the brightest news of a troubled offseason in the SWAC, where three head coaches took jobs elsewhere, Johnnie Cole of the defending champion Texas Southern Tigers was fired over the program's academic shortcomings and the program later received Academic Progress Rate penalties as did Jackson State and Southern.
Jackson State (Eastern Division) and Grambling State (Western Division) were installed as the preseason favorites in the SWAC preseason poll.
Jackson State can't play in the SWAC Championship Game as a result of the APR penalties, but it has the conference's best offensive player in recording- setting quarterback Casey Therriault, a returning finalist from last year's Walter Payton Award, which goes to the FCS' outstanding player, is presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
"I think we have the right attitude going into the season and I think the kids are ready to play. You couldn't ask for more than that," Jackson State coach Ron Comegy said.
Jackson State's ineligibility may open the door for Alabama State, the defending division champion, or an Alcorn State squad that might have its most talented quarterback since Steve McNair in Brandon Bridge, a sophomore sensatiom.
Grambling State's biggest challenge in the Western Division will come from Texas Southern, which elevated Kevin Ramsey to interim head coach. His Tigers feature the league's only returning 1,000-yard rusher in Marcus Wright and a tough defensive front that helped them to finish first in the FCS in total defense (204.9 ypg) last season.
Grambling State is replacing the league's rushing champion, Frank Warren, whom it relied on heavily last season. The Tigers know not to take anything for granted after last season's preseason favorite, Prairie View A&M, was a disappointing 6-3 in conference play with a veteran lineup after being unbeaten in 2009.
"Last year, we had a couple things going on," PAMU first-year head coach Heishma Northern said. "I thought we suffered a little bit in our focus both from the players' standpoint and the coaches' standpoint. We had quite a few coaches on our staff that were up for head coaching jobs, we had quite a few players that had aspirations of playing in the NFL. So I think you get a little more away from the team concept - 'let me do my thing' type of thing. And the injuries didn't help us at all last year. I think we had 14 season- ending injuries last year. We're not going to make any excuses. We're going to come back better."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2011 SWAC race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Jackson State
2. Alabama State
3. Alcorn State
4. Alabama A&M
5. Mississippi Valley State
1. Texas Southern
2. Grambling State
3. Prairie View A&M
4. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Offensive Player of the Year: Casey Therriault, QB, Jackson State
Defensive Player of the Year: Cliff Exama, LB, Grambling State
1. JACKSON STATE TIGERS (8-3 overall; 6-3 SWAC)
COACH: Rick Comegy (32-24 in five seasons at Jackson State; 140-75 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Casey Therriault, Sr. (255 of 437 for 3,436 yards, 31 TDs and 8 INTs; 101 carries for 164 yards and 10 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Donavan Robinson, Sr. (52 TT, 18.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 10 QBH, 2 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB/KR B.J. Lee, Jr. (99 carries, 439 yards, 2 TDs; 34 receptions, 325 yards, 1 TD) RB Tommy Gooden, So. (21 carries, 80 yards, 1 TD) WR Marcellos Wilder, Sr. (57 receptions, 726 yards, 8 TDs) WR Keenan Tillman, Sr. (9 receptions, 110 yards, 2 TDs) WR Rico Richardson, Jr. (34 receptions, 538 yards, 4 TDs) WR E.J. Drewery, Jr. (26 receptions, 483 yards, 1 TD) TE Renty Rollins, Sr. (30 receptions, 336 yards, 6 TDs) TE Jahmal Jones, Fr. LT Roderick Gladney, Sr. LG Derrick Jean, R-So. LG Darius Mitchell, R-So. C Stephen Kapler, Jr. RT Aristacus Forster, R-So. RG Danny Williams, Fr. DT Jonathan Billups, Jr. (43 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR) DE Javarius Conner, Jr. (10 TT, 1 PBU) LB Milton Patterson, Jr. (66 TT, 13.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF) LB Todd Wilcher, R-So. (54 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FR, 2 FF) LB Mike Hill, Jr. (29 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FF) CB Anthony Johnson, R-Sr. (injured most of last season) CB Qua Cox, R-So. (29 TT, 1 sack, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) S Tim Dandridge, Sr. (63 TT, 5 TFL, 3 INTs, 3 QBH) PK Jabril Smith, R-Jr. (2 of 2 FG, 24 long; injured last season) P Reed Gallagher, Sr. (61 punts, 35.2 ypp)
OUTLOOK: After the Tigers posted a substandard Academic Progress Rate score, the NCAA made them ineligible for the FCS playoffs and the SWAC made them ineligible for the conference championship. That doesn't mean the Tigers can't be the conference's best team. Their three losses last season were by a combined 12 points and this season they will play many of their bigger games at home. Therriault is one of the FCS' top quarterbacks and led the nation in points responsible for (23.1 per game) while combining on 41 touchdowns. He has a wealth of returning receivers, including SWAC preseason first-team selections Wilder and Rollins. The concern is on the offensive line, where only Gladney is a returning starter. Defensively, Robinson sets the tone up front by creating havoc in opposing backfields. But the linebackers unit is the key defensively, with Patterson the team's leading tackler a year ago. Big and athletic CB Johnson (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) is back from a knee injury which ended his season prematurely and the move of Dandridge from linebacker to safety helps make for a physical secondary. Anything less than a division- best record would be disappointing for the Tigers.
2. ALABAMA STATE HORNETS (7-5 overall; 6-3 SWAC)
COACH: Reggie Barlow (19-26 in four seasons at Alabama State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Nick Andrews, Sr. (48 receptions, 627 yards, 7 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Kejuan Riley, Jr. (63 TT, 7 INTs, 6 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Greg Jenkins, Jr. (Troy transfer) QB/WR Devin Dominguez, Sr. (126 of 255 for 1,536 yards, 19 TDs and 15 INTs; 118 carries, 262 yards, 4 TDs) RB/KR Quendarius McKibbon, So. (76 carries, 215 yards, 1 TD; 27.3-yard KO return average) RB Tim Clark, Sr. (23 carries, 76 yards; 18 receptions, 206 yards, 2 TDs) WR T.C. McWilliams, Jr. (40 receptions, 579 yards, 8 TDs) LT Terren Jones, Jr. OL Rokendrick Delaine, So. C Edmond Davis, So. DE Kynjee Cotton, Sr. (51 TT, 11 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FF) DT Quin Bohannon, Sr. (20 TT, 2 sacks, 1 FF) LB Demarques Taylor, Jr. (64 TT, 8 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF) LB Leland Baker, So. CB Donovan Masline, Sr. (50 TT, 3 INTs, 11 PBU, 2 blocked kicks) FS Marcus Solomon, Jr. (28 TT, 4 INTs, PK Andrew Lyons, Sr. (8 of 15 FG, 47 long; 27 of 27 PAT) P Bobby Wenzig, Jr. RS/RB Malcolm Cyrus, Fr.
OUTLOOK: Alabama State lost 11-6 to Texas Southern in the 2010 SWAC Championship Game and that score summed up their excellent defense and subpar offense. Considering Jackson State's ineligibility this season, the Hornets have an excellent chance to represent the Eastern Division again in the championship game. Barlow, who was rewarded this offseason with a contract extension, has an experienced team. The defense has excellent players in each unit, including Cotton up front, Taylor at linebacker, and Riley and Masline in the secondary. Last season's unit ranked in the top three in the SWAC in eight defensive categories and in the top 20 in the FCS in six categories, including takeaways (35 - first in the SWAC and fourth in the FCS). New offensive coordinator Fred Kaiss will look to improve an offense that ranked eighth in the SWAC in scoring offense (20.8 ppg) and ninth in total offense (266.7 ypg). Dominguez, last year's quarterback, needs to cut down on interceptions and can play wide receiver if he doesn't win the QB derby that includes Jenkins and sophomore Demetric Price. The offensive line has a 6-9 stud in Jones, but it was ransacked for 38 sacks last season. Also, leading rusher Andrew Pitts (557 yards) is not back. Thus, the Hornets' QB will keep getting the ball to Andrews and McWilliams, who combined for 15 touchdown receptions last season.
3. ALCORN STATE BRAVES (5-6 overall; 4-5 SWAC)
COACH: Melvin Spears Jr. (first season at Alcorn State; 20-14 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Brandon Bridge, So. (150 of 291 for 2,086 yards, 19 TDs and 13 INTs; 120 carries, 601 yards, 8 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Jamison Knox, So. (39 TT, 3 INTs, 5 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Gabriel Nash, Jr. (186 carries, 612 yards, 6 TDs) RB Arnold Walker, Jr. (10 carries, 80 yards; injured much of last season) WR Simon Collier, Sr. (25 receptions, 358 yards, 1 TD) WR Terrance Lewis, Jr. (16 receptions, 281 yards, 3 TDs) WR Chris Perkins, So. (7 receptions, 127 yards, 1 TD) WR Andrew Harris, Jr. (Ole Miss transfer) WR/RS Jacquez Caldwell, So. (12 receptions, 136 yards, 3 TDs) C Isaac Williams, Sr. LG Avis Sheldon, Sr. LT Nathan Fears, Sr. DE Brandon Morris, Sr. (31 TT, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 FR, 2 FF) DT Stephen Howard, Jr. (12 TT, 3 FR) LB Kenneth Roby, Sr. (39 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FF, 1 blocked kick) LB Charles Butler, Fr. CB Rohman Brown, So. (7 TT) SS Jason Owens, Sr. (46 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU) FS Derwin Brown, So. (21 TT, 1 PBU) PK/P Arturo Tamayo, Sr. (5 of 13 FG, 43 long, 4 blocked; 60 punts, 37.9 ypp)
OUTLOOK: An Alcorn State alum and Sports Hall of Fame member, Spears will try to revive a program that has floundered through four straight losing seasons. He is the Braves' fourth head coach in five years, but he has head coaching experience in the SWAC at Grambling State from 2004-06. He doesn't hide from the fact his program revolves around the success of super soph Bridge, the "Air Canada" quarterback from Ontario who can beat opponents with both his arm and feet. Spears just needs to get the right people around Bridge as the roster has been a revolving door at times and the Braves don't return any All- SWAC players from last season. Nash and Walker are rushing threats, so that will take pressure off Bridge. Spears says the defense is in a rebuilding mode and linebacker Herve Tonye-Tonye, last year's leading tackler, is not back. The Braves, who have only a 10-game schedule, were picked second in the Eastern Division behind Jackson State in the SWAC's preseason poll. Bridge will be fun to watch all season.
4. ALABAMA A&M BULLDOGS (3-8 overall; 2-7 SWAC)
COACH: Anthony Jones (64-41 in nine seasons at Alabama A&M; 82-54 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Kaderius Lacey, Jr. (142 carries, 710 yards, 5 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SS/LB Vernon Marshall, Jr. (77 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Deaunte Mason, Jr. (83 of 160 for 911 yards, 8 TDs and 6 INTs; 67 carries, 212 yards, 2 TDs) QB David Isabelle, R-Jr. (UAB transfer; 23 of 50 for 564 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs; 73 carries, 396 yards, 4 TDs) RB Brendan Johnson, So. (15 carries, 56 yards, 1 TD) RB Kendarius Smith, Fr. FB Joseph Porter, R-Fr. WR G'Alonzo Milton, Jr. (30 receptions, 517 yards, 4 TDs) WR Montarius Smith, R-Fr. WR Jeremy Hill, Sr. (Ball State transfer) TE Bobby Goldsby, Jr. (5 receptions, 66 yards) C Joaquenssi Eugene, Jr. OL Carlos Tolbert, Sr. RT Alan Cruz, R-Fr. RG Justin Goodrich, So. LT Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Jr. DT Preston Nelson, Jr. (9 TT, 1.5 TFL) DT Tim Tillman, Jr. (9 TT, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF) DE Clarence Lovell, Jr. (5 TT) DE Corey Hart, R-Sr. (Marshall transfer) DE Phillip Harvey, So. (1 TT) LB Willie Fuller, Sr. (54 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 QBH) CB Derrick Harris, So. (10 TT, 4 PBU) FS Rico Porch, Sr. (38 TT, 3 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FC) SS Vandrick Jackson, So. (21 TT, 1 INT) DB Joshua Udeh, Jr. PK/P Chance Wilson, Jr.. (8 of 11 FG, 37 long; 27 of 27 PAT; 58 punts, 37.9 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Jones has enjoyed a solid tenure with the Bulldogs, but this year's relatively young team will be hard-pressed to get back on track. Last year's three wins represented their lowest total since 1992. A lot of players made starts last season, so that will pay off with a veteran lineup this year. Lacey did a good job in taking the running back job and running with it as he finished fifth in the SWAC in rushing. Mason and the transfer Isabelle are two quarterbacks who do more damage with their feet than their arm. They need to pose a passing threat to keep opposing defenses honest. The Bulldogs' defensive line lost an NFL Draft selection in tackle Frank Kearse, but the four-man front will be solid. Behind it are Fuller and Marshall, two seasoned standouts. Fuller was named to the SWAC preseason first team.
5. MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE DELTA DEVILS (0-10 overall; 0-9 SWAC)
COACH: Karl Morgan (0-10 in one season at Mississippi Valley State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR Paul Cox, Sr. (21 receptions, 520 yards, 5 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: S Carlos Hollis, Jr. (52 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 INTs)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Carl Davis, So. (12 of 21 for 73 yards and i INT; injured much of last season) RB Ratheal Bateaste, Jr. (SW Mississippi CC transfer) RB Brandon Stansell, Jr. (Citrus College transfer) RB Cedric Blue, Fr. FB Dytanyl Greer, Jr. (Hinds CC transfer) WR Chris Williams, Jr. (32 receptions, 315 yards) WR Malcolm Sam, Sr. (2 receptions, 2 yards) WR/KR Kenneth Dabney, So. (2 receptions, 17 yards) LT Antonio Griggs, Jr. C Wesley Steele, So. RT Bryant Taylor, Sr. LG Kevin James, So. OL Eddie Wright, Fr. DE Javaris Fritz, Sr. (32 TT, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) DE Leployer Franklin, Sr. (33 TT, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR) DT Robert Simpson, So. (26 TT, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) LB Terrell Johnson, Sr. (58 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 QBH, 2 FR) LB Marcus Thompson, So. (41 TT, 10 TFL, 1.5 sacks) LB Desmond Spivey, Sr. (32 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 FR) LB Joshua Rounds, So. (28 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks) LB Rico Mazique, Jr. (Holmes CC transfer) CB Marquis McFadden, Sr. (34 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR) CB Michael Boykins, Sr. (41 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) S Jeremy Langston, Sr. (29 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU) S Armon Williams, Sr. (51 TT, 2 TFL, 2 FR, 4 FF) PK/P Carlos Sanchez, Sr. (3 of 4 FG, 43 long; 76 punts, 37.3 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Jerry Rice's alma mater has taken on the motto of "One Team, One Valley" while trying to revive its program. The Delta Devils joined Valparaiso as the only winless teams in the FCS last season and their closest loss was to Alabama A&M, 21-7. Take your pick whether Morgan has to fix the offense or defense more. Both were at the bottom of the SWAC rankings in his rookie campaign. Davis won the starting quarterback job as a freshman, but suffered a season-ending injury in the second game. He expected to get the job back, but his replacement last season, Oliver Hughes, tore an ACL this past April and won't play this season. The offensive line returns three starters, but with last year's top four rushers gone, the Delta Devils will rely on junior college transfers. On the perimeter, Cox is a big-play threat who averaged nearly 25 yards per catch a year ago. The defense has a lot of returning players and should improve against the pass with a veteran secondary, which features Hollis and gets a boost with Williams dropping back from linebacker. Linebacker Johnson is the top-returning tackler. There are some winnable games on the schedule.
1. TEXAS SOUTHERN TIGERS (9-3 overall; 8-1 SWAC)
COACH: Kevin Ramsey (first season at Texas Southern)
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Marcus Wright, Sr. (261 carries, 1,212 yards, 8 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Marquis Jackson, R-Jr. (63 TT, 18 TFL, 8 sacks, 6 PBU, 2 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dantavious Parker, R-Jr. (Troy transfer) QB Harry Brown, R-Jr. RB Martin Gilbert, R-Sr. (107 carries, 482 yards, 4 TDs) RB Deshon Daniels, R-Sr. (35 carries, 153 yards, 1 TD) RB Ashton Jefferson, R-So. (Oregon State transfer) FB Randall Newsome, Sr. (5 carries, 10 yards, 1 TD) WR Joe Anderson, Sr. (56 receptions, 818 yards, 2 TDs) WR Richard Samuel, Sr. (18 receptions, 223 yards, 1 TD) WR James Davis, R-Jr. TE Kirk Fitzhugh, Sr. (12 receptions, 269 yards, 2 TDs) C Quinn Criss, Sr. LG Daryl Stevenson, R-Jr. RG Donovan Stevenson, Sr. RT Marvin Hollie, R-Fr. LT Kenneth Hall, So. DT Jonathan Hollins, R-Sr. (30 TT, 17 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 2 FF) DT LaGrone Shields. R-Sr. (14 TT, 4.5 TFL) LB Tyler Crane, R-Sr. (23 TT, 3 TFL) LB Vincent Holder, Jr. LB James McCullough, R-Jr. LB Williams Parker, R-Jr. (10 TT) S Zach Gallow, R-Sr. (45 TT, 5 INTs, 10 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) S/RS Derricus Purdy, Jr. (26 TT, 3 INTs, 5 PBU, 1 FF) S Adrian Bennett, R-Fr. (Iowa State transfer) CB Kydarian Wilkins, R-Jr. (12 TT, 1 INT) PK/P Robert Hersh, Sr. (11 of 16 FG, 45 long) P Francois Ejiofor, R-So. (53 punts, 36.4 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Johnnie Cole, the 2010 SWAC Coach of the Year, was shown the door for Texas Southern's academic shortcomings, and there appears to be more sanctions on the way for the program, but the SWAC's defending champions could get back to the championship game. To do so, they will probably have to win at Grambling State, which is extremely difficult. Ramsey, the interim head coach, coordinated a defense last year that ranked first in the FCS in yards allowed per game (204.9) last season. He lost 2010 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Dejuan Fulgham (a linebacker), but gets back an aggressive defensive line that remains among the best in the nation with Jackson and Hollins as its leaders. Gallow keeps taking his game to a higher level at safety. The offense will rely on Wright, who was second in the conference in rushing yards last season. Gone are quarterbacks Arvell Nelson and Riko Smalls, who was the starter in the SWAC Championship Game, but the left-handed Parker impressed Ramsey and his teammates during spring practice. His top target with be Anderson, but he will work behind an inexperienced offensive line.
2. GRAMBLING STATE TIGERS (9-2 overall; 8-1 SWAC)
COACH: Doug Williams (52-18 in six seasons at Grambling State; 55-26 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RT Sanford Banks, R-Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Cliff Exama, Graduate (106 TT, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB D.J. Williams, Fr. QB Frank Rivers, So. HB Dawrence Roberts, R-So. HB/RS Kenneth Batiste, R-Sr. (1 carry, 5 yards) WR Mario Louis, Sr. (16 receptions, 284 yards, 1 TD) WR Bakari Maxwell, Jr. (9 receptions, 196 yards) WR Dezmond Spivey, R-Jr. C Julian Wyndon R-Jr. LT Aaron Jackson, R-Sr. LG Bennie Peoples, Sr. RG Clint Marsh, Fr. DE Antonio Leonard, Sr. (28 TT, 12 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR) DE Jomarcus Savage, R-Jr. (27 TT, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH) DT Antoine Rogers, R-Sr. (22 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR) LB Jacarde Carter, R-So. (38 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QH) S Bruna Foster, R-Sr. (48 TT, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 1 PBU) S Jabari Powell, Sr. (36 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU) CB Dominic Bell, R-Sr. (26 TT, 2 INTs, 3 PBU) CB David Stuckman, R-Sr. (18 TT, 2 PBU) PK Zoltan Riazzo, Sr. (11 of 15 FG, 39 long; 39 of 43 PAT) P Fabian Carter, Jr. (31 punts, 36.3 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Doug Williams led the Tigers to three SWAC championships in the six seasons after he succeeded the legendary Eddie Robinson as head coach. This year's team was a strong favorite in the Western Division in the conference's preseason poll, but it's young in the skills positions. Anthony Carrothers, last year's starting quarterback as a freshman, didn't fit in Williams' multiple/pro-style scheme, and the preseason battle for the top job is between Williams' son D.J. and Rivers. The Tigers may find it even harder to replace 2010 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Frank Warren (1,537 rushing yards, 19 total touchdowns), who fueled last year's offense. However, they are bolstered by a solid offensive line, led by Banks, Peoples and Wyndon. Defensively, the speed and strength of the excellent front will be a difference-maker even when the Tigers go to five defensive backs. LB Exama recorded a team-high 106 tackles in only 9 1/2 games last season. Riazzo, the SWAC's preseason first- team place-kicker, headlines the special teams. Doug Williams says his team is more talented than when he entered his first coaching stint. Grambling fans surely hope this run starts off with a championship.
3. PRAIRIE VIEW A&M PANTHERS (7-4 overall; 6-3 SWAC)
COACH: Heishma Northern (first season at Prairie View A&M)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (4 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LG James Dekle, R-Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Moses Ellis, R-Sr. (41 TT, 8 INTs 14 PBUs, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jonathan Troast, Sr. (22 of 49 for 129 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs) QB Andrew McGlory, Sr. (9 of 29 for 161 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) RB Ledarryae Glover, So. RB Jermaine Waddy, Sr. (18 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD) WR Spencer Nelson, R-Jr. (25 receptions, 323 yards, 1 TD) WR Deandre Cooper, R-Jr. WR George Moore, R-Fr. TE Donald Law III, R-Jr. (1 reception, 1 yard) LT Tim Tusey, R-Sr. RG Langston Patterson, R-Jr. RT Thad Wesley, R-Jr. DE Adrian Hamilton, Sr. (27 TT, 8 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 blocked kick) DE Jarvis Wilson, Sr. (28 TT, 4 TFL, 3 QBH, 2 FR) NT Ryan Love, R-Jr. (16 TT, 3.5 TFL) DT Liki Porotesano, R-So. LB Raheem Caldwell, R-So. (55 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FR) LB Marcus White, R-So. (56 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF) LB Jerome Howard, Fr. CB Lester Butler, R-Sr. (31 TT, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF) CB JohnMark Henderson, Sr. (25 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU) FS Breon Johnson, R-So. (17 TT) SS Adrien Grant, R-Fr. (16 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 blocked kick) PK Chris Barrick, R-Fr.
OUTLOOK: The Panthers lost 25 players from last year's team, which disappointed after winning the 2009 SWAC championship. Oh, yes, they also lost head coach Henry Frazier, who moved on to North Carolina Central. However, Northern, who had been designated as the rare head-coach-in-waiting, was promoted to the top job and he knows his way around the SWAC. He's a Southern graduate who assisted at Grambling State before he became Prairie View's defensive coordinator. His defense will carry the team. CB Ellis led the FCS with eight interceptions and 22 passes defended as a junior. He is surrounded by a particularly experienced secondary. Up front, DE Hamilton looks for a big senior finish and Caldwell and White form a strong, young combo at linebacker. The offense is a work-in- progress as the Panthers replace veteran quarterback K.J. Black and running back Donald Babers, who rushed for over 3,000 yards in his career. Troast was 1-1 in relief of Black last year and should run the multiple attack. The Panthers have veterans on the offensive line, including the left side of All- America candidate Dekle and All-SWAC performer Tusey. The Northern era has a difficult start with games against Bethune-Cookman and Texas Southern.
4. ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF GOLDEN LIONS (5-6 overall; 4-4 SWAC)
COACH: Monte Coleman (13-20 in three seasons at Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Terron Armstead, Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jer-ryan Harris, So. (129 TT, 6 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF, 2 blocked kicks)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ben Anderson, So. QB C.J. Branch, So. RB/RS Justin Billings, R-So. (57 carries, 388 yards, 3 TDs; 15.5-yard KO return average) RB Adrian Moore, R-Sr. (73 carries, 328 yards, 5 TDs) WR/QB Rontrell Bailey, Sr. (17 receptions, 175 yards, 1 TD) WR Dezmond Beverly, So. (11 receptions, 160 yards, 1 TD) WR Ledarius Eckwood, So. (10 receptions, 104 yards) WR Wesley Hawthorne, Fr. TE T.J. Shelton, Sr. (5 receptions, 66 yards, 5 TDs) C Christopher Wilson, R-Jr. RG Colton Jones, R-Sr. LG Robert Johnson, Sr. (Blinn JC transfer) DE Brandon Thurmond, Sr. (38 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick) DE Theodore McNeal, R-Sr. (24 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF) DL Michael Johnson, R-Sr. DT Damien Lee, Jr. (11 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 QBH) DT Sean Robison, So. (4 TT, 1 blocked kick) LB Derrick Timber, R-Jr. (83 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR) LB/DB Joe Dalton, Sr. (12 TT, 1 sack) CB Joe Brown, R-Sr. (sat out last season) CB James Harrell, Sr. (24 TT, 3 TFL, 4 INTs, 6 PBU, 1 FF) SS Jarvis Webb, Jr. (37 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FF) SS Ryan Shaw, So. (36 TT, 3 PBU) FS Jermaine Graham, So. (44 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU) PK Chris Ewald, Sr. (10 of 17 FG, 49 long; 34 of 37 PAT)
OUTLOOK: Yet another Western Division team thinking defense, defense, defense. The Golden Lions are following the lead of Harris, the 2010 SWAC Freshman of the Year and the conference's tackle champion. Underrated LB Timber was second on the team in tackles. The secondary also is deep, with Brown returning to the fold after missing last season. Thurmond brings an active style to the defensive line. The questions are on offense, where the skills positions suffered big losses and new coordinator Eric Dooley has sophomores Anderson and Branch trying to solidify the quarterback position. Whoever wins the starting job will get the ball in the hands of running backs Billings (a breakaway threat) and Moore, who both will work behind a strong offensive line that boasts Armstead. The receiving corp is retooling after losing Raymond Webber and his 1,429 receiving yards last season, but it's hard to knock the production of TE Shelton, who caught a touchdown on all five of his receptions. The Golden Lions haven't had a winning season since 2006.
5. SOUTHERN JAGUARS (2-9 overall; 1-8 SWAC)
COACH: Stump Mitchell (2-9 in one season at Southern)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Chris Browne, R-Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Kedy Enabuele, Sr. (25 TT, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dray Joseph, So. (86 of 174 for 1,117 yards, 5 TDs and 4 INTs) QB Jeremy McGinty, Jr. (94 of 211 for 1,266 yards, 9 TDs and 7 INTs; 52 carries, 229 yards) RB Brandon Rice, Jr. (39 carries, 139 yards) RB Sylvester Nzekwe, R-Jr. (66 carries, 248 yards, 5 TDs) RB Dallas Fort, R-Fr. FB Brian McCain, So. (4 carries, 21 yards) FB Lee Mitchell, So. (7 carries, 19 yards, 1 TD) WR/KR LaQuinton "Smoke" Evans, Sr. (17 receptions, 329 yards, 5 TDs) WR/RS Charles Hawkins, R-So. (16 receptions, 195 yards, 1 TD) WR Jared Green, Sr. (Virginia transfer) TE Javon Jordan, R-So. (7 receptions, 148 yards, 1 TD) LG Taylon Jones, So. C Lee Almanza, Sr. RG Aaron Hall, So. DE Kadeem Lewis, R-So. (10 TT, 2 TFL, 2 QBH) DT Dexter James, Sr. ( NT Casey Narcisse, R-Jr. (15 TT, 1 TFL) LB Anthony Balancier, So. (41 TT, 11.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 1 FR) LB Corey Ray, R-Sr. (33 TT, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF) LB Corry Roy, Jr. (Eastern Arizona CC transfer) CB/RS Virgil Williams, So. (38 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU) SS Demetric Rogers, Sr. (41 TT, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF) SS Mychal Bell, Jr. (21 TT, 1 FF) FS Levi Jackson, Jr. (41 TT, 1.5 TFL, 5 PBU) PK/P Jamie Galvin, Fr. RS/RB Byron Williams, Jr. (sat out last season)
OUTLOOK: After Southern's traditionally strong program dropped off to its low point last season, the Jaguars come back especially motivated for Mitchell's second season at the helm. The program isn't ready to reach the SWAC Championship Game or the FCS playoffs, but it can't anyway because of APR penalties. Mitchell sets an all-business tone and plans to steady the program. He can rely on his veteran players as the team seeks improvement. At quarterback, an injury to McGinty has opened the door for Joseph to become the starter after they shared the position last season. Steady play from the signal-caller is essential, especially with no All-SWAC talents in the skills positions, although WR Evans appears ready for a breakout season. The Evans- led offensive line should hold up well to give time for the QB. The Jaguars defense struggled last season - allowing nearly 34 points per game - and is a no-name unit that hopes to surprise opponents. The run-stoppers up front have been a key up front, but Mitchell is switching the 4-3 defense to a 3-4.