It was evident during football season last year that there isn't a baseball program at South Carolina State.
Simply put, there wasn't a closer on campus.
Of course, it shows how good of a level that football program is on when coach Buddy Pough felt disappointed in a season which saw the Bulldogs earn a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title and a spot in the FCS playoffs for the third straight year.
Had there been some fireballing 6-foot-4, 235-pound stud closer on campus, Pough would have converted him into a tight end. He didn't think his squad was adept at finishing games or the season.
"I think we need to finish," said Pough, whose program has gone 29-8 overall and 23-1 in MEAC games over the last three seasons. "That's probably our big role for the year, we've got to get our guys to the point where we do everything to the end."
It's a predicament that plagues the MEAC, which hasn't shined in late November. The conference's last playoff win occurred in 1999.
Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State split last year's conference title with Florida A&M and gave the MEAC two playoff teams for the first time since 1999.
Bethune-Cookman might have needed a closer more than South Carolina State. It was the last unbeaten team in the FCS at 10-0 before it lost its regular- season finale to rival Florida A&M and then its first-round playoff game to New Hampshire, finishing 10-2.
"I'm not one that becomes complacent," Wildcats second-year coach Brian Jenkins said. "That was last year and this is a new year. The number one thing for me is, what are we going to do this year?
"That's where my mindset is at. Ten-and-two was good, but it wasn't satisfying enough for me."
Last year's trio of titlists and Hampton seem most likely to battle for this year's MEAC crown.
The MEAC is undergoing change this year with the addition of North Carolina Central and Savannah State to create an 11-team conference. Teams will continue to play eight conference games, and not two of the other opponents.
There also are five new head coaches: Delaware State's Kermit Blount, 53, the former Winston-Salem State head coach; Howard's Gary Harrell, 39, who was Bowie State's head coach the last two seasons; North Carolina A&T's Rod Broadway, 56, who left Grambling State's head coaching position; North Carolina Central Henry Frazier, 43, who won the 2009 Eddie Robinson Award at Prairie View A&M; and Savannah State's Steve Davenport, 43, who had been UAB's running backs coach since 2006.
It should be a terrific season for running backs and linebackers in the MEAC. Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2011 conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
2. South Carolina State
3. Florida A&M
5. Norfolk State
6. Morgan State
7. Delaware State
8. North Carolina A&T
9. North Carolina Central
10. Savannah State
Offensive Player of the Year: Mike Mayhew, RB, North Carolina A&T
Defensive Player of the Year: Ryan Lewis, LB, Bethune-Cookman
1. BETHUNE-COOKMAN WILDCATS (10-2 overall; 7-1 MEAC)
COACH: Brian Jenkins (10-2 in one season at Bethune-Cookman)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: C Natiel Curry, R-Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Ryan Lewis, Sr. (81 TT, 14 TFL, 5 sacks, 4 INTs, 3 PBU, 4 QBH, 2 FR, 4 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jackie Wilson, So. (27 of 57 for 371 yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs; 48 carries, 185 yards, 6 TDs) QB David Blackwell, Fr. RB Isidore Jackson, Jr. (118 carries, 514 yards, 8 TDs; 10 receptions, 76 yards, 3 TDs) RB Andronicus Lovette, Sr. (39 carries, 261 yards, 6 TDs) RB Rodney Scott, Jr. (Mississippi transfer) FB Johnathan Moment, Jr. (59 carries, 257 yards, 3 TDs) WR Eddie Poole, So. (33 receptions, 550 yards, 8 TDs) WR Maurice Francois, Sr. (15 receptions, 249 yards) WR/RS Courtney Keith, Jr. (10 receptions, 153 yards, 3 TDs; 22-yard KO return average; 13.7-yard punt return average) WR Seth Clayton, Fr. TE Jordan Murphy, So. (7 receptions, 77 yards) LT Alex Moore, Jr. LG Jackie Hoffman, Jr. RG Corey Mason, Sr. RT Marquell Rozier, Jr. DE Cornelius Wheeler, Sr. (15 TT, 1 PBU) DE Ryan Davis, Sr. (57 TT, 14 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 8 QBH, 2 FF) DE Erik Williams, Jr. (29 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) DT Jamiel Farrington, Sr. (29 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR) DT Harold Love III, Jr. (Feather River CC transfer) DT Eugene Solomon, R-Jr. (33 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 blocked kick) WLB Reggie Sandilands, Sr. (80 TT, 11.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 5 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF) SLB Rock Angrand, R-So. (23 TT) CB Daniel Rhodes, Sr. (37 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FR) CB Dion Hanks, So. (19 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU) FS Mike Williams, R-Sr. (44 TT, 3 TFL, 6 INTs, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) SS Jean Fanor, R-Sr. PK/P Kory Kowalski, Jr. (1 of 6 FG, 23 long, 17 of 24 PAT; 50 punts, 35.9 ypp) PK Sven Hurd, R-So. (1 of 4 FG, 27 long, 34 of 36 PAT)
OUTLOOK: If the quarterback position was more settled, the Wildcats might be a heavy favorite in the MEAC. Instead, they were picked second to South Carolina State in the conference's preseason poll. Last season, the Wildcats ranked second in the FCS with a 38.2-point average, but the question is, can QB Wilson replace Matt Johnson, the 2010 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, as the team's starting signal-caller? The offense was incredibly balanced last season, but the running game will take over behind Wilson's ability as well as Jackson, Lovette and Scott, a transfer from Ole Miss, working behind a talented offensive line. As outstanding as the offense was last season, the defense quietly fueled the conference tri-champs, though it wore down later in the season. Despite their aggressive style, the Wildcats can't count on securing 41 turnovers and finishing plus-27 in turnover ratio, as they did last season. The defense is especially strong in the front seven, with DE Davis and DT Farrington starring up front, and Lewis and Sandilands forming the best duo of linebackers in the conference. Jenkins eased into his new job with a soft early season schedule last season. This year's first four games against Prairie View A&M, South Carolina State, Hampton and Miami (Fla.) is much different.
2. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE BULLDOGS (9-3 overall; 7-1 MEAC)
COACH: Buddy Pough (76-29 in nine seasons at South Carolina State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/RS Asheton Jordan, Jr. (109 carries, 622 yards, 6 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Donovan Richard, R-Sr.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Derrick Wiley, R-Jr. (10 of 14 for 103 yards and 1 TD) QB Richard Cue, R-So. RB Chris Merrill, R-Jr. (80 carries, 377 yards, 8 TDs; 4 receptions, 96 yards) FB Devin Wherry, Jr. (54 carries, 364 yards, 1 TD; 9 receptions, 47 yards, 2 TDs) SE Tyler McDonald, So. (33 receptions, 333 yards, 2 TDs) FL Thomas "Trey" Williams, R-Jr. (19 receptions, 250 yards, 2 TDs) TE Autuanne Kerr, R-Sr. (13 receptions, 189 yards, 1 TD) LT Domanic Wilson, R-Fr. LG Jake Johnson, R-Sr. C Tristan Bellamy, R-So. C Erskine Johnson, R-So. RG Juavahr Nelson, R-Sr. RT Jonathan Saxon, R-Sr. DE Pat Washington, R-Sr. (42 TT, 17 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) DE Arnett James, R-Jr. (4 TT, 1 PBU) DE James Fulwood, R-Jr. (18 TT, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR) DT Leon Smith, Jr. (3 TT) NG Ronell Ferguson, Sr. (24 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) OLB Joseph Thomas, So. (17 T, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR) OLB Devon Quattlebaum, Sr. (sat out last season) OLB Cortney Ingram, Jr. (33 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU) LB Lataris Douglas, R-Sr. (18 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick) CB Yari King, R-So. (24 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU) CB Mason Harris, R-Fr. FS Dominique Ellis, R-Sr. (52 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF) SS Christian Thompson, R-Sr. (46 TT, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR) PK/P Blake Erickson, Sr. (18 of 21 FG, 48 long, 39 of 43 PAT; 51 punts, 34.6 ypp)
OUTLOOK: South Carolina State has become the revered program in the MEAC, but this year's team must overcome the loss of a talented senior class, including QB Malcolm Long, who was 25-1 in MEAC games as a starter; RT Josh Harrison, the 2010 MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year; LT Johnny Culbreath, an NFL Draft choice; and LB David Erby, the 2010 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulldogs are quite athletic and Pough figures to use more of a spread offense, with new QB Wiley expected to come on strong as a dual threat. The running game is deep with some talented newcomers backing Jordan and Merrill, but the offensive line returns only one starter, Nathan. Plenty of scoring will come from PK Erickson, who led the MEAC in scoring (93 points), including a school- record 18 field goals, last season. Defensively, the Bulldogs led the MEAC in fewest points allowed (15.3 ppg). Each unit has a potential All-MEAC standout: DE Washington (17 tackles for loss), LB Richard and FS Ellis. Having lost at home to Bethune-Cookman last season, the Bulldogs travel to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a superb conference opener on Sept. 10.
3. FLORIDA A&M RATTLERS (8-3 overall; 7-1 MEAC)
COACH: Joe Taylor (25-9 in three seasons at Florida A&M; 222-87-4 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR Antonio "T.J." Lawrence, Jr. (26 receptions, 395 yards, 3 TDs; 9.2-yard punt return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Demarius Folsom, R-Jr. (58 TT, 10 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 6 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Austin Trainor, R-So. (51 of 109 for 580 yards, 2 TDs and 6 INTs) QB Tyler Bass, R-Jr. (Memphis transfer) TB Eddie Rocker, Jr. (47 carries, 172 yards, 2 TDs; 4 receptions, 87 yards, 1 TD) TB/KR James Owens, R-So. (14 carries, 60 yards) TB Lavante Page, Jr. (42 carries, 176 yards, 6 TDs) FB Ronald Jackson, R-Sr. WR Kevin Elliott, R-Sr. (30 receptions, 361 yards, 1 TD) WR Brian Tyms, R-Sr. (7 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD) TE Michael Ethridge, Fr. LT Aram Wynn, R-Fr. LG Steven Robinson, R-Sr. C Shelley Anthony, R-Jr. RG Robert Hartley, R-Jr. RT Brandon Curry, R-Sr. RT Jarian Moreland, Jr. DE Nicolas Hollinghead, Sr. (36 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 QBH) NG Padric Scott, R-Jr. (18 TT, 2.5 sacks, 1 QBH) DE Jerry Willis, Sr. (31 TT, 6 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 blocked kicks) OLB Alphonso Walker, R-Jr. (40 TT, 5 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 blocked kick) ILB Alvis Graham, R-Sr. (55 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR) ILB Willie Ferrell, Jr. (56 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH) CB Marvin Ross, R-So. (29 TT, 3 QBH) CB Jerrel Stewart, Jr. (14 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 PBU) FS John Ojo, R-Jr. (57 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 PBU) FS Anthony Shutt, Sr. (34 TT, 4 TFL) SS Greg Harvey, R-Sr. (43 TT, 5.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FF) PK Trevor Scott, R-Sr. (10 of 14 FG, 47 long; 25 of 28 PAT) P Branden Holdren, Jr. (67 punts, 40 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Having been the odd team out of the playoffs from the three MEAC tri- champions last season, the Rattlers are quite motivated, especially knowing they ended the campaign with a big win over Bethune-Cookman. Taylor is 18-6 in MEAC games since arriving at FAMU, and three of the losses are to South Carolina State. The Rattlers, who benefit greatly from transfers, believe they have enough talent to reach the playoffs this season and Taylor can sell them on the lunch-pail mindset because they don't draw as many individual accolades as Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State. The special teams are exceptional and a strong linebackers unit, led by Folsom and Graham, leads the defense. Scott has come on strong at nose guard and is surrounded by veteran defensive ends in the 3-4. Ojo will anchor the secondary. On offense, it appears Trainor will be starting quarterback, holding off Memphis transfer Bass. He will rely on last year's top receivers, Lawrence and Elliott, and an improved offensive line. Don't sleep on the Rattlers' talent.
4. HAMPTON PIRATES (6-5 overall; 5-3 MEAC)
COACH: Donovan Rose (11-11 in two seasons at Hampton)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/RS Antwon Chisholm, So. (131 carries, 607 yards, 4 TDs; 10 receptions, 49 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Julio Sanchez, R-Sr. (injured last season)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB David Legree, R-Sr. (138 of 288 for 1,679 yards, 9 TDs and 7 INTs; 113 carries, 265 yards, 2 TDs) QB Brad Hudson, Fr. RB Antonio McCloude, Jr. (40 carries, 169 yards; 7 receptions, 66 yards) WR Javaris Brown, Jr. (40 receptions, 639 yards, 5 TDs) WR Dyrri McCain, R-Sr. (11 receptions, 144 yards, 1 TD) WR Reginald Hicks, R-Sr. (2 receptions, 33 yards) WR Isiah Thomas, R-Sr. (29 receptions, 315 yards, 2 TDs; 26 carries, 141 yards, 1 TD) LT Scott McNichols, R-Jr. LG Norman Booker, R-Fr. C Vincent Harper, R-So. RG David Luckett, R-Jr. RT Devon Dickerson, R-Sr. RT Rafael Vasquez, So. DE Daryell Walker, Jr. (13 TT, 1 TFL, 2 PBU) DT Terry Peden, Jr. DT Jamie Curry-Slaughter, So. (19 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 blocked kick) DE Matt Davis, R-So. (20 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 QBH) LB Courtney Hunter, So. (5 TT) LB Devonte Hawkins, So. (6 TT) LB Delbert Tyler, So. (62 TT, 5 TFL) LB Tahrick Peak, R-Fr. (Texas Tech transfer) CB Micah Pellerin, R-Sr. (41 TT, 2 INTs, 14 PBU) CB Courtney Bridget, R-So. SS James Butts, R-Sr. (33 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FF) FS Khambrel McGee, R-Fr. (Florida International transfer) DB Khalid Marshall, Jr. (North Carolina Tech transfer) PK Taurean Durham, Jr. P Jordan Stovall, Jr. (75 punts, 37.9 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The Pirates haven't been the same since coach Joe Taylor departed for Florida A&M after the 2008 season. Last season's 5-1 start fell apart amid a four-game losing streak. The Pirates finished third in the FCS in total defense (271.5 ypg), but there's no way they will be able to replace the production of departed NT Kenrick Ellis, DE Brandon Peguese and S Ricardo Silva. In fact, the Pirates lost their top five tacklers from a year ago. LB Tyler, a sophomore, is the team's top returning tackler, although Sanchez returns to the lineup after missing most of last season with an injury. Pellerin also will challenge to be the defense's standout player. New offensive coordinator Willie Snead III will try to invigorate a team whose scoring average has dropped for four straight seasons - to 17.5 ppg last season. Stovall was on the field way too much (75 punts). The Pirates have switched to a spread attack and QB Legree needs to improve his consistency. Chisholm was the 2010 MEAC Rookie of the Year and will be the go-to player along with WR Brown. Hampton will avoid South Carolina State on its eight-game conference schedule.
5. NORFOLK STATE SPARTANS (6-5 overall; 4-4 MEAC)
COACH: Pete Adrian (34-33 in six seasons at Norfolk State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Chris Walley, R-Sr. (167 of 272 for 1,859 yards, 10 TDs and 8 INTs; 61 carries, 190 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: NG Josh Turner, R-Sr. (46 TT, 12 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 7 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Nico Flores, R-So. (UCF transfer) RB Takeem Hedgeman, R-Jr. (57 carries, 220 yards, 2 TDs) RB Markeith Brisco, R-Jr. (24 carries, 141 yards, 1 TD) FB Josh Alford, R-Jr. (1 carry, 3 yards) WR Reggie Garrett, R-Jr. (30 yards, 436 yards, 3 TDs) WR Victor Harrison, R-Sr. (52 receptions, 580 yards, 2 TDs) WR Derrick Demps, R-So. (1 reception, minus-3 yards) TE Joseph Holbrook, R-Sr. (2 receptions, 15 yards) TE Joe Hawkins, Jr. (9 receptions, 107 yards) LT Kendall Noble, R-Sr. LG Theo Duncan, R-Jr. C Michael Kay, R-Jr. RG Blake Matthews, R-Jr. RT Kenneth Johnson, R-Jr. DT Joey Christine, Sr. (21 TT, 2.5 TFL, 6 QBH) DT Tory Williams, R-Jr. DT Steven Bunce, Sr. (3 TT, 1 QBH) DT Cameron Jude, R-Jr. (Michigan State transfer) OLB Hasan Craig, R-Sr. (29 TT, 3 TFL, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 3 FR) ILB Onyemechi Anyaugo, R-Sr. (47 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 6 QBH, 1 FF) ILB Corwin Hammond, R-Sr. (76 TT, 11 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 5 QBH, 2 FF) OLB Jamal Giddens, R-Jr. (17 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) OLB Terrence Pugh, R-Jr. (27 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH) CB Natturner Harris, R-So. (13 TT, 2 PBU) CB Marcus Center, R-So. (13 TT, 2 PBU) CB Marcus Cooperwood, R-Jr. (injured last season) SS Ricardo Volcin, Sr. (43 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF) FS DeVonte Reynolds, R-Sr. (60 TT, 3.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR) PK Ryan Estep, R-Sr. (11 of 16 FG, 45 long; 26 of 29 PAT) P Troy Muenzer, R-Sr. 48 punts, 36.6 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The Spartans have finished each of the last two seasons with four- game winning streaks and that has given them their first back-to-back winning seasons since they moved to the FCS level over a decade ago. They probably won't have as strong a team this season, but the MEAC isn't as strong a whole, so they could hang in the race with some home wins over South Carolina State, Hampton or Bethune-Cookman (they also avoid playing Florida A&M). The Spartans are replacing DeAngelo Branche, last year's MEAC rushing champion and Norfolk State's all-time leading rusher, and four starters on the offensive line. QB Walley is among the MEAC's best, but there might be too much working against him in the retooled offense. The defense will bail out the Spartans a lot. It returns its top five tacklers, led by ILB Hammond, and NG Turner is a 315- pound power in the middle. The Spartans appear to be a midlevel MEAC team again.
6. MORGAN STATE BEARS (4-7 overall; 3-5 MEAC)
COACH: DONALD HILL-ELEY (46-55 in 10 seasons at Morgan State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Lawrence Brewer, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Allen Stephens, Jr. (65 TT, 11.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Donovan Dickerson, Jr. (46 of 120 for 397 yards, 1 TD and 8 INTs) QB Robert "Josh" Council, So. RB David Brown, Jr. (77 carries, 439 yards, 2 TDs) RB Jourdan Brooks, Sr. (95 carries, 266 yards) RB/PR Brian Mann (48 carries, 224 yards, 1 TD; 5 receptions, 10 yards; 12.1- yard punt return average) WR Chuka Okakpu, So. (28 receptions, 325 yards, 4 TDs) WR Winfred Diggs, Sr. (29 receptions, 322 yards, 1 TD) WR Derrick Sherman, R-Sr. (13 receptions, 96 yards) WR Tyrone Hendrix, Sr. (8 receptions, 138 yards, 1 TD) TE Lamont Bryant, Sr. (5 receptions, 55 yards) LG Emmanuel Barnett, Sr. C Jerry Evans, Jr. RG Karim Barton, Sr. RT/RG Joshua Durden, Jr. DE Zary Stewart, Sr. (40 TT, 8 TFL, 2 sacks) DE Bakari Smith, Jr. (39 TT, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF) DT Justin Young, Sr. (25 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 FF) NT Kevin Myrie, Sr. (35 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FR) DE/OLB Chris Eugene, Jr. (46 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 5 FR, 1 FF) MLB Dominick Bryan, So. (59 TT, 7 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH) OLB Richard Ndubueze, Jr. (18 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH) CB Joe Rankin, So. (25 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INTs, 9 PBU, 1 FF) CB Lafredo Brady, R-So. (4 TT, 1 PBU) SS Jerry Jones, Jr. (20 TT, 2 PBU) FS Reshaude Miller, Jr. (67 TT, 4 INTs, 1 PBU) PK Abraham Mercado, R-So. P Nicholas Adams, R-Jr. (62 punts, 39.6 ypp)
OUTLOOK: A sixth place in the MEAC preseason poll was encouraging for the Bears after they posted their worst season since 2005 while ranking last in the FCS in total offense (216.5 ypg) last year. QB Dickerson looks to hold onto the starting job that he lost at midseason last year. Obviously, he has to improve on his eight interceptions against only one touchdown. Where the Bears figure to improve is in the running game, as their top three rushers return, led by the consistent Brown. With an emerging pass rush from DEs Smith and Stewart, the defense should be improved after it dropped off considerably last season. LB Stephens might have led the conference in tackles if he had not been injured during the season. Miller is the leader in the secondary. Perhaps no MEAC team benefits from the new scheduling format more than Morgan State because it won't face Florida A&M and South Carolina State.
7. DELAWARE STATE HORNETS (3-8 overall; 2-6 MEAC)
COACH: Kermit Blount (first season at Delaware State; 91-87-3 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Justin Wilson, R-Jr. (59 receptions, 937 yards, 11 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Brandon Harvey, Sr. (83 TT, 8 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 3 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Nick Elko, R-Jr. (39 of 68 for 540 yards, 7 TDs and 3 INTs) QB Micah Brown, Sr. RB Jaashawn Jones, R-Sr. (161 carries, 724 yards, 4 TDs) RB James Rosseau, Jr. (46 carries, 154 yards, 3 TDs) RB Nick Williams, Jr. (18 carries, 86 yards, 1 TD) WR/RS Darius Jackson, R-Sr. (38 receptions, 405 yards, 3 TDs) WR Donnell Dixon, R-Jr. (26 receptions, 304 yards, 3 TDs) TE Ryan Langdon, Jr. (11 receptions, 103 yards) TE Jahmel Bashir, Jr. (6 receptions, 72 yards) LT Nail Muradymov, R-Jr. LG Thomas Threadgill, Jr. C Marcus Ponder, R-Sr. RG Danzel Manley, So. RT Keith Newell, R-So. DE Aaron Richardson, Jr. (27 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR) NT Darrell Brown, Sr. (28 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) DT Olusegron Ayanbiola, Jr. (37 TT, 10 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) DT Carl Russell, So. (Maryland transfer) LB Chris Johnson, Sr. (5 TT) LB Quentin Ferguson, R-Sr. (56 TT, 8.5 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF) ROV Calvin Miner, R-Jr. (34 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU) CB Jermond Colston, So. (4 TT) CB Anthony Frye, Jr. (2 TT) CB/S Josh Alexander, R-Fr. (Connecticut transfer) SS Matt Spicer, Jr. (55 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 6 PBU, 1 blocked kick) FS Tavis Tabb, R-Sr. (32 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU) PK Mario Diaz-Aviles, So. (4 of 7 FG, 32 long; 22 of 27 PAT) P Martin Kano, So. (30 punts, 38.7 ypp) RS Travis Tarpley, R-Jr. (22.6-yard KO return average; 9.1-yard punt return average)
OUTLOOK: The Hornets have finished with three straight losing records since the 2007 squad won the MEAC title. They have turned to Blount, who has 27 years of collegiate coaching experience, and long wanted to get his Winston- Salem State program in the MEAC. Delaware State should have one of the conference's better offenses, with Jones and a host of running backs looking to establish a ground game out of an I-formation. Elko was the backup quarterback for two seasons and now has the starting job. He will rely on Wilson, who is coming off a season in which he became the first player in MEAC history to lead the conference in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions in a season. Blount says WR Darrius Jackson (97 career receptions) has as much talent as Wilson, so Elko can look forward to directing the offense. It's another story on defense, where Blount and new coordinator Michael Ketchum want their players to be more aggressive this season. The defense struggled to stop the run (196.4 ypg) last season and no longer has All-MEAC tackle Andre Caroll. LBs Harvey and Ferguson and emerging NT Brown must stabilize the defense. The Hornets, despite being down nine scholarships because of NCAA Academic Progress Rate penalties, will be improved this season.
8. NORTH CAROLINA A&T AGGIES (1-10 overall; 1-7 MEAC)
COACH: Rod Broadway (first season at North Carolina A&T; 68-23 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (5 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Mike Mayhew, Sr. (221 carries, 1,082 yards, 7 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS/KR Justin Ferrell, Sr. (78 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR); 26.7- yard KO return average)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Lewis Kindle, R-So. (injured last season) QB Ricky Lewis, Jr. (4 of 4 for 64 yards) RB Larry Raper, Jr. (38 carries, 89 yards) FB Devin Moore, So. WR Wallace Miles, Sr. (34 receptions, 508 yards, 2 TDs) WR/KR Torrian Warren, R-Jr. (26 receptions, 306 yards, 1 TD) WR Julian Alford, R-Jr. WR Chris Carver, R-Fr. LT Armon White, R-Jr. LG Timothy Sunkins, Jr. C Brenton Walker, Sr. RG Thomas Hearn, R-Sr. RT Nathan Isles, So. DE Edward "Brandon" Hill, Jr. (18 TT) DE/LB Tony Mashburn, Jr. (37 TT, 8 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 QBH) NG Brandon Young, R-Jr. (2 TT) NG Danye Gorrell, So. (4 TT) DT Chris Neal, Jr. (53 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF) OLB Ben Binder, Sr. (44 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FF) MLB Dareon Mays, So. (24 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) MLB Devin Ray Jr., R-So. (35 TT) OLB Brandon Hover, Jr. (35 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 QBH, 1 FR) CB/PR D'Vonte Graham, Jr. (14 TT, 7 INTs, 8 PBU) CB Santaurus Neely, R-Fr. CB Khamari Everett, So. (14 TT, 2 PBU) ROV Travis Crosby, So. (18 TT, 1 blocked kick) PK Sullivan Shidler, So. (6 of 13 FG, 37 long; 23 of 25 PAT) P Skylar Thomas, So.
OUTLOOK: North Carolina A&T was thrilled to lure Broadway away from Grambling State, where he won the 2008 Black College National Championship. He says his likes his new team's work ethic. The Aggies were given APR penalties in May, so they have fewer scholarship players and practice time than other MEAC schools. It all starts with Mayhew, a big-time running back who broke free for 211 yards against Bethune-Cookman last season. He has helped in the Aggies' veteran offensive line. QB Kindle, who had an ACL injury last year, is battling Lewis to win the starting job. The new signal-caller will operate out of the spread and also rely on veteran receivers, standout Miles and Warren. The defense gave up too many points last season - 33.6 ppg, which was the second-worst average in the conference. The Aggies utilize a 4-3 alignment, but their defensive line is undersized. Their strong secondary features CB Graham, who led the MEAC in interceptions last season, and excellent safties in Ferrell, the team's top-returning tackler who is the All-MEAC kickoff returner as well, and Crosby. The Aggies play four of their first six games at home, then face four straight MEAC teams on the road.
9. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL EAGLES (3-8 overall as an independent)
COACH: Henry Frazier (first season at North Carolina Central; 69-55 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (9 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Geovonie Irvine, R-Jr. (53 receptions, 758 yards, 5 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE/LB Roger Stewart, Sr. (50 TT, 11 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Michael Johnson, R-Sr. (108 of 189 for 1,179 yards, 6 TDs and 8 INTs) QB Jordan Reid, R-So. (29 of 53 for 305 yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs; 29 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD) RB/RS Arthur Goforth, Jr. (38 carries, 192 yards, 3 TDs; 24.8-yard KO return average, 2 TDs; 14.2-yard punt return average) RB Andre Clarke, R-Fr. FB George Mobley, R-Sr. (9 carries, 15 yards) FB Justin Manning, Sr. (7 receptions, 14 yards, 1 TD) WR Corey Harris, R-Sr. (19 receptions, 231 yards, 1 TD) WR Stanley Wright, R-So. (4 receptions, 75 yards, 1 TD) WR Decona Roberts, R-Jr. (18 receptions, 161 yards, 1 TD) TE Detwan Robinson, Jr. (4 receptions, 35 yards) LG Julian Gray, R-Sr. RG Timothy Charity, R-Sr. RT Dominique Moore, Sr. C James Frye, R-Sr. OL Joseph Figueroa, Jr. DE Xavier Proctor, R-Jr. (34 TT, 4 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 blocked kick) DT John Drew, Jr. (11 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF) DT Aaron Wallache, Jr. (Independence CC transfer) NG Mark Blakeney, R-Sr. (21 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) LB Eliezer Sandifer, Sr. (28 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FF) LB Brandon Outlaw, Sr. (19 TT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) CB David Ingram, R-Sr. (27 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INTs, 3 PBU) CB Brian Frierson, Sr. (2o TT) CB Malik Cromartie, R-Jr. (15 TT, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 blocked kick) SS James Reese, Sr. (31 TT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick) FS Marc Lewis, Jr. (37 TT, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) PK Oleg Parent, Fr.
OUTLOOK: Frazier is trying to build the North Carolina Central program into a winner in the MEAC, like he did at Prairie View A&M in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Eagles won't be a contender this season, however. But the offense will be improved and should concern MEAC opposition. QB Johnson, if healthy, is highly experienced with 30 touchdown passes in his career. WR Irvine, though only 5-7, is a match-up problem for defenses. Goforth, influential in the return game, hopes to be the featured running back, but Frazier thinks Clarke can develop into a special player at North Carolina Central. Defensively, DT Drew will set the tone up front. Stewart, the team's top-returning tackle, is moving from linebacker to defensive end, but has been slowed by injury in the preseason. The Eagles will start a handful of fifth- year seniors, so they are experienced enough to win some conference games in their program's first season in the MEAC.
10. SAVANNAH STATE TIGERS (1-10 overall as an independent)
COACH: Steve Davenport (first season at Savannah State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Justin Babb, R-Sr. (41 carries, 260 yards, 1 TD; injured much of last season)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Darren Hunter, Sr. (76 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Alfred "A.J." Defillipis, Sr. (50 of 113 for 457 yards, 2 TDs and 6 INTs) QB Antonio Bostick, So. (89 of 168 yards for 765 yards, 4 TDs and 7 INTs) TB Sheldon Barnes, So. (119 carries, 563 yards, 4 TDs) WR Simon Heyward, Jr. (56 receptions, 423 yards, 1 TD) WR Brian Lackey, So. (23 receptions, 335 yards, 2 TDs) WR Alakan Thomas, Sr. (14 receptions, 109 yards, 1 TD) WR Dylan Cook, So. (16 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD) WR Desmond Gant, So. WR Vaughn Cornelia, Fr. LT Jonathan Clowers, Fr. LG Lenworth McKenzie, Jr. C Bryce Bell, So. RG Terrick Ransom, Jr. RT Jared Brunson, Sr. DE Reginald Givens, Sr. (40 TT, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 FF) DE Travis Alston, Jr. NT Timothy Wright, Jr. DT Terrance Williams, Jr. (offensive lineman last season) DL Tametric Hunt, Sr. (sat out last season) OLB Sadrak Jean-Baptiste, Sr. (59 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR) MLB Nate Clay, Sr. (27 TT, 2 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) OLB Anthony Thomas, Sr. LB Broderick Sellers, So. (45 TT, 1 FR, 1 FF) LB Jordan Mincy, Fr. CB Justin Cooper, Jr. (sat out last season) CB John Wilson, So. (57 TT, 1.5 TFL, 9 PBU) SS Chris Asbury, Sr. (66 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH) FS Richie Rucker, Sr. (34 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU) PK/P Derek Williams, Sr. (5 of 10 FG, 47 long; 13 of 14 PAT; 75 punts, 36 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Savannah State keeps changing head coaches, but that trend could be stopping with Davenport, who is anxious to build the struggling program. He claims the players are hungry for success. Clearly, they need some points on the dinner plate. Only Valparaiso of the Pioneer Football League averaged fewer than Savannah State's 10.2 points per game (the 2006 and '07 teams were under 10). They punted the ball 78 times to their opponents' 35 times. Neither QB Defillipis nor Bostick was overly impressive as passers last season, with the running threat Bostick leading the Tigers to their only win (28-21 over North Carolina Central). The Tigers have to cut down on sacks allowed (37 last season) and secure more (six last season). RB Babb, who is coming off injury- plagued season, has 1,831 rushing yards in his career. His injury allowed Barnes to gain playing time and have an excellent freshman campaign. DE Givens is explosive, but the rest of the defensive front isn't experienced. The strength of the defense is the secondary, especially the safeties - Hunter and Asbury, who led the team in tackles last season.
11. HOWARD BISON (1-10 overall; 0-8 MEAC)
COACH: Gary Harrell (first season at Howard)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Willie Carter, Sr. (29 receptions, 563 yards, 3 TDs; 4 carries, 34 yards, 1 TD; 11.6-yard punt return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Keith Pough, R-Jr. (100 TT, 28.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 4 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Greg McGhee, Fr. QB Jarad Dorsey, R-Jr. (6 of 12 for 102 yards and 1 TD) QB Randy Liggins Jr., So. HB Charles Brice, R-Jr. (99 carries, 462 yards, 6 TDs) HB Jarren Brown, R-Jr. (14 carries, 18 yards) HB Terrance Leffall, Sr. (26 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD) FB Justin Duncan, RSo. (65 carries, 265 yards, 2 TDs) FB Darrin Christy, R-So. WR/KR Brandon Drayton, Sr. (21 receptions, 226 yards, 2 TDs; 17.2-yard KO return average) WR Daley Gunter, R-Sr. (17 receptions, 285 yards, 2 TDs) WR Marcell Snodgrass, R-So. TE Justin Boyd, R-So. (1 reception, 3 yards) LT Corey Gwinner, R-Jr. (injured last season) LG Terell Killings, Sr. C Malcolm Crawford, R-So. RG Terrell Hawkins, R-Jr. RT Davin Morris, R-Jr. DE Sackie Kerkulah, R-Sr. (45 TT, 13 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 6 QBH, 1 FR) DE Corey Berry, R-Sr. (15 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 QBH) DT Rodney Hill, Jr. (19 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR) DT Ibrahima Kebe, So. (9 TT) OLB Anthony Whitlow, Jr. (21 TT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR) MLB Kurt Mangum, R-Jr. (76 TT, 10.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FF) LB Jabril Ezell, So. LB Matthew Vann, Jr. (11 TT, 1 QBH) LB Markee White, So. (9 TT, 1 QBH) CB Theo Graham, R-Sr. (26 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 PBU) CB Lanny Kelly, R-Sr. (25 TT, 3 INTs, 7 PBU) SS Julian David, So. (44 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR) FS Cam Alston, So. (31 TT, 3 PBU) DB Josh Jordan, R-So. PK Parker Munoz, So. (2 of 6 FG, 40 long; 18 of 22 PAT) PK Matthew Jacobs, So. P Bryan Jackson, So.
OUTLOOK: Back to the future. Harrell played on the 1993 Howard team which went undefeated. Another alum, Ted "Sweet Flight" White, the MEAC's all-time passing leader, is the team's new offensive coordinator. Ray Petty, head coach at Howard from 2002-06, is the new defensive coordinator. The Bison are committed to restoring a program that has four wins over the last three seasons. Their 27-game MEAC losing streak stretches to the 2007 season. Harrell will mix up the offense, often using the spread. He clearly has a building block in QB McGhee, a 6-3, 200-pound true freshman out of Pittsburgh. There figures to be growing pains, so McGhee can keep getting the ball to Carter, who averaged 19.4 yards per reception last season, and the many running backs, led by Brice, the team's top rusher. LT Gwinner missed much of last season with an injury and returns to anchor a veteran offensive line. The Bison committed 36 turnovers and were minus-21 in turnover ratio last season. The Bison also allowed 37.6 ppg, which was the seventh-worst average in the FCS. They switched to a 3-4 last season, but go back to a 4-3 scheme this season. The defense is led by motoring LB Pough, whose 28.5 tackles for loss led the FCS, and DE Kerkulah, a fellow All-MEAC preseason pick. Avoiding Bethune-Cookman is one benefit on the schedule.