In the past, MEAC football has been overlooked. The conference has always had some of the best bands, game-day atmospheres and rivalries (particularly with the SWAC), but not the national attention.
Usually, in FCS football, conferences achieve that through national championships, playoff appearances and quality competition. But, it doesn't happen overnight, it takes time.
Few have noticed the changes the MEAC has made in the last couple of years in order to take the next step forward. Teams are scheduling tougher out-of- conference opponents as well as adding FBS games, which the conference had never been accustomed to on a regular basis. The talent of athletes has increased and multiple teams can now fight for the title because there isn't just one premiere program.
"Dr. (Dennis) Thomas (the MEAC commissioner) had a firm direction for us about 10 years ago, he wanted us to become more competitive," Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor said. "Since 1996, MEAC football has evolved and become a lot more competitive. The trend in FCS football is playing FBS games and we do it now, too. We can use that as a recruiting tool and as revenue games. Now with the economy, it's a pretty good purse of money not just for MEAC teams, but for other teams as well."
This year, MEAC teams from top to bottom have schedules that would prove difficult to any other conference. Two of Howard's non-conference games are at Rutgers and Georgia Southern, South Carolina State plays back-to-back games at Arizona and Texas A&M. Likewise, Savannah State plays Oklahoma State and Florida State on the road. Many others have challenging contests outside of an already difficult conference slate.
Since 2007, eight players have been drafted by the NFL and this year 10 players signed NFL free agent contracts. Coaches and players around the conference are aware of the trend.
"Schools have always done a good job attracting top level talent," Bethune- Cookman coach Brian Jenkins said. "I think there's a misconception of the MEAC. Other conferences think we have bottom-level athletes, which is definitely not true. You're seeing our kids starting to become more recognized mainstream-wise. Every team has guys who can play in the NFL and I'm glad people are starting to recognize that we have that."
A MEAC team hasn't won a playoff game since 1999, but the increase in talent, coaching and strength of schedule should give teams an even better opportunity to win in the postseason.
"There is a lot of parity in our conference," Florida A&M linebacker Brandon Hepburn said. "In other conferences, often times you see one or two teams running the show, but in the MEAC you have all these teams that are capable of winning the league. The parity helps to the strength of our conference as well. Teams that our supposed to be great lose to teams usually not in the conversation ... you never know what will happen."
For all the optimism that the future holds, some aspects of the MEAC should never change. Morgan State's Donald Hill-Eley reassuringly said that wouldn't happen.
"Black college football has always been an event, it's always been the band marching, the girls dancing, the fans having fun and then, you have the game," Hill-Eley said. "The game has always just been the little thing that happened, but it's the events that are around it. Alumni come to those games, that's big for our programs. It breathes energy into the conference and sets the traditions. This is how its always been done."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 MEAC race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
2. Florida A&M
3. South Carolina State
4. Norfolk State
6. North Carolina A&T
7. Morgan State
9. North Carolina Central
10. Delaware State
11. Savannah State
1. BETHUNE-COOKMAN WILDCATS (8-3 overall, 6-2 MEAC)
COACH: Brian Jenkins (18-5 in two seasons at Bethune-Cookman; 18-5 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (10 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Isidore Jackson, Jr. (146 carries, 866 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jarkevis Fields, Jr. (76 TT, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU 2 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jackie Wilson, Jr. (81-of-122, 920 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT; 357 yards rushing, 5 TD)
QB Quentin Williams, R-Fr.
RB Anthony Jordan, Jr. (50 carries, 235 yards, 9 TD)
RB Rodney Scott, Sr. (108 carries, 563 yards, 1 TD)
WR Eddie Poole (41 receptions, 421 yards, 4 TD)
RB/KR Angelo Cabrera, So. (19 KR, 402 yards)
OL Jacob Palmer, Sr.
OL Terrence Hackney, Jr.
OL Alex Monroe, Sr.
DE Anthony Woodard, Sr.
DL Harold Love III, Sr. (37 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DL Tevin Toney, Jr.
LB Dawud Lane, Sr.
S D.J. Howard, Jr. (45 TT, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 7 PD)
DB Dion Hanks, Jr.
P Kory Kowalski, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: LB Ryan Lewis (42 TT, 10.5 TFL, 3 INT, 2 PBU, 5 PD, 3 FF) and LB Reggie Sandilands (58 TT, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 2 FR)
OUTLOOK: It's hard to believe Bethune-Cookman considered last season to be a down year, finishing with an 8-3 record and a second-place finish in the MEAC. After reaching 10 wins and an NCAA playoff berth in 2010, a new standard has been set going into the third season of the Brian Jenkins era. Last year, the Wildcats were the only MEAC team to defeat eventual conference champion Norfolk State. However, a surprising loss in Week 5 against North Carolina A&T prevented B-C from claiming the title. The Wildcats offense has a scary amount of talent and experience coming back. The backfield is led by Jackson, Jordan and Scott, who accounted for 17 of the Wildcats' 35 rushing touchdowns. Jordan had only 50 carries, but managed to score nine touchdowns, while Jackson and Scott can be utilized as long distance threats and effective pass catchers. Competing for quarterback duties will be Wilson (920 yards passing, 5 TD, 4 INT), a junior who played in nine games last year and is dangerous as a runner, with five touchdowns and 357 yards, and Williams, a redshirt freshman. He broke Tim Tebow's Florida high school career passing record. Defensively, B-C has a lot more questions to answer. Lewis, Ryan Davis and Jean Fanor departed to the NFL and were some of the program's most important players. Look for linebacker Fields to help fill the void. If the Wildcats can survive its first three games versus Alabama State, at South Carolina State and at Miami (Fla.), they can make it through the rest of the schedule.
Sept. 2 - vs. Alabama State (Orlando, Fla.)
Sept. 8 - at South Carolina State
Sept. 15 - at Miami (Fla.)
Sept. 22 - vs. Tennessee State
Sept. 29 - at Hampton
Oct. 6 - vs. North Carolina A&T
Oct. 20 - vs. Norfolk State
Oct. 27 - vs. North Carolina Central
Nov. 3 - at Morgan State
Nov. 10 - at Savannah State
Nov. 17 - vs. Florida A&M (Orlando, FL)
2. FLORIDA A&M RATTLERS (7-4 overall, 5-3 MEAC)
COACH: Joe Taylor (32-13 in four seasons at Florida A&M; 230-90-4 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Lavante Page, Sr. (118 carries, 329 yards, 13 TD; 15 receptions, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS John Ojo, Sr. (42 TT, 4 INT, 1 PBU, 5 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Damien Fleming, So. (131-of-218, 1,622 yards, 11 TD, 5 INT; 2 TD rushing)
RB Eddie Rocker, Sr. (104 carries, 524 yards, 3 TD)
RB Al-Terek McBurse, Sr. (53 carries, 349 yards, 4 TD)
WR Lenworth Lennon, So. (45 receptions, 596 yards, 2 TD)
TE Michael Etheridge, Jr.
LT Jarien Moreland, Sr
LG Steven Robinson, Sr.
RG Robert Hartley, Sr.
NG Padric Scott, Sr. (28 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks)
LB Bobby Jackson, Sr. (29 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT)
LB Brandon Hepburn, Sr. (63 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 2 PD)
CB Marvin Ross, Sr. (38 TT, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 7 PD)
CB Devontae "Terry" Johnson, So. (32 TT, 5 INT, 5 PBU, 10 PD)
P Branden Holdren, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: LB Demarius Folsom (68 TT, 8 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD) and PK Trevor Scott (13-of-16 FG, 36-of-36 PAT)
OUTLOOK: Under the guidance of coach Taylor, Florida A&M has turned around its program. The wins and successful seasons have been there, but the Rattlers can't seem to get over the hump and make it to the top of the conference. This year might be different because FAMU brings back not only key players, but key leaders. Fleming was impressive as a freshman, throwing for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has the skills to develop as an even better running quarterback as well. Two seniors in Page and Rocker return as the primary ball carriers. Page only gained 329 yards rushing, but scored 13 touchdowns. Florida A&M needs to run the ball better if it wants to have a shot at a MEAC title. Last season the Rattlers rushed for a mere 112 yards per game, good for 92nd in the FCS. They return a good amount of upperclassmen on the offensive line who will help pave the way. The Rattlers' schedule isn't a cake walk, but it isn't the hardest in the conference, either. Hepburn and Ojo, two playmakers who have a knack for finding the ball, should lead a senior class that wants to go out with a bang.
Sept. 1 - at Tennessee State
Sept. 8 - at Oklahoma
Sept. 15 - vs. Hampton
Sept. 22 - at Delaware State
Sept. 29 - vs. Southern (Atlanta)
Oct. 6 - at Howard
Oct. 13 - vs. Savannah State
Oct. 20 - vs. South Carolina State
Nov. 3 - at North Carolina A&T
Nov. 10 - vs. North Carolina Central
Nov. 17 - vs. Bethune-Cookman (Orlando, Fla.)
3. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE BULLDOGS (7-4 overall, 6-2 MEAC)
COACH: Buddy Pough (83-33 in 10 seasons at South Carolina State; 83-33 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (9 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Richard Cue, Jr. (80-of-147, 900 yards, 7 TD, 6 INT; 514 rushing yards, 8 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Joe Thomas, Jr. (100 TT, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 INT, 2 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Derrick Wiley, Sr. (58-of-115, 727 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT; 285 yards rushing, 4 TD)
RB Asehton Jordan, Sr. (139 carries, 774 yards, 5 TD)
RB Jalen Simmons, So.
WR Tyler McDonald, Jr. (41 receptions, 573 yards, 4 TD)
WR Caleb Davis, Jr. (36 receptions, 437 yards, 2 TD)
OL Sam Hammond, Sr.
C Tristan Bellamy, So.
DL James Fulwood, Sr.
DL Leon Smith, Sr.
S Darius Drummond, Jr. (44 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 8 PBU)
DB Courtney Ingram, Sr. (47 TT, 6 TFL, 1 FR, 4 FF)
DB Steven Murphy, So.
DB Mason Harris, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSS: LB Donovan Richard (119 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: South Carolina State lost two conference games last year by a combined six points. Its other two losses came against FBS opponents. This season won't be any easier considering the Bulldogs' brutal schedule. The first five weeks include road games against Georgia State, Arizona and Texas A&M, and home games versus recent MEAC champions Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State. However, regardless of the schedule, the Bulldogs have won at least seven games in each of coach Pough's 10 seasons. Last year, South Carolina State utilized athletic quarterbacks with its spread attack. Cue and Wiley split time under center with both showing how dangerous they can be. Wiley was a more effective passer, throwing for 727 yards and six touchdowns, while Cue rushed for 514 yards and eight touchdowns. The Bulldogs offense could cause even more nightmares for opponents with the return of Jordan in the backfield (774 yards, 5 TD), accompanied by McDonald and Davis at the receiver position. Defensively, the Bulldogs finished 23rd in the FCS, allowing 320 yards per game. The secondary is quite athletic with Drummond and Ingram, while Thomas is primarily the best run stopper. If South Carolina State doesn't peek too far ahead in the schedule, this team will be tough to beat.
Aug. 30 - at Georgia State
Sept. 8 - vs. Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 15 - at Arizona
Sept. 22 - at Texas A&M
Sept. 29 - vs. Norfolk State
Oct. 6 - vs. North Carolina Central (Indianapolis)
Oct. 13 - at Delaware State
Oct. 20 - at Florida A&M
Oct. 27 - vs. Howard
Nov. 10 - at North Carolina A&T
Nov. 17 - vs. Savannah State
4. NORFOLK STATE SPARTANS (9-3 overall, 7-1 MEAC)
COACH: Pete Adrian (43-36 in seven seasons at Norfolk State; 79-73-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (9 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Takeem Hedgeman, Sr. (153 carries, 698 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Jamal Giddens, Sr. (70 TT, 11 TFL, 8 sacks, 4 PBU, 4 PD, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Nico Flores, Jr. (9-of-17, 156 yards; 54 carries, 174 yards, 2 TD)
QB Jake Basmagian, So.
RB Randy Maynes, Sr. (94 carries, 443 yards, 3 TD)
WR Xavier Boyce, Sr. (68 receptions, 750 yards, 4 TD)
WR Reggie Garrett, Sr.
WR Derrick Demps, Jr. (19 receptions, 417 yards, 3 TD)
TE Joseph Hawkins, Jr. (17 receptions, 236 yards, 3 TD)
LT Julius Wormley, So.
C Michael Kay, Sr.
LG Cameron Williams, Jr.
DT Matt Grant, Jr. (13 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
NG George Riddick, So.
NG Nico Washington, Jr.
OLB Terrence Pugh, Sr. (41 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD)
LB Lynden Trail, So. (University of Florida)
CB Marcus Cooperwood, Sr. (36 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 8 PD)
CB Marcus Center, Jr.
K Everett Goldberg, Sr. (6-of-10 FG)
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Chris Walley (239-of-348, 2,672 yards, 19 TD, 6 INT; 287 yards rushing, 5 TD) and ILB Corwin Hammond (120 TT, 14 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD, 2 FR)
OUTLOOK: Four other teams were predicted to finish in front of Norfolk State last season. The Spartans responded by winning the MEAC title outright, running through conference play with only one blemish and advancing to the FCS playoffs for the first time in program history before falling to new crosstown rival Old Dominion. In order to make another run, NSU will have to fill a lot of shoes. The Spartans were all about defense in 2011, finishing second in the FCS in total defense allowing a stingy 275 yards per game. That's an impressive 98 yards rushing and 177 yards passing per contest. The bad news for Norfolk State? Seven starters departed, including both safeties, both inside linebackers and the most experienced defensive lineman. The secondary shouldn't take too strong of a hit with Cooperwood and Center guarding the air. On the other side of the ball, OT Blake Matthews burst onto the scene as the conference's top offensive lineman and a second-team All-America selection, but he has been lost for the season with a broken kneecap. NSU also will be without 2011 MEAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year Chris Walley at quarterback. The senior signal-caller threw for 2,672 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing a school-record 68.7 percent of his passes. Flores looks to replace Walley under center. He was utilized as a running quarterback last season with 174 yards and two touchdowns. The transition shouldn't be too daunting for Flores because NSU's offensive backfield will feature the two players who started every game at tailback last year in rising seniors Hedgeman and Maynes. If the Spartans defense looks anything like it did last year, the MEAC could be in trouble. But, only time will tell.
Sept. 1 - vs. Virginia State
Sept. 8 - at Liberty
Sept. 15 - vs. Howard
Sept. 22 - at Ohio
Sept. 29 - at South Carolina State
Oct. 6 - vs. Delaware State
Oct. 13 - at Hampton
Oct. 20 - at Bethune-Cookman
Oct. 27 - at North Carolina A&T
Nov. 3 - vs. Savannah State
Nov. 10 - vs. Morgan State
5. HAMPTON PIRATES (7-4 overall, 5-3 MEAC)
COACH: Donovan Rose (18-15 in three seasons at Hampton; 18-15 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Antwon Chisholm, Jr. (192 carries, 796 yards, 8 TD; 19 receptions, 192 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Lyndell Gibson, Sr. (108 TT, 14 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Travis Champion, So. (50-of-71, 494 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT)
QB Bradford Hudson, So. (25-of-51, 269 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT)
WR Javaris Brown, Sr. (32 receptions, 376 yards, 1 TD)
LT Jamal Wilson, Jr.
RG Scott McNichols, Sr.
C Lamone Buford, Sr.
LB Delbert Tyler, Jr. (110 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
LB DeVonte��� Hawkins, Jr. (80 TT, 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF)
LB Matt Davis, Jr.
DE Daryell Walker, Sr.
DT Charles Owens, So.
DB Justin Blake, Sr. (81 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 9 PBU)
FS Scott Williams, Jr. (53 TT, 2 TFL, 6 PBU, 4 FR)
CB Courtney Bridgett Jr., So. (17 TT, 7 PBU)
P Jordan Stovall, Sr. (39.4 YPP)
K Taurean Durham, So. (10-of-17 FG 36-of-37 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSSES: DB Micah Pellerin (51 TT, 4.5 TFL, 4 INT, 15 PBU) and QB David Legree (141-of-229, 1,636 yards, 10 TD, 4 INT; 299 yards rushing, 4 TD)
OUTLOOK: The biggest news for Hampton this offseason was the hiring of new offensive coordinator Earnest J. Wilson III. He comes from Jackson State, which led the SWAC in scoring offense, total offense, passing offense and pass efficiency last year. Rose has done a good job restoring the program since his arrival. The Pirates will be solid on defense, bringing back their top five tacklers from a year ago. Gibson and Tyler both registered over 100 tackles and combined for 21 1/2 sacks. The loss of Pellerin will hurt the secondary, but Pirates can count on Bridgett, Williams and Blake to step up their play. Hampton allowed only 183 yards per game through the air and was 33rd in the FCS, giving up 341 total yards per contest. Hampton lost its dual-threat quarterback and top two receivers, but the offense will benefit from junior running back Chisholm. He rushed for 796 yards and eight touchdowns. Champion and Hudson both showed promise at quarterback, playing sparingly toward the end of last year. Whoever wins the battle must learn quick in Wilson's new system. Hampton hosts both Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State, but ends the season with three straight road games. Discipline may have been the answer for inconsistency, Hampton averaged 13.5 penalties per game, leading the FCS with 148 yellow flags. The Pirates won and lost big games last year, but they won't be able to catch many teams sleeping on them in 2012.
Aug. 30 - at Tennessee Tech
Sept. 8 - vs. Old Dominion
Sept. 15 - at Florida A&M
Sept. 29 - vs. Bethune-Cookman
Oct. 13 - vs. Norfolk State
Oct. 18 - at North Carolina Central
Oct. 27 - vs. Savannah State
Nov. 3 - at Howard
Nov. 10 - at Delaware State
Nov. 17 - at Morgan State
6. NORTH CAROLINA A&T AGGIES (5-6 overall, 4-4 MEAC)
COACH: Rod Broadway (5-6 in one season at North Carolina A&T; 73-29 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Mike Mayhew, Sr. (231 carries, 1,120 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB D'Vonte Grant, So. (87 TT, 10.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Lewis Kindle, Jr. (151-of-271, 2,020 yards, 16 TD, 11 INT; 150 yards rushing, 5 TD)
RB Dominique Drake, Jr.
WR Larry Raper, Sr. (22 receptions, 410 yards, 7 TD)
WR Dominique Jones R-Fr.
OL Thomas Hearn, Sr.
LG William Robinson III, Jr.
RG Nathan Isles, Jr.
RT Armon White, Sr.
DE Tony Mashburn, Sr. (36 TT, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF)
DE Tyree Hearn, Sr. (27 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD)
DE Justin McAdoo, So. (North Carolina)
DE Chris Neal, Sr. (26 TT, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF)
DT Brandon Young, Sr. (30 TT, 5.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD)
LB Dareon Mays, Jr.
LB/SS Travis Crosby, Jr. (81 TT, 10 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 4 PD, 2 FR)
S Brandon Hover, Sr. (74 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 PD, 3 FF)
FS Isaiah Martin, So. (69 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 9 PD)
DB D'Vonte Graham, So. (7 INT, 15 PD;2010)
K Jose Garcia-Camacho, So.
BIGGEST LOSS: WR Wallace Miles (70 receptions, 1,048 yards, 6 TD)
OUTLOOK: This offseason, North Carolina A&T took another blow to its program. The Aggies will be prohibited from postseason play in 2012 due to a subpar APR score. However, if any team from the MEAC could take positives out of a 5-6 season, it has to be North Carolina A&T. The Aggies' four conference losses were on the road by eight points or less. A seven-point overtime loss to Howard, a four-point loss to Norfolk State, a six-point loss to Florida A&M and an eight-point loss to South Carolina State. Broadway has finally given the program stability after a period of six different coaches over a 10-year span. This spring, the Aggies were only allowed to have seven total practices, and during the 2012 season the coaching staff gets 16 hours per week with the team (including competition) instead of the NCAA-allotted 20 hours. Kindle settled in nicely under center, throwing for 16 touchdowns, while rushing for five of his own. Ultimately, it should not be surprising that the success of the Aggies will rest in their stud running back, Mayhew. The senior led the conference in rushing with 101 yards per game in 2011. NC A&T also had one of the FCS' best defenses last year, allowing 289 total yards per contest, only 93 of those on the ground, good for eighth and seventh places, respectively. The strength of the defense should be in the linebacker and secondary corps with Grant and Crosby. Despite being banned from the postseason, the Aggies should have a lot to prove.
Sept. 1 - at Coastal Carolina
Sept. 8 - vs. West Virginia State
Sept. 15 - vs. Virginia University of Lynchburg
Sept. 27 - vs. Morgan State
Oct. 6 - at Bethune-Cookman
Oct. 13 - vs. Howard
Oct. 20 - at Delaware State
Oct. 27 - vs. Norfolk State
Nov. 3 - vs. Florida A&M
Nov. 10 - vs. South Carolina State
Nov. 17 - at North Carolina Central
7. MORGAN STATE BEARS (5-6 overall, 4-4 MEAC)
COACH: Donald Hill-Eley (51-61 in 10 seasons at Morgan State; 51-61 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Travis "Juice" Davidson, Sr. (144 carries, 732 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Allen Stephens, Sr. (80 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Tracy Martin, So. (76 carries, 2 TD)
QB Seth Higgins, So. (97-of-186, 1,116 yards, 9 TD, 7 INT)
WR/KR Tyrone Hendrix, Sr. (19 receptions, 315 yards, 3 TD; 20 KR, 450 yards, 22.5 YPR)
WR Chris Flowers, Jr.
OL Jerry Evans, Sr.
OL Joshua Durden, Sr.
OL Nicholas Harris, So.
LB Tierney Yates, Sr. (64 TT, 9 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
LB Stephen Blissett, Jr.
CB Joe Rankin, Jr. (24 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU)
CB Kenneth Ridley, Jr. (42 TT, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 6 PBU)
DB Jerry Jones, Sr.
DL Bakari Smith, Sr. (29 TT, 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
DL Richard Ndubueze, Sr. (32 TT, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
SS Nathan Ayers, Sr.
PK Earvin Gonzalez, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSS: DE Zary Stewart (44 TT, 13 TFL, 6 sacks, 1 PBU)
OUTLOOK: Morgan State has been average the last 10 seasons. Hill-Eley's teams have been good, but haven't made it past the middle tier of the conference. The Bears opened 2011 with two tough opponents in Towson and Bowling Green and finished with Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State and Hampton, not the easiest schedule in the conference. Plenty of veterans return this year, including a senior class of 24 players. One of those seniors, running back "Juice" Davidson is the key to the Bears' ground attack. Davidson is one of the MEAC's most underrated ball carriers, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He rushed for 732 yards and seven touchdowns, good for fourth in the conference at 73.2 yards per game. Higgins returns for his second year as the Bears' starting signal-caller. As a freshman, Higgins completed 97-of-186 pass attempts for 1,116 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those numbers should grow with experience. Morgan State's secondary is home to two of the league's best cover corners in Ridley and Joe. Ndubueze could have a big year for a pass rush that shows glimpses of greatness. The Bears need to improve their passing game to allow the offense to open up.
Sept. 1 - vs. Sacred Heart
Sept. 8 - at Buffalo
Sept. 15 - at Akron
Sept. 27 - at North Carolina A&T
Oct. 6 - at Savannah State
Oct. 13 - vs. North Carolina Central
Oct. 20 - at Howard
Oct. 25 - vs. Delaware State
Nov. 3 - vs. Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 10 - at Norfolk State
Nov. 17 - vs. Hampton
8. HOWARD BISON (5-6 overall, 4-4 MEAC)
COACH: Gary Harrell (5-6 in one season at Howard; 5-6 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Greg McGhee, So. (182-of-321, 1,784 yards, 13 TD, 10 INT; 388 yards rushing, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Keith Pough, Sr. (120 TT, 21 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Terrance Lefall, Sr. (242 carries, 893 yards, 3 TD)
WR Clayton Gidron, Jr.
WR Brandon Flanagan, Jr.
OL Cory Gwinner, Sr.
OL Davin Morris, Jr.
OL Terrell Hawkins, Sr.
OL Joshua Matthews, So.
C Bradley Bush-Johnson, So.
DT Rodney Hill, Sr.
NT Ibrahima Kebe, So.
DE Tovan Sheats, So. (13 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks)
DE Alphonso Beale, Sr. (20 TT, 3 TFL)
LB Anthony Whitlow, Jr. (48 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 PD)
CB DeCarlos Knight, Sr. (46 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 2 FF)
CB Curtis Simmons, Jr.
SS Julien David, Jr. (70 TT, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 8 PD)
K Parker Munoz, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSSES: DL Sackie Kerkulah (50 TT, 19 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 PD) and DL Cory Berry (42 TT, 15.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 PD)
OUTLOOK: Howard finished with a 4-4 conference record last year, but was inconsistent. The biggest change the Bison made was on the defensive side of the ball. The team ranked seventh in the FCS in total defense and second in the MEAC at 288 yards per game. Kerkulah and Berry had impressive seasons as defensive linemen, the two accounted for 34.5 tackles for losses and surely will be missed. The Bison bring back All-America honoree Pough at linebacker. The senior had 120 total tackles, 21 of those for a loss, and three sacks. Pough and junior strong safety Knight should keep the defense stingy once again. Howard's offense begins up front with 6-foot-6, 310-pound All-MEAC senior Gwinner. After missing 2010 with an injury, Gwinner didn't miss a beat. Similarly, senior running back Lefall, who was plagued with injuries in previous seasons, rushed for a career-best 893 yards and three touchdowns. The offense will be controlled by McGhee, who under the leadership of former Bison great and current offensive coordinator Ted "Sweet Flight" White proved to be the man for the job. The 2011 MEAC Rookie of the Year threw for 13 touchdowns and rushed for 388 yards as a freshman. Thus, the possiblities to develop into an even more capable dual-threat quarterback are likely. Harrell installed a "Road to Redemption" team motto, but in order to get back to the top, it will take a couple of years.
Sept. 1 - vs. Morehouse (Washington, D.C.)
Sept. 8 - at Rutgers
Sept. 15 - at Norfolk State
Sept. 29 - vs. Savannah State
Oct. 6 - vs. Florida A&M
Oct. 13 - at North Carolina A&T
Oct. 20 - vs. Morgan State
Oct. 27 - at South Carolina State
Nov. 3 - vs. Hampton
Nov. 10 - at Georgia Southern
Nov. 17 - vs. Delaware State
9. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL EAGLES (2-9 overall, 1-7 MEAC)
COACH: Henry Frazier (2-9 in one season at North Carolina Central; 71-64 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/ 8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/KR Geovonie Irvine, Sr. (47 receptions, 580 yards, 5 TD; 18 KR, 400 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Marc Lewis, Sr. (53 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 9 PD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Idreis Augustus, So. (92 carries, 429 yards, 2 TD)
RB Andre Clarke, So. (101 carries, 405 yards, 5 TD)
QB Jordan Reid, Jr.
QB Quenton Rucker, R-Fr.
WR Demario Lackey, Sr. (34 receptions, 407 yards, 3 TD)
WR Jonathan Nicely, Sr. (27 receptions, 3 TD)
WR Marvin Poole, Jr. (21 receptions, 4 TD)
RG Justin Lewis, Sr.
LT Charles Goodwin, Jr.
OL Zachary Giles, R-Fr.
DL Stephen Young, Sr. (44 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks)
DL Chase Tripp, Sr. (37 TT, 12.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks)
DL Xavier Proctor, Sr. (37 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks)
LB Chris Drew, Sr. (4.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
LB Ty Brown, So.
LB Tyriqe Williams, Jr.
CB Malik Cromartie, Sr.
S Rickie Hubbard, Sr.
K Oleg Parent, So.
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Michael Johnson (196-of-368, 2,113 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT; 2 TD rushing)
OUTLOOK: North Carolina Central begins its second season back in the MEAC after finishing with just one conference win last year. The Eagles will have their hands full in trying to put points on the board without the program's third all-time leading passer, Johnson. In his career, Johnson threw for 5,740 yards and 46 touchdowns. With the quarterback position up for grabs, junior Reid is the only returner with any experience. In his career, he has completed 43-of-76 passes for 425 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 57 times for 163 yards and a TD. NCCU might have the MEAC's greatest depth at wide receiver, bringing back five of its top pass catchers who were responsible for 15 of the team's 16 touchdown catches. Nicely and Poole are big, deep-threat receivers, while Irvine, Lackey and Roberts are smaller, speedy targets. Although the Eagles only averaged 97 yards per game rushing, the backfield returns both leading rushers Augustus and Clarke. NCCU lost three of its top tacklers from a year ago, but the defensive line has three seniors who had solid numbers in 2011. The Eagles have a more manageable schedule this year, but their offense is still searching for a true leader.
Sept. 1 - vs. Fayetteville State
Sept. 8 - at Elon
Sept. 15 - at Duke
Sept. 22 - at Savannah State
Oct. 6 - vs. South Carolina State (Indianapolis)
Oct. 13 - at Morgan State
Oct. 18 - vs. Hampton
Oct. 27 - at Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 3 - vs. Delaware State
Nov. 10 - at Florida A&M
Nov. 17 - vs. North Carolina A&T
10. DELAWARE STATE HORNETS (3-8 overall, 1-7 MEAC)
COACH: Kermit Blount (3-8 in one season at Delaware State; 94-95-3 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Justin Wilson, Sr. (54 receptions, 563 yards, 6 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Ernest Adjei, Sr. (59 TT, 7 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: WR/KR Travis Tarpley, Sr. (66 receptions, 736 yards, 4 TD; 116 yards rushing, 1 TD)
QB Nick Elko, Sr. (207-of-362, 2,064 yards, 15 TD, 16 INT)
RB Josh Bailey, Sr.
RB Malcolm Williams, Jr.
C Brandon Cunningham, Sr.
RG Jadira Green, Sr.
LG Thomas Threadgill, Sr.
LT Nail Muradymov, Sr.
RT Tywan Lee, Sr.
LB Olusegun Ayanbiola, Sr. (28 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
FS Davon Moore, Jr.
DB Joe Boyd, Jr. (53 TT, 1 TFL, 3 PBU, 3 PD)
DE Rodney Gunter, So. (39 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack)
NG George Bansah, Sr.
DE Quintin Fortes, Sr. (32 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
P Marko Kano, Jr.
K Mitchell Ward, So. (4-of-8 FG, 15-of-18 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSSES: LB Brandon Harvey (88 TT, 18 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 PD, 2 FF) and LB Quentin Gerguson (106 TT, 12 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: Delaware State is coming off a 3-8 record in Blount's first season. The Hornets struggled to find any type of run game, scoring only six touchdowns on the year and finished second-to-last in the FCS with 49 yards rushing per game. DSU started out with two wins in a row, but then dropped eight games before winning the final contest against Howard. This season, the Hornets might be in trouble again with a rugged five-game stretch against the MEAC's best competition. The schedule includes road games versus Delaware, Cincinnati and Norfolk State, with home games against Florida A&M and South Carolina State. Elko returns for his senior year at quarterback, but needs to improve on his touchdown-to-interception ratio (15 TD versus 16 INT). Delaware State should have help on offense with Tarpley, who was tops among all MEAC players in all-purpose yards at 144.2 per game in 2011, and fellow receiver Wilson, who missed three games last year due to an ankle injury but still managed 563 yards and six touchdowns. The defense returns six starters, but needs to replace its two leading tacklers from last year. The Hornets' focus once again will be developing young players for the future.
Sep 1 - vs. Virginia Military
Sep 8 - at Delaware
Sep 15 - at Cincinnati
Sep 22 - vs. Florida A&M
Oct 6 - at Norfolk State
Oct 13 - vs. South Carolina State
Oct 20 - vs. North Carolina A&T
Oct 25 - at Morgan State
Nov 3 - at North Carolina Central
Nov 10 - vs. Hampton
Nov 17 - at Howard
11. SAVANNAH STATE TIGERS (1-10 overall, 1-7 MEAC)
COACH: Steve Davenport (1-10 in one season at Savannah State; 1-10 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Bryan Lackey, So. (15 receptions, 353 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB John Wilson, Jr. (60 TT, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 10 PBU, 11 PD, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Antonio Bostick, Jr. (67-of-170, 755 yards, 3 TD, 8 INT; 93 yards rushing, 3 TD)
RB Sheldon Barnes, Jr.
RB Isaiah Nearor, Jr. (Cincinnati transfer)
WR Dylan Cook, So.
WR/KR Simon Heyword, Jr. (16 receptions, 207 yards, 1 TD; 18 KR, 399 yards)
TE Kris Drummond, So.
OL Cedric Brown, Jr.
OL Jonathan Clowers, Jr.
OL Caleb Freeman, Jr. (JUCO transfer)
DL James Briscoe, Sr. (40 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
DL Leroy Cummings, So. (28 TT, 9.5 TFL, 6 sacks)
DL Chris Jones, R-Fr. (Illinois)
LB Wayne Burdon, So. (6 TFL, 1 sack)
LB Broderick Sellers, Jr. (46 TT, 3 TFL, 1 FR)
CB Javon Moore, Jr. (JUCO transfer)
CB Somali Smith, Jr. (JUCO transfer)
BIGGEST LOSSES: RB Justin Babb (148 carries, 525 yards, 1 TD; 103 yards recieving, 1 TD) and DL Reginald Givens (41 TT, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: In the last two seasons, Savannah State's record is 2-20. Davenport did, however, lead the Tigers to their first-ever MEAC win, defeating fellow conference newcomer North Carolina Central, 33-30, last year. It may seem like a tiny step moving forward, but Davenport knows setting the right foundation will take some time. The rebuilding process continues immediately, SSU has the toughest two-game stretch in the FCS, opening the season with Oklahoma State and Florida State. The Tigers return 50 lettermen, added six junior college transfers and picked up two FBS transfers. Bostick returns behind center; last year he passed for 755 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and scored three touchdowns on the ground. The Tigers will have to rely on him more productive as he threw eight interceptions and hit only 39 percent of his targets. Cook and Lackey, who played as freshmen, have become Bostick's go-to guys. The Tigers gave up 40 points per game in 2011, which was fourth-worst in the FCS. Lots of changes need to be made on the field, but with a newly renovated stadium and new direction, it can only get better.
Sept. 1 - at Oklahoma State
Sept. 8 - at Florida State
Sept. 22 - vs. North Carolina Central
Sept. 29 - at Howard
Oct. 6 - vs. Morgan State
Oct. 13 - at Florida A&M
Oct. 20 - vs. Edward Waters
Oct. 27 - at Hampton
Nov. 3 - at Norfolk State
Nov. 10 - vs. Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 17 - at South Carolina State