(STATS) - The five-way tie for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title last season was so unique that everyone is still astounded by it.

And perhaps thinking, if this just went differently or that went differently …

"It means that our league is evening out. I think it's a good thing," said South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough, whose team was in the middle of it.

More from FoxSports

But Pough also realizes, "We don't need to have it again (he laughs). We need to kind of win this thing straight up."

The coaches at Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and Morgan State probably share Pough's sentiments. All five teams laid claim to the title, but Morgan State won the tiebreaker to earn the conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

The five teams again formed the top five in the MEAC's preseason poll, so the race could be similar this season. What's different is that the conference has decided to surrender its automatic bid in the playoffs to have its champion face the Southwestern Athletic Conference winner in the newly created Celebration Bowl. The inaugural game will take place Dec. 19 in Atlanta.

The top MEAC teams not headed to the Celebration Bowl will be eligible for at-large bids to the playoffs, which last year eluded two teams with nine wins (Bethune and A&T) and South Carolina State's eight-win squad.

A MEAC team hasn't won a playoff game since 1999, so the Celebration Bowl offers not only a more lucrative payout, but also a more reasonable chance for a win. The MEAC owns a 7-2 series lead over the SWAC in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge, played each Labor Day Weekend. On Sept. 6, South Carolina State hope to become the first three-time winner in the series.

---=

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH=

1. North Carolina A&T

2. South Carolina State

3. Morgan State

4. North Carolina Central

5. Bethune-Cookman

6. Florida A&M

7. Hampton

8. Norfolk State

9. Howard

10. Delaware State

11. Savannah State

---=

TEAM CAPSULES=

1. NORTH CAROLINA A&T AGGIES

LOCATION: Greensboro, North Carolina

STADIUM: Aggie Stadium

COACH: Rod Broadway (28-17 in four seasons at North Carolina A&T; 96-40 overall)

LAST SEASON: 9-3 overall, 6-2 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Desmond Lawrence, C Ronald Canty, LG William Ray Robinson, LB D'Vonte Grant, CB Donald Mattocks

OFFENSIVE STAR: Tarik Cohen, RB, Jr., 5-6, 173 (197 carries, 1,340 yards, 15 TDs; 25 receptions, 237 yards, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Tony McRae, CB/KR, Sr., 5-9, 178 (62 TT, 2 TFL, 5 INTs, 11 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Kwashaun Quick, QB, Sr., 6-0, 188; Lamar Raynard, QB, R-Fr., 6-4, 174; Denzel Keyes, WR, Jr., 6-4, 200; Xavier Griffin, Jr., WR, 6-1, 201; Caleb Gabriel, R-So., WR, 5-9, 165; Wes Cole, RG, Jr., 6-6, 335; Brandon Parker, LT, R-So., 6-7, 280; Michael Neal, DT, Sr., 5-11, 260; Marquis Ragland, NG, R-Jr., 6-3, 271; Angelo Keyes, DE, R-Jr., 6-1, 263; Denzel Jones, MLB, Sr., 5-9, 244; Marcus Albert, OLB, R-So., 5-10, 200; Lorenz Suttles, Rover, Jr., 6-2, 187; Landis Shoffner, Rover, Sr., 6-0, 186; Zerius Lockhart, FS, R-So., 5-10, 174; Cody Jones, PK/P, 5-11, 241

OUTLOOK: Broadway says it's painful to look back at how an outright MEAC title slipped away from the Aggies on the final day of the 2014 regular season, but nonetheless the Aggies earned a share of the conference crown and won nine games. They believe they have unfinished business for 2015. It helps to have lightning in RB Cohen, the MEAC's 2014 co-offensive player of the year, and WRs Gabriel and Keyes. Cohen's 1,340 rushing yards marked the second-highest total in school history. The Aggies even return their starting quarterback, Quick, who was dismissed from the team following an offseason arrest but later reinstated to the program. There is a standout in each of the three defensive units - NG Ragland, LB Shoffner (team-high 86 tackles) and CB McRae, who had an impressive 16 passes defended last season. The big loss is pass rusher Grant. But with a veteran team coming off last season's disappointing end, the Aggies are motivated to have another banner season. Their visit to North Carolina on Sept. 12 is their first FBS matchup since 2006.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Shaw

Sept. 12 - at North Carolina

Sept. 19 - at Elon

Oct. 3 - at Hampton*

Oct. 10 - at Norfolk State*

Oct. 17 - vs. Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 24 - vs. Howard*

Oct. 31 - at Florida A&M*

Nov. 7 - at South Carolina State*

Nov. 14 - vs. Delaware State*

Nov. 21 - vs. North Carolina Central*

* - MEAC game

---=

2. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Orangeburg, South Carolina

STADIUM: Oliver C. Dawson Stadium

COACH: Buddy Pough (105-47 in 13 seasons at South Carolina State)

LAST SEASON: 8-4 overall, 6-2 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: OL Domanic Wilson, OL Devin Flowers, DE Alex Glover, DE Andrew Carter, LB Justin Hughes

OFFENSIVE STAR: Jalen Simmons, RB, Sr., 5-8, 205 (209 carries, 1,082 yards, 9 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Javon Hargrave, DL, Sr., 6-3, 311 (55 TT, 23.5 TFL, 16 SK, 2 PBU, 8 QBH, 1 FR, 3 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Adrian Kollock Jr., QB, R-Jr., 6-2, 202; Justin Taylor RB, R-Jr., 5-10, 215; Dondre Lewis-Freeman, RB, R-Sr., 5-7, 195; Taquan West, WR, Sr., 6-4, 210; Temarrick Hemingway, TE, Grad, 6-5, 225; Javarius Leamon, OL, R-Jr., 6-7, 310; Justin Evans, OL, R-So., 6-5, 310; James Settles, DL, R-Sr., 6-1, 225; Darius Leonard, LB, R-So., 6-3, 200; Reggie Owens, LB, Sr., 6-2, 215; Tevin Richard, LB, R-Sr., 5-11, 200; Tyler Smith, DB, R-Jr., 6-1, 215; Chris Pauling, DB, Sr., 5-10, 185; Antonio Hamilton, DB/PR, R-Sr., 6-0, 185

OUTLOOK: Pough has captured six MEAC titles and posted an 81-22 career record against conference opponents. With 17 returning starters this year, he's pointing toward adding to the totals considerably. The Bulldogs' Nov. 7 game against North Carolina A&T will go a long way in deciding the MEAC title. Although there were key losses in the front seven, the defense has a special player in Hargrave, who set the FCS single-game record with six sacks en route to having 16 as a junior. LB Leonard had a team-high 87 tackles as well as 13 1/2 tackles for loss as a freshman. The quarterback play needs consistency as Kollock (96-for-176, 1,244 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs) lacked rhythm while the Bulldogs ranked 115th in the FCS in passing offense. But Simmons rushed for over 1,000 yards, and Taylor, who played hurt, are a formidable duo. The special teams were a curiosity last season: Hamilton had a ridiculous 25.6-yard average on 15 punt returns with two touchdowns, but the Bulldogs made only one field goal in seven attempts outside 30 yards. The Bulldogs have early spotlights against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge followed by a visit from FCS power Coastal Carolina.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 6 - vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (at Orlando, Florida)

Sept. 12 - vs. Coastal Carolina

Sept. 19 - vs. Florida A&M*

Oct. 3 - at Furman

Oct. 10 - at Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 17 - vs. Howard*

Oct. 24 - at Delaware State*

Oct. 31 - vs. Hampton*

Nov. 7 - vs. North Carolina A&T*

Nov. 14 - at Norfolk State*

Nov. 21 - at Savannah State*

* - MEAC game

---=

3. MORGAN STATE BEARS

LOCATION: Baltimore

STADIUM: Hughes Stadium

COACH: Lee Hull (7-6 in one season at Morgan State)

LAST SEASON: 7-6 overall, 6-2 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: OL Darren Pinnock, LB Cody Acker, DE Christopher Robinson, SS Paul Eatman

OFFENSIVE STAR: Herb Walker Jr., RB, Jr., 5-8, 190 (233 carries, 1,408 yards, 13 TDs; 20 receptions, 244 yards, 2 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Delonte Hall, CB, Sr., 5-8, 165 (56 TT, 2 INTs, 9 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Moses Skillon, QB, R-Sr., 6-4, 210; Seth Higgins, QB, R-Sr., 6-4, 230; Lamont Brown III, RB, R-Sr., 5-10, 180; Andrew King, WR, R-Sr., 5-9,170; Orlando Johnson, RS/WR, R-So., 5-8, 150; Landen Malbrough, WR, Jr. 6-1, 180; Thomas Martin, WR, R-Jr., 5-10, 175; Kirby Linscomb IV, WR, Jr., 6-5, 215 (San Jose City College transfer); Matthew Thompson, RG, So., 6-4, 330; Dominique Woods, C, R-So., 6-2, 300; Andrew Mitchell, DE, R-Jr., 6-2, 260; Heleaince Gates, DE, R-Jr., 6-5, 240; Dalonte Jenifer, NT, So., 6-3, 285; Damare' Whitaker, ILB, So., 6-0, 230; Greg Gibson, ILB, Jr., 6-2, 215; Bill Hill, OLB, R-Sr., 6-1, 220; Ta'Quon Jackson, OLB R-Jr., 6-2 ,215; Deshaun Summers, CB, Sr. 5-9, 175; Peterson Janvier, FS, Sr., 5-9, 175; Antonio Jefferson, SS, Sr., 5-10, 185; Chris Moller, PK, R-Jr., 5-11, 235; Lawrence Forbes, P, R-Jr., 6-4, 180

OUTLOOK: In Hull's first season, the Bears captured their first conference title since 1979 and advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time. They set or tied 57 schools record in the process. The offense will remain among the best in the MEAC, and starting QB Skillon is backed by another fifth-year senior, Higgins, who was No. 1 at the start of the 2013 season. After RB Brown suffered an ACL tear in last year's first game, Walker took the top spot and went on to rush for a school-record 1,408 yards. Their offensive line includes two sophomores, Thompson and Woods, who received All-MEAC first-team honors in the preseason. Plus, the receiving group could be special, led by King (42 receptions, 508 yards). The Bears struggled against the run last season and seek improvement under new defensive coordinator Mike Fanoga, who will promote more of an attacking style of play. CBs Hall and Summers play bigger than their size. This could be another championship season, but the Bears face tough opening acts with Air Force and Illinois State on the road.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Air Force

Sept. 12 - at Illinois State

Sept. 19 - vs. Virginia-Lynchburg

Sept. 26 - at Howard* (East Rutherford, New Jersey)

Oct. 3 - at Delaware State*

Oct. 10 - vs. Savannah State*

Oct. 17 - vs. Hampton*

Oct. 24 - at North Carolina Central*

Nov. 7 - at Bethune-Cookman*

Nov. 14 - vs. Florida A&M*

Nov. 21 - vs. Norfolk State*

* - MEAC game

---=

4. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL EAGLES

LOCATION: Durham, North Carolina

STADIUM: O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium

COACH: Jerry Mack (7-5 in one season at North Carolina Central)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 6-2 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Andre Clarke, WR Adrian Wilkins, OT Christopher Pressley, DE Ty Brown, DE Felix Small

OFFENSIVE STAR: Malcolm Bell, QB, R-Jr., 6-1, 190 (177-for-286, 1,982 yards, 15 TDs, 5 INTs; 117 carries, 416 yards, 5 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Mike Jones, CB/RS, Jr., 5-10, 180 (40 TT, 2.5 TFL, 5 INTs, 13 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Idreis Augustus, RB, R-Sr., 5-9, 190; Deyonta Wright, RB, Sr., 5-9, 180; Quentin Atkinson, WR, Sr., 6-1, 200; Khalil Stinson, WR, Jr., 6-3, 210 (Arizona Western Junior College transfer); Sterlin Houston, OL, So., 6-2, 230; Carl Jones, C, R-Jr., 6-1, 285; Jvon Simmons, TE, So., 6-2, 230; Clevonne Davis, OL, Sr., 6-2, 305; Zachary Giles, OL, R-Sr., 6-1, 320; Carl Jones, OL, R-Jr., 6-1, 285; Sterlin Houston, OL, So., 6-4, 320; Ja'Quan Smith, DT, R-So., 6-2, 300; Antonio Brown, DT, R-So., 6-3, 250; Tre Smith, DE, R-Jr., 6-3, 215; Jeremy Thompson, LB, R-Jr., 6-1, 225; Jordan Miles, LB, R-Jr., 5-11, 225; C.J. Moore, FS, R-Sr., 6-2, 200; Ryan Smith, CB, R-Sr., 6-0, 185; Theo Livingston, SS, R-Sr., 5-10, 205

OUTLOOK: The Eagles, coming off a share of the MEAC title for the first time, are heading upward under the 34-year-old Mack, returning a veteran team that's led by the MEAC's preseason first-team quarterback, Bell. He ranked second in the MEAC in total offense (218.2 ypg) and accounted for 19 touchdowns last season. With a veteran offensive line, Bell will continue to trouble defenses in the Eagles' fast-paced attack. But the Eagles also have to overcome the loss of RB Clarke (15 touchdowns) and all-purpose standout Wilkins, the latter whom left early for a potential pro career. The defense was good but not great a year ago, and is expecting a higher level from eight returning starters. Jones claimed preseason honors as both a cornerback and a return specialist as his 19.1-yard average on punt returns ranked second in both the MEAC and the FCS.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. St. Augustine's

Sept. 12 - at Duke

Sept. 19 - at FIU

Oct. 3 - vs. Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 10 - at Florida A&M*

Oct. 17 - at Savannah State*

Oct. 24 - vs. Morgan State*

Oct. 31 - vs. Norfolk State*

Nov. 7 - vs. Delaware State*

Nov. 14 - at Howard*

Nov. 21 - at North Carolina A&T*

* - MEAC game

---=

5. BETHUNE-COOKMAN WILDCATS

LOCATION: Daytona Beach, Florida

STADIUM: Memorial Stadium

COACH: Terry Sims (first season at Bethune-Cookman)

LAST SEASON: 9-3 overall, 6-2 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (8 offense/2 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Jhomo Gordon, OL Andrew Edouard, DE LeBranden Richardson, DE Erik Williams, DL Rony Barrow, LB Ralph Williams, Jr., LB Tavarus Dantzler, LB Donald Smith, DB Thomas Finnie

OFFENSIVE STAR: Quentin Williams, QB, R-Sr., 6-0, 190 (113-for-183, 1,426 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs; 141 carries, 283 yards, 4 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Marquis Drayton, DB, Sr., 6-1, 200 (29 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Larry Brihm, QB, R-So., 5-11, 209; Michael Jones, RB, Jr., 6-2, 187; Anthony Jordan, RB, R-Sr., 6-0, 220; Danny Dilliard, RB, R-So., 6-2, 229; Jawill Davis, WR, R-So., 5-11, 177; Jaime Wilson, WR, R-Jr., 5-11, 196; Frank Brown, WR/PR, Jr., 5-11, 176; Dariusz Bladek, OL, Sr., 6-5, 310; Trevin Huff, OL, Sr., 6-4, 270; Romia Wilson, OL, Sr., 6-2, 280; Ty're Simmons, FS, Sr., 5-9, 178; Murphy Allen, LS, R-So., 6-2, 280; Frank Brown, PR, Jr., 5-11, 176; Jonathan Cagle, P, Sr., 6-3, 175; Dre'Sean Nelson, KR, Jr., 5-8, 160

OUTLOOK: Sims was an assistant throughout former coach Brian Jenkins' highly successful five-year tenure, serving as the assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and secondary coach last season. He doesn't need to make significant change considering B-CU won four MEAC titles in that time. But the Wildcats surely can tighten some of the sloppy play (46 sacks allowed and 123 penalties committed last season). The offense averaged a terrific time of possession (33:44) and there is no shortage of skills positions players returning. QBs Williams and Brihm split time under center, and Jones (730 yards, 5 TDs) and Jordan (579 yards, 12 TDs) are both capable at running back. There are only two returning starters on defense, both from Sims' secondary, Drayton and Simmons. With all the losses, it appears B-CU will take a step back this season. Having North Carolina Central, South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T in a three-week span is the make-or-break part of the schedule.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Miami (Fla.)

Sept. 12 - at Grambling State

Sept. 19 - vs. Lane

Sept. 26 - vs. Savannah State*

Oct. 3 - at North Carolina Central*

Oct. 10 - vs. South Carolina State*

Oct. 17 - at North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 24 - vs. Norfolk State*

Oct. 31 - at Delaware State*

Nov. 7 - vs. Morgan State*

Nov. 21 - at Florida A&M*

* - MEAC game

---=

6. FLORIDA A&M RATTLERS

LOCATION: Tallahassee, Florida

STADIUM: Bragg Memorial Stadium

COACH: Alex Wood (first season at Florida A&M; 25-24 overall)

LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 3-5 MEAC (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Damien Fleming, LB Shaun Ward, CB Terry Johnson, PK Chase Varnadore

OFFENSIVE STAR: Brandon Norwood, WR, So., 6-1, 180 (36 receptions, 516 yards, 1 INT)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Akil Blount, LB, Sr., 6-3, 243 (72 TT, 7 TFL, 1.5 SK, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Carson Royal, QB, Jr., 6-2, 200; Kenny Coleman, QB, Jr., 6-1, 190; Gerald Hearns, RB, So., 5-9, 205; Tysean Holloway, RB, Jr., 6-0, 205; Devondrick Nealy, RB, Sr., 5-11, 195 (Iowa State transfer); Montavious Williams, WR, R-Jr., 6-0, 160; Tad Ecby, WR, Sr., 6-0, 205 (Iowa State transfer); Alvin Harper Jr., WR, Fr., 5-10, 175; Alonzo Palmer-Hicks, TE, Jr., 6-3, 235; Mateo Kambui, C, Sr., 6-3, 288Keonte Cash, LG, Jr., 5-11, 310; Timothy Jones, LT, R-Jr., 6-6, 290; Jamal Gay, RG, R-Jr., 6-4, 275; Ryan Templeton, RT, R-Sr., 6-3, 317; Michael Lovejoy, NG, Sr., 6-4, 265; Keshawn Butler, LB, R-Sr., 6-1, 220' Curtis Alexander, LB, Jr., 6-2, 215; Luke Helms, MLB, Jr., 6-2, 225; Jules Dornevil, DB, Jr., 5-11, 165; Neal Cunningham, SS, R-Jr., 6-1, 205; Jacques Bryant, FS, R-Jr., 6-1, 178; Patrick Aiken, CB, R-Sr., 5-10, 170 (sat out last season); Colby Blanton, P, R-Jr., 6-1, 210

OUTLOOK: Former Buffalo offensive coordinator Wood, who was the head coach at James Madison from 1995-98, steps in after A&M fired Earl Holmes during a 2-6 start to last season. The Rattlers have posted three straight losing records for the first time since 1984-86 and are ineligible for the MEAC title because of NCAA APR sanctions (but their games will count in the conference standings). Likely new QB Royal, last year's backup to Fleming, will run a no-huddle offensive attack and look to a strong unit of wide receivers. The run game ranked 10th in the MEAC, but seeks improvement with its offensive line and RBs Hearns (475 yards) and Holloway (233 yards). Despite having a bunch of good linebackers, the Rattlers are switching to a 4-3 base alignment. LB Blount is the defensive standout and CB Aiken returns to a Bryant-led secondary after sitting out last season. The September schedule is quite tough as the Holmes era begins.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at South Florida

Sept. 12 - at Samford

Sept. 19 - at South Carolina State*

Sept. 26 - vs. Tennessee State

Oct. 3 - at Savannah State*

Oct. 10 - vs. North Carolina Central*

Oct. 17 - vs. Delaware State*

Oct. 31 - vs. North Carolina A&T*

Nov. 7 - at Hampton*

Nov. 14 - at Morgan State*

Nov. 21 - vs. Bethune-Cookman*

* - MEAC game

---=

7. HAMPTON PIRATES

LOCATION: Hampton, Virginia

STADIUM: Armstrong Stadium

COACH: Connell Maynor (3-9 in one season at Hampton; 48-15 overall)

LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MEAC (Tie/9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Jorrian Washington, OL Kory Alpichi, OL Ronald Rose, DB Khambrel McGee

OFFENSIVE STAR: Twarn Mixon, WR, R-Jr., 5-10, 170 (50 receptions, 615 yards, 6 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Miles Grooms, DE, Sr., 6-3, 255 (52 TT, 13 TFL, 5 SK, 10 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: David Watford, QB, R-Sr., 6-2, 210 (Virginia transfer); Jerrell Antoine, QB, So., 6-1, 160; Jaylian Williamson, QB, Sr., 5-10, 175; Eric Carter Jr., RB, So., 5-8, 223; Christopher Dukes, RB, R-Sr., 5-8, 192; SeQuan Gooding, WR, Sr., 6-1, 220; Leon Shorter, WR, R-Sr., 6-2, 198; Rashawn Proctor, WR, So., 6-0, 193; Rayshad Riddick, WR, Sr., 5-8, 187; Torrian White, OL, Sr., 6-6, 335; Donovan Johnson, OL, Jr., 6-4, 300; Owen Obasuyi, DL, So., 6-5, 260; Charles Owens, DE, R-Sr., 6-2, 295; Joshua Thorne, LB, Sr., 6-0, 230; Tyrone Ward, LB, Sr., 6-0, 235; Keith McAfee, LB, Sr., 6-0, 240; Chaka Diarrassouba, DB, So., 6-0, 190; Anthony Prevost, PK, R-Jr., 5-5, 155; Christian Faber-Kinney, P, R-Jr., 6-1, 197

OUTLOOK: Last season's nationally televised win over Bethune-Cookman was a reminder of what Hampton football has been and can be again. Maynor, who experienced great success at Division II Winston-Salem, hopes for improvement in his second season with the Pirates. His squad ranked second in the MEAC in total offense (381.9 ypg) but struggled to score in the red zone and had a MEAC-worst minus-13 turnover margin. Although QB Antoine finished strong last season, throwing for 11 touchdowns in the final five games, Virginia transfer Watford entered preseason camp as the favorite to win the No. 1 job. He was Virginia's starting signal-caller in 2013, but was turnover-prone. The skills positions run deep as Mixon is an All-MEAC first-team wide receiver and RB Carter returns off three 100-yard games as a freshman. The defense struggled enough that it changed schemes during the season a year ago. This year, it will have a 3-4 look. In a conference that always has terrific linebackers, Thorne's 10.3 tackles per game led the MEAC. He combines with DE Grooms to provide a solid pass rush. Quite simply, there's too much talent for the Pirates not to improve in 2015.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Kentucky State

Sept. 12 - vs. Richmond

Sept. 18 - vs. Howard* (RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.)

Sept. 26 - at Norfolk State*

Oct. 3 - vs. North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 10 - vs. Delaware State*

Oct. 17 - at Morgan State*

Oct. 24 - at William & Mary

Oct. 31 - at South Carolina State*

Nov. 7 - vs. Florida A&M*

Nov. 14 - at Savannah State*

* - MEAC game

---=

8. NORFOLK STATE SPARTANS

LOCATION: Norfolk, Virginia

STADIUM: William Price Stadium

COACH: Latrell Scott (first season at Norfolk State; 25-9 overall)

LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 4-4 MEAC (6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (9 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Terrance Ervin, RB Aaron Daniels, OL Justin Myler, DL George Riddick, LB Lynden Trail, LB Marcell Coke, SS Keenan Lambert, CB Darrin Marrow

OFFENSIVE STAR: Isaac White, WR, Sr., 6-3, 185 (48 receptions, 664 yards, 7 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Deon King, OLB/DE, Sr., 6-1, 235 (106 TT, 18 TFL, 7.5 SK, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 9 QBH, 3 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Greg Hankerson Jr., QB, Jr., 6-0, 190 (Florida Atlantic transfer); Malik Stokes, QB, R-Sr., 6-0, 195; Gerard Johnson, RB, Jr., 5-9, 200 (Old Dominion transfer); Demetreus Ferebee, TE, R-So., 6-4, 245; Mike Phillips, OG, Sr., 6-1, 290; Thornton Collier, OG, Sr., 6-2, 275; Darcell Whitaker, OT, R-Jr., 6-4, 295; Louis Humphrey, C, R-Jr., 6-0, 290; Markice Street, WR, So., 5-11, 185; James Church Jr., WR, Jr., 6-1, 205; Kevin Williams, DE, Sr., 6-4, 315; Chris Lee, DE, So., 6-3, 270; Shawn Fauntleroy Jr., NG, Sr., 5-9, 305; Lamar Neal, ILB, Sr., 6-0, 250; Rodney Smith Jr., OLB, R-Jr., 6-3, 225; Jay Anderson, OLB, Jr., 6-1, 210; Brandon Walker, SS, Jr., 6-2, 200; Donte' Haynesworth, CB, Jr., ; D'Metrius Williams, CB, Sr., 6-0, 200; Leroy Parker, FS, Jr., 6-0, 195; Cameron Marouf, PK/P, Jr., 5-9, 160

OUTLOOK: Scott has been making stops at many of the Virginia schools, including head coaching stints at Richmond and Virginia State. He faces a tough start this season as Norfolk State is the only FCS team to be playing three FBS opponents. Last year's regular quarterback, Ervin, recently left the program, but the Spartans can look to Florida Atlantic transfer Hankerson, a dual threat whose two career starts on the FBS level included one against Alabama. Speaking of transfers, RB Johnson comes aboard from Old Dominion, where he rushed for 865 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons. White led all MEAC wide receivers in receiving yards (664) and touchdown catches (seven) last season. On defense, there were significant losses with Riddick, Trail, Coke, Lambert and Marrow. But King returns as one of the best defenders in the MEAC, amassing 36 1/2 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over the last two seasons. He is converting from inside linebacker to the outside. When King moves up to the defensive line, he will find NG Fauntleroy as the veteran anchor.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Rutgers

Sept. 12 - at Old Dominion

Sept. 19 - at Marshall

Sept. 26 - vs. Hampton*

Oct. 3 - at Howard*

Oct. 10 - vs. North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 24 - at Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 31 - at North Carolina Central*

Nov. 7 - vs. Savannah State*

Nov. 14 - vs. South Carolina State*

Nov. 21 - at Morgan State*

* - MEAC game

---=

9. HOWARD BISON

LOCATION: Washington, D.C.

STADIUM: William H. Greene Stadium

COACH: Gary Harrell (17-17 in three seasons at Howard)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 3-5 MEAC (Tie/7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: (offense/defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Greg McGhee, RB William Parker, WR/RS Richard Aiyegoro, LB Khari Brown, SS Cam Alston

OFFENSIVE STAR: Anthony Philyaw, Jr., 6-1, 220 (injured last season)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Devin Rollins, MLB, Sr., 5-11, 240 (122 TT, 9 TFL, 3 SK, 3 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Jamie Cunningham, QB, R-Jr., 6-4, 215; Aquainius Feeeman, RB, R-Sr., 5-10, 200; Robert Mercer, WR/KR, R-Jr., 5-7, 160; Matt Colvin, WR, Sr., 6-1, 175; Myles Williams, TE, R-Sr., 6-4, 220; John Smith, LT, R-Sr., 6-7, 300; Deonta Allen Wright, LG, R-Sr., 6-5, 305; Toree Boyd, RT, Jr., 6-4, 315; Ibrahima Kebe, DT, R-Sr., 6-3, 300; Ghanfona Iduwe, R-Jr., 6-2, 270; Damon Gresham Chisholm, DE, Sr., 6-3, 255; Godspower Offor, DE, Sr., 6-3, 255; Marquise Blanchard, DE, Jr., 6-3, 250; Kenneth Russ, CB, R-Jr, 6-0, 180; Craig Johnson, SS, Jr., 5-11, 200; John Fleck, PK/P, Sr., 6-2, 215

OUTLOOK: Twelve starters suffered injuries last season, but the Bison rallied to go 4-0 in November to provide a lift for the offseason. While leading rusher Parker (673 yards, 7 TDs) is sidelined with a torn ACL, the running game is still strong with the return of 2013 starter Philyaw, who rushed for 721 yards and 15 touchdowns that season, as well as Freeman, who also is a terrific pass catcher out of the backfield. Freeman's 36 receptions were second on the team to WR Colvin (41 receptions, 611 yards, 1 TD). But the Bison will find it hard to replace QB McGhee, a four-year starter and last year's MEAC co-offensive player of the year. On defense, MLB Rollins figures to continue being a tackle machine and the defensive line is experienced. Russ and Johnson form a solid combination in the secondary. The Bison may have to keep the thoughts of an improved record tempered as their non-conference schedule is brutal (Appalachian State, Boston College and Stony Brook) and they have to go to South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Appalachian State

Sept. 12 - at Boston College

Sept. 18 - vs. Hampton* (RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.)

Sept. 26 - vs. Morgan State* (East Rutherford, New Jersey)

Oct. 3 - vs. Norfolk State*

Oct. 17 - at South Carolina State*

Oct. 24 - at North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 31 - vs. Savannah State*

Nov. 7 - at Stony Brook

Nov. 14 - vs. North Carolina Central*

Nov. 21 - at Delaware State*

* - MEAC game

---=

10. DELAWARE STATE HORNETS

LOCATION: Dover, Delaware

STADIUM: Alumni Stadium

COACH: Kenny Carter (first season at Delaware State)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 overall, 2-6 MEAC (Tie/9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Milton Williams III, DT Rodney Gunter, LB Elbie Williams, LB Alex Perry, FS Davon Moore

OFFENSIVE STAR: Ernest Mengoni, C, Sr., 6-3, 285

DEFENSIVE STAR: Terrick Colston, SS, Sr., 6-1, 200 (75 TT, 5 TFL, 4 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Esayah Obado, R-Jr., 6-3, 210 (injured last season); Gil Rivera, QB, Jr., 6-3, 230; Jamaal Jackson, RB, Sr., 5-9, 180; Dae-Hon Cheung, RB, Sr., 5-10, 180; Nagee Jackson, RB, Sr., 6-2, 225; Malik Golson, WR/RS, R-Jr., 5-9, 180; Aris Scott, WR/KR, Jr., 6-3, 225; Jerron Searles, OT, Jr., 6-5, 280; Dimitri Hill, OT, Sr., 6-5, 325; Clark McCready, OT, Sr., 6-4, 285; Darren Helwig, OG, Jr., 6-5, 295; Keon Williams, OG, Jr., 6-2, 285; Gabe Sherrod, DE, Jr., 6-3, 255; Tarique Anderson, DT, Sr., 6-5, 265; Dan Zajac, LB, So., 6-2, 235; Malik Harris, LB, So., 6-0, 220; J.R. Robinson, CB, Sr., 5-11, 200; William Burton, CB, Jr., 5-9, 175; Anthony Gamble, CB, Jr., 5-8, 180; Wisdom Nzidee, PK, So., 5-8, 180 (Paine College transfer)

OUTLOOK: Carter is a first-time head coach, but he has worked under some of the bigger names in college football, including the late Joe Paterno, Urban Meyer, Charlie Strong and Bobby Johnson. His new team is not far removed from posting 5-3 conference records in both 2012 and '13. All five starters return to the offensive line, led by Mengoni at center. That's great news for QB Obado, who missed last season with a lower back injury and hopes to revive a struggling offense whose 11.3 points and 228.8 yards per game ranked last in the conference. The key running backs are seniors - Jackson averaged 84.2 rushing yards over the final five games - and WR Golson has 80 receptions through his first two seasons. The defensive leader is SS Colston, who has made the MEAC second or third team in each of his three seasons (he has 12 combined interceptions and fumble recoveries in his career). But the defense is replacing four of the five leading tacklers. Carter can put his experience coaching special teams to good use. Last season, the Hornets surrendered seven touchdowns on punts (four on returns and three on blocks)

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Liberty

Sept. 12 - at Kent State

Sept. 19 - vs. Chowan

Oct. 3 - vs. Morgan State*

Oct. 10 - at Hampton*

Oct. 17 - at Florida A&M*

Oct. 24 - vs. South Carolina State*

Oct. 31 - vs. Bethune-Cookman*

Nov. 7 - at North Carolina Central*

Nov. 14 - at North Carolina A&T*

Nov. 21 - vs. Howard*

* - MEAC game

---=

11. SAVANNAH STATE TIGERS

LOCATION: Savannah, Georgia

STADIUM: Ted Wright Stadium

COACH: Earnest Wilson III (1-23 in two seasons at Savannah State)

LAST SEASON: 0-12 overall, 0-8 MEAC (11th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Cantrell Frazier, WR Jeremiah Harris, TE Kris Drummond, C Vincent Harper, DE David Adebiyi, LB Justin Dixon, FS Alfred Ansley, SS Robert Smith

OFFENSIVE STAR: Richard Williams II, RB, Jr., 5-8, 185 (95 carries, 370 yards, 3 TDs; 23 receptions, 134 yards, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Marquis Smith, LB, Jr., 6-3, 235 (60 TT, 17 TFL, 8 SK, 2 QBH, 3 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Tino Smith II, QB, So., 6-2, 215; David Handler, QB, Fr., 6-5, 240; Jalen McGriff, WR, So., 6-2, 210; Dereon London II, WR, So., 6-0, 170; Ker-Sean Wilson, WR, Sr., 6-2, 195; Arshon Spaulding Jr., WR, Jr., 5-11, 195; Devin Stainrod, RG, Sr., 6-0, 290; Anquavius Fuller, RG, So., 6-2, 320; Afolabi Ayangbayi, LT, Jr., 6-4, 290; Javanta Mobley, DL, Sr., 6-2, 285; Connor Christian, DL, So., 6-3, 280; William Broadbent IV, DL, Sr., 6-1, 345; Trevion Ashford, LB, Sr., 6-0, 190; Leonardo Myers Jr., LB, Sr., 6-1, 235; Anthony Smith, LB, So., 6-1, 195; Juwuan Tolbert, SS, 5-10, 185; John Barron, PK/P, Jr., 5-11, 180

OUTLOOK: Like Florida A&M, the Tigers' APR penalties mean they are ineligible for the MEAC title and the postseason. But that hardly matters, they just want to win some games, having gone 21 straight without a victory and failing to win more than two games in 15 of the last 16 seasons. Outscored by 35 points per game last season, the Tigers will play only 10 times this year. They lost some potential returnees during the offseason and their only preseason All-MEAC pick was third-team LB Marquis Smith, who had 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks in eight games last season. While Mobley, Broadbent and Christian provide talent on the D-line, the secondary might be the youngest in the FCS. On offense, the quarterback position needs to settle, perhaps with Tino Smith II (89-for-176, 849 yards, 5 TDs, 8 INTs) or the freshman Handler. RB Williams hopes to build on a decent sophomore season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Colorado State

Sept. 19 - at Akron

Sept. 26 - at Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 3 - vs. Florida A&M*

Oct. 10 - at Morgan State*

Oct. 17 - vs. North Carolina Central*

Oct. 31 - at Howard*

Nov. 7 - at Norfolk State*

Nov. 14 - vs. Hampton*

Nov. 21 - vs. South Carolina State*

* - MEAC game