MEAC FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

George Hammond

MEAC FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

MEAC FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

MEAC FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


In one of the craziest conference finishes ever, five teams, North Carolina Central, Bethune-Cookman, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State, tied for first place last year with identical 6-2 league marks. When the dust had settled, Morgan State emerged as the league’s automatic FCS playoff qualifier after winning a lengthy tie-breaking procedure. The Bears lost to Richmond, 46-24, in the opening round of the playoffs and perhaps the frustration of little playoff success (a MEAC team hasn’t won a playoff game since 1999) and the opportunity to make more money for the league has resulted in the MEAC relinquishing its auto bid to play in the Celebration Bowl against the Southwestern Athletic Conference winner on December 19th at the Georgia Dome (ABC). Four new coaches enter the league this season, but the competitiveness should be just as tight as last season.


1. South Carolina State

The returning numbers are good for the Bulldogs, who lost to North Carolina Central and Morgan State last year but beat North Carolina A&T and Bethune-Cookman. Veteran coach Buddy Pough is entering his 14th season (105-47 overall), and the Bulldogs look poised to make another title run. The key could likely be the play of redshirt junior quarterback Adrian Kollock Jr. Last year, Kollock was just 96-of-176 with seven interceptions and an average of 113.1 yards per game passing. Wide receivers Taquan West (33 receptions) and Temarrick Hemingway (18 receptions) should help. The running game should be strong with Jalen Simmons (1,090 rushing yards) and the return of 2013 standout Justin Taylor. Defensively, tackle Javon Hargrave leads the way along with cornerback and kick returner Antonio Hamilton. South Carolina State will get tested early when it hosts in-state FCS rival Coastal Carolina. Last year, Coastal prevailed 30-3. Also, South Carolina State doesn’t play Morgan State or North Carolina Central this season.


2. North Carolina A&T

The Aggies were in good shape to win the league title outright last year, but they lost to rival North Carolina Central in the regular season finale to shake up the league standings.  Several key players return, but it will be interesting to see how North Carolna A&T fares at the quarterback position. Last year’s starter, Kwashaun Quick, was arrested in March on drug charges and dismissed from the team in April. But Lamar Raynad played well in the spring game, completing 22-of-36 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. The return of one of the nation’s top running backs, Tarik Cohen, will help. The junior, who was named MEAC’s co-offensive player of the year last year, had a 6.8 ypg average, good enough for third in FCS. Hoping to help the offense even more this season, head coach Rod Broadway promoted former wide receivers coach Chip Hester to offensive coordinator this year. The Aggies had 175 receptions last year – most in school history. Defensively, all-conference corner and kick returner Tony McRae returns as does three-quarters of the defensive line and top tackler Landis Shoffner.


3. Bethune-Cookman

Even though Bethune-Cookman (9-3, 6-2) has a new coach, don’t expect the Wildcats to slip. Bethune-Cookman lost head coach Brian Jenkins to Alabama State during the offseason (46-14 at B-C), but assistant Terry Sims was promoted to the top job and he’s expected to bring a fast-pace offensive attack. Last year, Quentin Williams and Larry Brihm Jr. split time at quarterback and they’re expected to do the same this season. In 2014, Brihm was No. 1 in the league in passing efficiency and Williams was No. 3. Former Miami running back, Danny Dillard, now in his second season at B-C, could be the Wildcats’ main rushing threat. In addition, Jawill Davis, who had nine receptions in the spring game, could key the passing game. Bethune-Cookman has a tough opener at Miami.


4. Morgan State

The Bears (7-6, 6-2) won’t soon forget 2014. They lost three games by a total of seven points and they won three games by a total of seven points just one year after going 3-8 in 2013. In his first year, Lee Hull led Morgan State to a share of the MEAC title for the first time since 1979 and, of course, Morgan State made the FCS playoffs for the first time. The Bears set or tied 57 school records during their championship season. Junior running back Herb Walker, Jr. returns after setting Morgan State’s single-season rushing record with 1,408 yards. In his first start last year, he rushed 20 times for 271 yards. Also back is senior quarterback Moses Skillon, who threw for 1,392 passing yards last season. The key to the Bears’ season will be their defense, and the early schedule is brutal. Morgan State opens at Air Force, followed by a contest against FCS power Illinois State.


5. North Carolina Central

It will be hard to top last-season’s regular-season finale win over North Carolina A&T before a sold-out crowd of 13,326, but North Carolina Central (7-5, 6-2) will try. In coach Jerry Mack’s first season, the school earned its first MEAC title since transitioning to Division I athletics in 2007.  Eight players return who earned all-MEAC honors last year. Junior quarterback Malcolm Bell was second in the conference last year in total offense with 218.2 yards per game. Transfer wideout Khalil Stinson from Arizona Western Junior College, who caught 10 passes in the spring game, should complement Bell. On defense, all-everything corner Michael Jones is back and he brings his return skills with him. Last year, Jones had the second-highest punt return average in the nation.


6. Florida A&M

Alex Wood is the new coach for the Rattlers (3-9, 3-5). Wood was an assistant coach for the last four seasons at the University of Buffalo. One of the more significant changes Wood will bring is a switch in defensive alignment from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Senior defensive lineman Michael Lovejoy (6-4, 300) will be a big part of that defensive front. In addition, the linebacker corps of Akil Blount, KaShawn Butler and Curtis Alexander should be formidable. Florida A&M must replace veteran quarterback Damien Fleming. JUCO transfer Shazzon Mumphrey and redshirt junior Carson Royal are battling for that No. 1 spot, although Royal got most of the snaps with the first team in the spring game.


7. Norfolk State

Former Richmond and Virginia State head coach Latrell Scott is the new coach following the retirement of Pete Adrian. Scott’s first goal for Norfolk State (4-8, 4-4) is to improve the offense. Norfolk State was among the lowest-scoring teams in FCS last year with an average of just 11.7 points a game. A big problem was the fact that the team scored on only 11-of-22 chances inside the red zone. Quarterback Terrance Ervin returns with another year under his belt and he’ll be helped by the presence of Old Dominion transfer running back Gerard Johnson and all-MEAC wideout Isaac White (48 receptions). The defense is led by all-MEAC performer senior linebacker Deon King, who was fourth in the MEAC in tackles with 106. The schedule, however, is brutal. The opening three games are: at Rutgers, at Old Dominon and at Marshall.


8. Howard

After a 1-7 start last year, Howard went 4-0 in November to boost spirits heading into this season. But the Bison (5-7, 3-5) need a quarterback to replace four-year starter Greg McGhee, who was co-offensive player of the year in MEAC. Coach Gary Harrell is hoping the return of running back Anthony Philyaw (rushed for 15 TDs in 2013) and a healthy strong safety Julien David will help. Howard lost 12 starters due to injury last season. Redshirt sophomore Jamie Cunningham is a name to remember at quarterback. A tough schedule awaits the Bison as they open at Appalachian State followed by a trip to Boston College.


9. Delaware State

Former Louisville assistant Ken Carter takes over at Delaware State (2-10, 2-6). Three running backs return for the Hornets: senior Jamaal Jackson (493 yards last year), Nagee Jackson and Dae-Hon Cheung, who was limited by injuries last year. Delaware State needs to put more points up on the board as it averaged just 11.3 points a game in 2014. Redshirt junior Esayah Obado, who sat our last year with a back injury, and Gil Rivera, who had five starts last year, are in the mix for the quarterback spot. Cornerback Terrick Colston had 75 tackles last year and will lead the defense along with linebackers Dan Zajac and Malik Harris. Delaware State opens at Liberty, followed by a contest at Kent State.


10. Hampton

Connell Maynor enters his second season at Hampton (3-9, 2-6). A key to turning around the Pirates’ fortunes this season will be turnovers. They were minus 13 in that category last year. An interesting addition to the roster this season will be former Virginia quarterback David Watford, who started all 12 games in 2013 for the Cavaliers. But he fell to No. 3 on the depth chart last season and played in just four games. Twarn Mixson, who had 615 receiving yards last year, keys the air attack. Defensively, seniors Joshua Thorne (113 tackles last year – most in the MEAC) and lineman Miles Grooms lead the way.


11. Savannah State

Because of NCAA academic sanctions, Savannah State (0-12, 0-8) isn’t allowed spring practice, which makes the rebuilding task even tougher for coach Earnest Wilson III. Savannah State, which has won two or fewer games in 15 of the last 16 seasons, averaged just 11.4 points a game in 2014. Tino Smith or Leon Prunty should handle the quarterbacking duties while linebacker Marquis Smith is a bright spot on defense. Savannah State opens at Colorado State.


Conference Game To Watch:

South Carolina State at Bethune-Cookman, October 10 – When these two meet, a MEAC title usually is on the line. Last year, South Carolina State prevailed, 20-14, but it lost conference games to North Carolina Central and Morgan State, having to settle for a share of the MEAC crown with four other teams.


Another Conference Game To Watch:

North Carolina Central at North Carolina A&T, November 21 - Only time will tell whether this year’s contest is as significant as 2014’s, but you know these rivals will want to win regardless of the impact on the MEAC standings. Last year, more than 13,000 witnessed the contest.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Coastal Carolina at South Carolina State, September 12 – Coastal won last year, 30-3, but this year’s contest is in Orangeburg, S.C. The Chanticleers lead the series 4-0, but the 2013 contest was a close one – Coastal won that one, 27-20.


Another Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Morgan State at Illinois State, September 12 – The Bears will get all they can handle and then some when they travel to take on last year’s national FCS runner-up Illinois State. With the Bears opening at Air Force, this is a brutal two-game stretch to open the season.


FBS Upset Watch:

Bethune-Cookman at Miami, September 5 – Bethune-Cookman has gone to Miami the last two years and won – but that was at Florida International. This will be the third meeting in the series with Miami winning 45-14 in 2011 and 38-10 in 2012. Obviously, the Wildcats aren’t expecting to win, but they could hang around for a while.


Another FBS Upset Watch:

North Carolina A&T at North Carolina, September 12 – This is the first meeting between the two schools, and it will be a homecoming for A&T head coach Ron Broadway, a 1977 UNC grad and former assistant.


Top NFL Prospect:

Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State – The senior (6-3, 311) was MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He made his name in the contest against Bethune-Cookman last year when he made 11 tackles ... six for sacks, and he didn’t even start that game because of a slight knee injury. He had 16 sacks for the year (fourth nationally) and 55 total tackles. His All-American status is well-earned.


Coach on the Hot Seat:

They’ll be watching first-year Norfolk State coach Latrell Scott closely in the Tidewater area. Scott, who guided Virginia State to a 10-3 overall mark and 7-0 in the CIAA last year, is replacing the retired Pete Adrian. Adrian had been the head coach since 2005 where he compiled an overall mark of 54-60.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

With four-year starter Greg McGhee gone, it will be interesting to see how the quarterback position shakes out at Howard. One name to keep in mind is redshirt freshman Kalen Johnson, a 6-2, 205-pounder from the rich football state of Texas.


Most Overrated:

If South Carolina State is going to be a factor in the MEAC and nationally, it will need redshirt junior quarterback Adrian Kollock Jr. to step up his game.  


Most Underrated:

Delaware State cornerback Terrick Colston had four interceptions and is poised to be a factor for the Hornets’ defense this season. He’ll be shooting to make first-team all-MEAC selection this year.


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews