SWAC FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

SWAC FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

SWAC FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

SWAC FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


Only six of the ten teams in the SWAC are eligible for postseason play. Alabama State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M and Southern are not eligible to play against the MEAC champion in the Celebration Bowl. However, they can play in the SWAC championship game, which means it is possible that the SWAC title game features two teams that cannot face off against the MEAC champion. That would not get the Celebration Bowl off to a meaningful start.



1. Alcorn State

The good news is that Alcorn State is the clear favorite to win the East Division and the conference. Quarterback John Gibbs threw for 2,482 yards and ran for 1,006 more. In all, he totaled 32 touchdowns. There is not a defense in the conference that can consistently slow down this offense. The ground game returns Arron Baker (725 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Darryan Ragsdale (691 yards, 7 touchdowns) behind a very experienced offensive line. The defense must replace leading tackler and playmaker Devon Francois, but Damon Watkins, Darien Moody and Warren Gatewood are a great group to build around.


2. Jackson State

If there is an offense that can keep up with Alcorn State, it is Jackson State’s. The run and shoot style that Coach Harold Jackson wanted to run was never fully effective last year, but there should be more depth top to bottom this season. Quarterback LaMontiez Ivy threw for 3,209 yards and 22 touchdowns during his sophomore season and that number could go up with the return of receiver Daniel Williams who caught 72 passes for 990 yards and nine touchdowns. If the offensive line and the entire defense can improve, Jackson State can go from 3-6 in SWAC play to 6-3.


3. Alabama State

Alabama State let go Coach Reggie Barlow and went out and grabbed Brian Jenkins, who had a lot of success at Bethune-Cookman. The firing nor the hiring went off particularly smoothly and Alabama State was not able to hold spring practices like all the schools suffering from poor APRs, so the story has stayed off the field for the most part during the summer. But once the Hornets get on the field, they can put all of that behind them. The defense, led by preseason Defensive Player of the Year Kourtney Berry, will be the team’s strength.


4. Alabama A&M

The Bulldogs won three SWAC games last season, but were painfully close to winning three more. They lost to Southern, Prairie View A&M and Arkansas Pine-Bluff by a combined five points. Quarterback Jaymason Lee is gone, but there are high hopes for junior college transfer De’Angelo Ballard. If he can run the read-option offense effectively, Alabama A&M could be a very dangerous squad.


5. Mississippi Valley State

Second year coach Rick Comegy hopes to build off a surprising 27-23 win at Jackson State last October. It was MVSU’s lone win over an FCS opponent and most of the other games weren’t even close. But building off of that high point will not be easy with a defense that lost a lot of experience and production. Quarterback Quantavius Peterson played well in his first year with the Delta Devils after a couple seasons at the junior college ranks. He will need to be more efficient after completing just 44.8 percent of his passes if MVSU is going to pull off another surprise or two.



1. Southern

Southern went 9-4 last year with what was a pretty young squad. Quarterback Austin Howard threw for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns, while only throwing eight interceptions. Those are good numbers for a freshman. With a year of experience under his belt, Howard should be even more efficient. With Willie Quinn (62 receptions, 892 yards and 5 touchdowns) out wide, the passing game will be dangerous. But it is the ground game led by junior Lenard Tillery that will give opposing defenses nightmares. Tillery rushed for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns and the Jaguars as a whole rushed for 32 touchdowns.


2. Grambling

Grambling’s success on the field was one of the more pleasant surprises in the SWAC last season. Under first year head coach Broderick Fobbs, the Tigers went 7-2 in SWAC play. They won their first seven conference games before slipping against Alabama State and Southern to end the year. Grambling returns quarterback Johnathan Williams who averaged 272.7 passing yards per game. Chester Rogers, Verlon Hunter and Chad Williams lead a deep and talented receiver corps. Grambling can throw the ball, but getting more out of the running game from somebody besides Williams would be beneficial.


3. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Arkansas-Pine Bluff returns a lot of talent on defense, but they do need to be more productive than they were a year ago. Demarcus Berry leads the way after recording 8.0 sacks and 16.5 tackles-for-loss in 2014. Linebacker Willie Duncan totaled 100 tackles and the secondary boasts All-SWAC caliber players in Jared Turner and Kevin Rucker. Forcing a few more turnovers and getting a few big stops would go a long way for a team that went 4-7 last year.


4. Prairie View A&M

New coach Willie Simmons has a lot of work to do at Prairie View A&M. The Panthers went 5-5 last season, but the defense gave up way too many yards and the offense has some rebuilding to do. The one place where Prairie View A&M does not need to rebuild is at running back. Johnta Hebert rushed for 1,063 yards and a dozen touchdowns and the offense will work through him while Coach Simmons attempts to replace quarterback Jerry Lovelocke.


5. Texas Southern

Texas Southern won five of their first six games in 2014, but lost their last five to end 5-6 overall and 3-6 in SWAC play. With new faces all over the offense, the Tigers may keep that losing streak going for a while. The defense has some talent in the front seven, led by Amir Bloom, Derrick Lyles and Jarius Moore, but Coach Darrell Asberry does need to find pieces to fill in around them and in the secondary.


Conference Game To Watch:

Southern at Grambling, November 28 – The SWAC West could come down to the last day of the season when Southern and Grambling face off at the Superdome in the Bayou Classic. Last year the Jaguars edged out the Tigers in a thrilling 52-45 game. Grambling signal caller Johnathan Williams threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns, while Southern’s Austin Howard threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Those two will go at it again in late November, but once again the difference could be Lenard Tillery. Southern’s balanced offense was too much for Grambling and this time around Grambling will need to find a ground game in order to knock off Southern.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Jackson State vs. Tennessee State, September 12 – The best chance the SWAC has to beat another FCS opponent outside of the MEAC is a very familiar foe. Alabama State did beat Tennessee State last year, while Jackson State lost, but this time around Alabama State heads to TSU. Thus, Jackson State gets the slight edge when it comes to the possibility of beating Tennessee State. At the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Jackson State will hope quarterback LaMontiez Ivy can make up for his poor showing against TSU last year.


FBS Upset Watch:

Prairie View A&M at Texas State, September 12 – Prairie View A&M has an offense that can give Texas State trouble early in the season. The question is whether or not they will have a reliable passing game that early in the season. And, of course, the defense must do some work too in order to stay close with the Bobcats, a middle of the road Sun Belt team that went 7-5 in 2014. This game could turn into a shootout, but it will be tough for the Panthers to stop Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones and running back Robert Lowe.


Top NFL Prospect:

John Gibbs, QB, Alcorn State – When all of the comparisons are to Steve McNair, it easy to see why Gibbs could make the NFL cut. Last season the 6-6, 220 pound signal caller threw for 2,482 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 1,006 yards and 11 more scores. He has the size, mobility and enough of an arm to play at the next level. In an era in the NFL where mobile quarterbacks are more the norm than the exception, Gibbs should get a shot at a roster spot.


Coach on the Hot Seat:

Monte Coleman led Arkansas-Pine Bluff to a conference title and a 10-2 overall record in 2012, but since then the Golden Lions have gone 6-16 overall and 5-13 in conference play. Coleman, who has been the head coach since 2008, deserves a couple more years, but he does need to start turning things around now or the mumblings will get louder. The UAPB defense has talent yet was terribly ineffective last season and that is where this team can quickly turn things around.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

Jaquel Gant turned down a few FBS offers from the likes of Louisiana Tech and Memphis to attend Southern. The wide receiver will not be asked to do much this season with the Jaguars returning most of their receiving options, including Willie Quinn and Justin Morgan, but Gant, at 6-1 and 200 pounds, is a bigger target than most receivers on Coach Dawson Odums’ team. But he is not a big slow wideout. Gant reportedly ran a 4.47 40 and you can be sure quarterback Austin Howard wouldn’t mind throwing a few deep balls to a fast and big receiver like Gant this year.


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews