2016 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Preview

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - Rebuilding is never easy on a football program, especially one which has a proud history of success.

It's a humbling experience, requires patience and tests the resolve of every coach and player dreaming of better days.

Florida A&M finds itself among the struggling programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and it's not what the Rattlers are used to.

Four straight losing seasons are almost unfathomable. But a 10-loss season - they went 1-10 last year - well, that had never happened to a FAMU program which has captured 12 black college national titles, won the first FCS (then Division I-AA) national championship game in 1978 and earned a share of the MEAC title as recently as 2010.

So the Rattlers are working to get their program in order again.

"Every position is open to whoever wants to step in as a starter," is how second-year coach Alex Wood opened preseason camp. The Rattlers returned 13 starters, but only four on defense.

"I am pleased with the improvement I've seen," Wood said, "but we still have a long way to go until opening day."

Wood believes there could be a quick fix. He said he wants the Rattlers to send the senior class out with a winning season.

That may be asking a lot considering FAMU hasn't beaten a team with a winning record since its last winning season in 2011.

Complicating matters is that FAMU is trying to come out of NCAA-imposed academic sanctions. Howard, Savannah State and Morgan State also are under the APR penalties, and all four programs are ineligible for the MEAC title and banned from postseason play.

The 11-team MEAC is led by the three 2015 champions - North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and Bethune-Cookman - and perennial power South Carolina State.

Florida A&M used to be one of the MEAC's elite programs. The Rattlers are anxious to get back there, but it's a step-by-step process.

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2016 MEAC race and STATS' predicted order of finish:

1. North Carolina A&T

2. Bethune-Cookman

3. North Carolina Central

4. South Carolina State

5. Morgan State

6. Hampton

7. Norfolk State

8. Florida A&M

9. Howard

10. Delaware State

11. Savannah State

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TEAM CAPSULES

1. NORTH CAROLINA A&T AGGIES

LOCATION: Greensboro, North Carolina

STADIUM: Aggie Stadium

COACH: Rod Broadway (38-19 in five seasons at North Carolina A&T; 106-42 overall)

LAST SEASON: 10-2 overall, 7-1 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Kwashawn Quick, QB; Denzel Jones, LB; Tony McRae, CB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Tarik Cohen, RB, Sr. (264 carries, 1,543 yards, 15 TDs; 25 receptions, 217 yards)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Marquis Ragland, DE, R-Sr. (48 TT, 11.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Lamar Raynard, QB, R-So.; Kylil Carter, QB, So.; Denzel Keyes, WR, Sr.; Khris Gardin, WR/RS, Jr.; Caleb Gabriel, WR/KR, Jr.; Brandon Parker, OL, R-Jr.; Darriel Mack, C, R-Jr.; Marcus Pettiford, OL, So.; Angelo Keyes, DE, R-Sr.; Malik Hampton-Prioleau, DE, Sr.; Marcus Albert, LB, R-Jr.; Deion Jones, LB, R-So.; Lorenz Suttles, Rover, Sr.; Zerius Lockhart, FS, Jr.; Tard McCoy, CB, Jr.; Cody Jones, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The Aggies were considered the 2015 black college national champions after they beat SWAC champ Alcorn State in the inaugural Celebration Bowl. With Cohen returning for his senior season, the Aggies are favored to get back to Atlanta, although their schedule includes road matchups against the teams picked second (Bethune-Cookman) and third (North Carolina Central) in the MEAC's preseason poll. Cohen, who has won two MEAC offensive player of the year awards, has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first three seasons, totaling 4,031 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground (40 TDs overall). His entire starting offensive line returns as well. At quarterback, Raynard (55-for-122, 632 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT) played a lot and Carter (22-for-46, 244, 4 TDs, 1 INT), the better runner, came on strong late last season. The defense suffered bigger losses than the offense, but the Aggies led the conference in total defense (267.3 ypg). Keyes (54 TT, 15.5 TFL) and Ragland will be disruptive in opposing backfields. It also helps to have the All-America punt returner in Gardin.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, St. Augustine's

Sept. 10, at Kent State

Sept. 17, at Tulsa

Oct. 1, Hampton*

Oct. 8, Norfolk State*

Oct. 15, at Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 22, at Howard*

Oct. 29, Florida A&M*

Nov. 5, South Carolina State*

Nov. 12, at Delaware State*

Nov. 19, at North Carolina Central*

* - MEAC game

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2. BETHUNE-COOKMAN WILDCATS

LOCATION: Daytona Beach, Florida

STADIUM: Memorial Stadium

COACH: Terry Sims (9-2 in one season at Bethune-Cookman)

LAST SEASON: 9-2 overall, 7-1 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Quentin Williams, QB; Anthony Jordan, RB; Robert Way, LB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Michael Jones, RB, Sr. (96 carries, 562 yards, 7 TDs; 18 receptions, 318 yards, 1 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Diquan Richardson, S, Jr. (58 TT, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF, 1 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Larry Brihm, QB, R-Jr.; Akevious Williams, QB, R-Fr.; Frank Brown, WR/PR, R-Jr.; Jawill Davis, WR, R-Jr.; Keavon Mitchell, WR, So.; Jaime Wilson, WR, R-Sr.; Ja-Quan Lumas, TE, R-Sr.; Trevin Huff, OL, R-Sr.; Phillip Norman, C, R-Jr.; Todney Evans, DL, R-So.; Jamal Thomas, DL, So.; Todney Evans, DL, R-So.; DeMarcus Womack, DL, Sr.; Kevin Thompson, DL, Jr.; Trenton Bridges, LB, R-So.; Elliott Miller, DB, So.; Arthur Williams, DB, Jr.; Jonathan Cagle, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The Wildcats have earned at least a share of five MEAC titles in the last six seasons, including Sims' first campaign a year ago when he was named the conference coach of the year. They have a spotlight to open the season, facing Alcorn State in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge, but their season hinges on the October run of games against North Carolina Central, South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T. Their 15 selections on the MEAC preseason team were the conference high. To get to the coveted Celebration Bowl, the Wildcats must replace longtime QB Williams, but Brihn (52-for-94, 614 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs) has seen significant action in both of his first two seasons, so the change can be handled well. Plus, RB Jones will keep the offense potent. The veteran secondary, led by Richardson, should be the strength of the defense, while LB Bridges is ready for a bigger role after a strong freshman campaign. The Wildcats are reworking their defensive line after it lost several key players.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 4, Alcorn State

Sept. 10, at North Texas

Sept. 17, Tennessee State

Sept. 24, at Savannah State*

Oct. 1, North Carolina Central*

Oct. 8, at South Carolina State*

Oct. 15, North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 22, at Norfolk State*

Oct. 29, Delaware State*

Nov. 5, at Morgan State*

Nov. 19, Florida A&M*

* - MEAC game

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3. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL EAGLES

LOCATION: Durham, North Carolina

STADIUM: O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium

COACH: Jerry Mack (15-8 in two seasons at North Carolina Central)

LAST SEASON: 8-3 overall, 7-1 MEAC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Clevonne Davis, RT; C.J. Moore, S; Ryan Smith, CB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Malcolm Bell, QB, R-Sr. (126-for-243, 1,581 yards, 8 TDs, 9 INTs; 138 carries, 509 yards, 5 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Jeremy Miles, LB, R-Sr. (80 TT, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 PBU, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Dorrel McClain, RB, R-So.; Quentin Atkinson, WR, R-Sr.; LaVontis Smith, WR/RS, Sr.; Khalil Stinson, WR, R-Jr.; Carl Jones, C, R-Sr.; Desmond Cooper, LT, R-Sr.; Tarrance Wells, LG, Sr.; Antonio Brown, DE, R-Jr.; Ja'Quan Smith, DT, R-Jr.; Darius Spruill, DT, R-Sr.; LeGrande Harley, LB, R-Sr. (South Florida transfer); Reggie Hunter, LB, R-Jr.; Mike Jones, CB, R-Jr.; Davanta Reynolds, FS, R-So.; Nathaniel Tilque, P, Jr.

OUTLOOK: Coming off their second consecutive share of the MEAC title and the program's Division I high for wins, the Eagles feel they can capture their first outright championship. They're led by the MEAC's top-returning quarterback in fifth-year senior Bell, a dual-threat. They also return the MEAC's offensive rookie of the year in RB McClain (958 yards, 8 TDs), top WRs Atkinson (who was injured last season) and Smith, and a stout offensive line. However, the Eagles have to do a better job on third downs after converting only 28 percent last season. If they don't, it will put added pressure on the defense, which lost three of its four leading tacklers, including CB Smith, their first-ever NFL draft choice (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Harley, a transfer from South Florida, is a big addition to the linebacker corps, which features Miles. The Eagles, who closed last season on a seven-game winning streak, play four of their first five games on the road.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, at Duke

Sept. 10, at Western Michigan

Sept. 17, St. Augustine's

Sept. 24, at Norfolk State*

Oct. 1, at Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 8, Florida A&M*

Oct. 15, Savannah State*

Oct. 22, at Morgan State*

Nov. 5, at Delaware State*

Nov. 12, Howard*

Nov. 19, North Carolina A&T*

* - MEAC game

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4. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Orangeburg, South Carolina

STADIUM: Oliver C. Dawson Stadium

COACH: Buddy Pough (112-51 in 14 seasons at South Carolina State)

LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 6-2 MEAC (4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Javarius Leamon, LT, R-Sr. (STATS FCS Preseason All-America second team)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Darius Leonard, LB, R-Jr. (70 TT, 13.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Jalen Simmons, RB; Javon Hargrave, DT; Antonio Hamilton, S/RS

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Caleb York, QB, So.; Adrian Kollock Jr., QB, R-Sr.; Justin Taylor, RB, R-Jr.; Dondre Brown, FB/TE, Sr.; Mykal Moody, WR, R-Jr.; Trey Sammuel, WR, So.; Lynard Jamison, WR, R-So.; Justin Evans, OL, R-Jr.; Greg Newell, DE, R-Jr.; Ty Cravens, DE, R-Jr.; Dayshawn Taylor, LB, R-Jr.; Tyler Smith, LB, Grad; Phillip Henry, S, R-Sr.; Shaquan Brock, DB, Grad; Marquise Jones, DB, Sr.; Tyler Scandrett, PK, So.

OUTLOOK: Will playing three straight FBS opponents to open the season - UCF, Louisiana Tech and Clemson - catch up to the Bulldogs when they move into MEAC play? It's a rugged challenge, but the Bulldogs hope it's a springboard to a banner season. Pough is a dynamite coach, so he probably has it figured out. The team's focus has been on replenishing the offensive and defensive lines, which were hit hard by graduation. Regardless, there's no replacing All-America DT Hargrave (22 TFL, 13.5 sacks), now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Speaking of big men, LT Leamon (6-foot-7, 310 pounds) is the next Bulldog headed to the NFL. He will help protect QB York (142-for-254, 1,723 yards, 11 TDs, 6 INTs), who replaced Kollock during last season and was solid as a freshman. The offense, which also lost TE Temarrick Hemingway to the NFL, needs to find some new playmakers. The defense features the MEAC's preseason defensive player of the year in LB Leonard. With their early schedule, the Bulldogs won't play in Orangeburg until Oct. 8.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, at UCF

Sept. 10, at Louisiana Tech

Sept. 17, at Clemson

Sept. 24, at Florida A&M*

Oct. 8, Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 15, at Howard*

Oct. 22, Delaware State*

Oct. 29, at Hampton*

Nov. 5, at North Carolina A&T*

Nov. 12, Norfolk State*

Nov. 19, Savannah State*

* - MEAC game

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5. MORGAN STATE BEARS

LOCATION: Baltimore

STADIUM: Hughes Stadium

COACH: Fred Farrier, interim (first season at Morgan State)

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

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Moses Skillon, QB; Andrew King, WR; Peterson Javier, S

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Herb Walker Jr., RB, Jr. (ineligible last season)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Jai Franklin, NT, Jr. (38 TT, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 5 QHs)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Chris Andrews, QB, Grad (Wagner transfer); Khalil Trotman, QB, So.; Orlando Johnson, RB, Sr.; Lamont Brown III, RB, R-Sr.; Ricky Fisk, WR/KR, Sr.; Thomas Martin, WR, Sr.; Amonta Poteat, WR, Sr.; Willie Gillus, TE, Sr.; Matthew Thompson, OL, Jr.; Dominique Woods, OL, Sr.; Joshua Miles, OL, So.; Cooper Clarkin, OL, So.; Damare Whitaker, LB, Jr.; Greg Gibson, LB, Sr.; Delonte Hall, CB, Sr.; Cravon Rogers Jr., S, R-Jr.; Carl Garnes, S, So.; Deadrick Jones, CB, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Farrier, the offensive coordinator the last two seasons, is serving as the interim coach after Lee Hull left in the offseason for a position with the Indianapolis Colts. With a veteran team, Farrier should find success. The Bears have a particularly deep running back stable with the return of Walker, who was ineligible last season after setting school records for rushing yards in a game (271) and a season (1,408 yards) and scoring 15 touchdowns in 2014. Johnson, last year's starter, and Brown, who had been ahead of Walker to start the 2014 season, also return to the backfield. But the Bears have to replace QB Skillon, seemingly with Wagner graduate transfer Andrews because of his experience. Sophomore LB Gibson hopes to emerge for a defense that features NT Franklin. The schedule is interesting in that the Bears play two FBS opponents, yet miss North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State in MEAC action.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, Holy Cross

Sept. 10, at Marshall

Sept. 24, Howard*

Oct. 1, Delaware State*

Oct. 8, Savannah State*

Oct. 15, at Hampton*

Oct. 22, North Carolina Central*

Oct. 29, at Norfolk State*

Nov. 5, Bethune-Cookman*

Nov. 12, at Florida A&M*

Nov. 19, at Army West Point

* - MEAC game

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6. HAMPTON PIRATES

LOCATION: Hampton, Virginia

STADIUM: Armstrong Stadium

COACH: Connell Maynor (9-14 in two seasons at Hampton; 54-20 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall, 5-3 MEAC (5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: David Watford, QB; Torian White, RT; Miles Grooms, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Twarn Mixson, WR, Grad (59 receptions, 1,027 yards, 9 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Chaka Diarrassouba, DB, Jr. (42 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: J.J. Williamson, QB, R-Sr.; Eric Carter, Jr., RB, R-So.; Dwayne Garrett, RB, R-Sr.; Shakim Alonzo, WR, Sr.; Rashawn Proctor, WR, Sr.; Donovan Johnson, OL, Sr.; Alex Hayes, OL, Jr. (Syracuse transfer); Michael Young, OL, Sr.; Jay Willingbroke, TE, Grad (Virginia Tech transfer); Owen Obasuyi, DL, Jr.; Darien Williams, DE, So.; Devan Johnson, LB, So.; Devin Vandyke, LB, Grad (Virginia Tech transfer); Justin Williams, DB, Jr.; Myles Morris, DB, R-Sr.; Darius Banks, DB/KR, Jr.; Christian Faber-Kinney, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: There are a lot of "ifs" surrounding the Pirates after they lost significant talent from their first winning team since 2011. To combat the losses, Maynor has brought in some transfers who will take on starting roles. Hampton is replacing Watson, the MEAC leader in touchdown passes and passing yards per game, and the answer at quarterback would appear to be Williamson, the Pirates' leading passer in 2014. The Pirates boast the MEAC's top wide receiver in Mixson, and running back will be a combination of Carter, who was injured last season, and Garrett (457 yards, 1 TD). The defense lost many of its playmakers. The secondary, with Diarrassouba and Morris returning, is the strength on that side of the ball. Maynor is seeking improvement at both lines of scrimmage.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, at Old Dominion

Sept. 10, William & Mary

Sept. 17, at Howard* (RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.)

Oct. 1, at North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 8, at Delaware State*

Oct. 15, Morgan State*

Oct. 22, at Florida A&M*

Oct. 29, South Carolina State*

Nov. 12, Savannah State*

Nov. 19, Norfolk State*

Nov. 26, at Coastal Carolina

* - MEAC game

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7. NORFOLK STATE SPARTANS

LOCATION: Norfolk, Virginia

STADIUM: William Price Stadium

COACH: Latrell Scott (4-7 in one season at Norfolk State; 29-16 overall)

LAST SEASON: 4-7 overall, 4-4 MEAC (Tie/6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Isaac White, WR; Deon King, LB; D'Metrius Williams, DB;

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Greg Hankerson, QB, Sr. (177-for-347, 2,052 yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs; 125 carries, 423 yards, 3 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Sandy Chapman, CB, Sr. (57 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Gerard Johnson, RB, Sr.; Quintreil Chung, RB, So.; Marcus Taylor, WR/KR, So.; James Church Jr., Sr., WR; Louis Humphrey, C, R-Sr.; Daniel Oladimeji, OL, R-Sr.; Chris Lee, DT, Jr.; Walter Brantley, DT, So.; Jay Anderson, DE, Sr.; Kevin Williams, DT, R-Sr.; Kyle Archie, LB, Jr.; Raynard Revels, LB, Sr.; Brandon Walker, S, Sr.; Leroy Parker, S, Sr.; Cameron Marouf, PK, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Scott is settled in at Norfolk State and figures to get the Spartans to a higher level in the MEAC. They usually have a strong defense, but while they return nine starters, the two losses were big: LB King, who led the FCS in tackles, and DB Williams. The returnees include Chapman, who will be strong on the back end, and Lee, who will pass rush up front. Unlike a number of MEAC teams, the Spartans are settled at quarterback with the dual-threat Hankerson, although he will want to improve on his 53 percent accuracy last season. The offense returns only one starting offensive lineman, so it needs RB Johnson (418 yards, 1 TD) to come back strong from a knee injury. The same goes for Oladimeji because the Spartans used a number of different offensive line combinations last season. The Spartans struggled on special teams, and Scott has made them a point of emphasis.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, Elizabeth City State

Sept. 10, at Richmond

Sept. 17, at William & Mary

Sept. 24, North Carolina Central*

Oct. 1, Howard*

Oct. 8, at North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 22, Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 29, Morgan State*

Nov. 5, at Savannah State*

Nov. 12, at South Carolina State*

Nov. 19, at Hampton*

* - MEAC game

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8. FLORIDA A&M RATTLERS

LOCATION: Tallahassee, Florida

STADIUM: Bragg Memorial Stadium

COACH: Alex Wood (1-10 in one season at Florida A&M; 26-34 overall)

LAST SEASON: 1-10 overall, 1-7 MEAC (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (9 offense/4 defense)

KEY LOSSES: Akil Blount, LB; Kashawn Butler, LB; John Boston, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Montavious Williams, WR, R-Sr. (46 receptions, 637 yards, 1 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Jacques Bryant, DB, Sr. (75 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBI, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Vincent Jeffries, QB, Jr. (Santa Rosa Junior College transfer); Ryan Stanley, QB, R-Jr.; Devin Bowers, RB, So.; Brandon Norwood, WR, Jr.; Desmond Noird, TE, Jr.; Carson Royal, TE, R-Sr.; Keonte Cash, C, Sr.; Timothy Jones, LT, R-Sr.; Elijah Price, DL, Jr.; Curtis Alexander, LB, Sr.; Luke Helms, LB, Sr.; Neal Cunningham, SS, R-Sr.; Braxton Brown, CB, R-Sr.; Jules Dornevil, DB, Sr.; Rashad Guyton, DB, R-Jr.; Colby Blanton, P, R-Sr.

OUTLOOK: Wood opened preseason camp by stating all positions are open. And why not after the Rattlers slumped to their first-ever 10-loss season and into last place in the MEAC. They have gone four straight seasons without a winning record. Their fifth-year seniors will lead the way this season, although Wood went heavy on junior-college transfers in February. Last year's most-regular quarterback, Royal, has moved to tight end. The new signal caller will be Stanley or Jeffries, and both will like that Norward and Williams combined on 95 receptions last season. The offensive line figures to be healthier than a year ago, and standout Cash has moved to center. The defense wore down as well and is looking to build better depth. There are a lot of candidates in the secondary, led by Bryant. The September schedule is quite difficult, so the Rattlers might be slow to show early progress.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, at Miami (Fla.)

Sept. 10, at Coastal Carolina

Sept. 17, Tuskegee

Sept. 24, South Carolina State*

Oct. 1, Savannah State*

Oct. 8, at North Carolina Central*

Oct. 15, at Delaware State*

Oct. 22, Hampton*

Oct. 29, at North Carolina A&T*

Nov. 12, Morgan State*

Nov. 19, Bethune-Cookman*

* - MEAC game

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9. HOWARD BISON

LOCATION: Washington, D.C.

STADIUM: William H. Greene Stadium

COACH: Gary Harrell (18-27 in four seasons at Howard)

LAST SEASON: 1-10 overall, 1-7 MEAC (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (10 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Myles Williams, WR; Jacob Bennett, DB; John Fleck, PK/P

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Toree Boyd, OT, Sr. (All-MEAC preseason second team)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Craig Johnson, S, Sr. (59 TT, 12.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 3 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Kalen Johnson, QB, R-So.; Ricquaz Brannon, RB, So.; William Parker, RB, R-Sr.; Carlton Rainey, RB, Fr.; Robert Mercer, WR, Sr.; Guy Lemonier, WR, Sr.; Jalen Avery, WR/PR, So.; Justin Chaney, TE, Jr.; Nate Lewis, C, Sr.; Gerald Wright, OL, Jr.; Marquese Blanchard, DT, Sr.; Ghafona Iduewe, DE, R-Jr.; Richard Johnson, DE, R-Jr.; Devin Rollins, LB, R-Sr.; Jalen Day, LB, R-Sr.; Kenneth Russ, CB, Sr.; David Lee, LB, Jr.

OUTLOOK: The Bison injected youth into some key positions last season, including in the offensive backfield with QB Johnson (111-for-198, 1,174 yards, 8 TDs, 9 INTs) and leading rusher Brannon. Still, they're in a rebuilding process, having been outscored 408-169 last season (numbers that were helped by a 55-9 win over Savannah State). The offensive line, anchored by Boyd, has to do a better job after allowing 44 sacks. On defense, Johnson and Hunt are key defensive backs, and LB Day led the team in tackles (85). The Bison's four-game winning streak against Hampton in the "Battle of the Real HU" ended last season, so they will want to start a new run this year.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, at Maryland

Sept. 10, at Rutgers

Sept. 17, Hampton* (RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.)

Sept. 24, at Morgan State*

Oct. 1, at Norfolk State*

Oct. 8, Monmouth

Oct. 15, South Carolina State*

Oct. 22, North Carolina A&T*

Oct. 29, at Savannah State*

Nov. 12, at North Carolina Central*

Nov. 19, Delaware State*

* - MEAC game

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10. DELAWARE STATE HORNETS

LOCATION: Dover, Delaware

STADIUM: Alumni Stadium

COACH: Kenny Carter (1-10 in one season at Delaware State)

LAST SEASON: 1-10 overall, 1-7 MEAC (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (4 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Gabe Sherrod, DE; Terrick Colston, DB; J.R. Robinson, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Aris Scott, WR/KR, Sr. (46 receptions, 683 yards, 1 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Malik Harris, LB, Jr. (104 TT, 14.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Kobe Lain, QB, So.; Daniel Epperson, QB, Jr. (San Bernadino JC transfer); Gil Rivera, QB, Sr.; Brycen Alleyne, RB/KR, So.; Ernest Mengoni, OL, Sr.; Chuka Ezeuzoh, OL, Sr.; Dominic Floyd, TE, So.; Charles Wallace, DL, So. (Stetson transfer); Javon Barnes, DL, So.; Rashawn Barrett, LB, Sr.; Kameron Rogers, LB, Jr.; Logan Wescott, DB, So.; William Burton, DB, Sr.; Gary Melton, DB, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Carter has learned under a number of top college coaches and will need to draw upon his experience to lift the Hornets. They return only 10 starters from a season that was the program's worst since 2003. Foremost in their recovery is finding an answer at quarterback, which has been unsettled the last two seasons. Lain started the final two games of his true freshman season and will try to keep the lead over Epperson, a junior college transfer. The Hornets averaged only 2.3 yards per carry and 79.2 rushing yards per game. On defense, LB Harris is coming off a huge season, but that level of the defense is the only constant as the Hornets are replacing three starters on the defensive line and their top two defensive backs. A non-stop run of South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T appears impossible.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 1, at Delaware

Sept. 10, Monmouth

Sept. 24, at Missouri

Oct. 1, at Morgan State*

Oct. 8, Hampton*

Oct. 15, Florida A&M*

Oct. 22, at South Carolina State*

Oct. 29, at Bethune-Cookman*

Nov. 5, North Carolina Central*

Nov. 12, North Carolina A&T*

Nov. 19, at Howard*

* - MEAC game

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11. SAVANNAH STATE TIGERS

LOCATION: Savannah, Georgia

STADIUM: Ted Wright Stadium

COACH: Erik Raeburn (first season at Savannah State; 135-39 overall)

LAST SEASON: 1-9 overall, 1-7 MEAC (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Richard Williams, RB; Sean Fogarty, OL; Connor Christian, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Arshon Spaulding, QB, Sr. (62-for-132, 526 yards, 1 TD, 6 INTs; 97 carries, 555 yards, 4 TDs)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Marquis Smith, OLB, Sr. (57 TT, 7 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Nicholas Bentley, RB, Jr.; Jeremiah Harris, WR, Sr.; Anthony Raymond, WR/RS, So.; Cantrell Frazier, WR, Sr.; Nicholas Carrera, TE, So.; Afolabi Ayangbayi, OL, Sr.; James Livingston, OL, So.; Marcus Lee, LB, Sr.; Stefen Banks, DL, So.; Isaiah Bennett, DB, So.; John Wilson, DB, So.; Gerald Robinson, DB, So.; Juwuan Tolbert, DB, Jr.; John Barron, PK/P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The 45-year-old Raeburn, who has enjoyed great success on the Division III level at Coe and Wabash, is yet another coach who has taken on the task of turning around Savannah State. The Tigers have had only one season with more than two wins since moving to the FCS level in 2000. Raeburn replaces Earnest Wilson III, who departed after going 2-32 in three seasons. And believe it or not, Wilson's three seasons marked the Tigers' longest head coaching tenure since Bill Davis from 1986-92. One of the keys for Raeburn is to keep younger players in the program and build around them. But this year's leaders are seniors, such as QB Spaulding, their leading rusher but not a strong passer, and OLB Smith, a fourth-year starter and one of Savannah State's better players in recent memory. The Tigers need better play from the wide receivers in the passing game and from the defensive backs in stopping the pass.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3, at Georgia Southern

Sept. 10, at Southern Miss

Sept. 24, Bethune-Cookman*

Oct. 1, at Florida A&M*

Oct. 8, Morgan State*

Oct. 15, at North Carolina Central*

Oct. 29, Howard*

Nov. 5, Norfolk State*

Nov. 12, at Hampton*

Nov. 19, at South Carolina State*

* - MEAC game

Updated August 22, 2016

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