2019 SWAC spring outlook


STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - The Southwestern Athletic Conference has become quite predictable, and it may not change if a few teams don't do something about it this year.

Alcorn State's conference championship last year was its third in five seasons, with East Division titles in the other two seasons. The West Division title has gone to Grambling State or Southern for six straight years, with Southern (2013) and Grambling (2016 and '17) combining to win three conference titles.

Behind experienced lineups, Alcorn and Southern should be the preseason divisional picks this year.

Following is a look across the SWAC with spring practices underway in college football:




HEAD COACH: Connell Maynor (6-5, one season; 71-36 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 5-2 SWAC East (2nd)

SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 25-March 30

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Coming off their first winning season since 2012, the Bulldogs seek to keep the momentum going. They are working to fortify their offensive line in a much-improved attack.

NOTABLE: A&M had one of the top defenses in the SWAC last season and returns first-team All-SWAC linebacker Armoni Holloway. After struggling as a passer in 2017, Aqeel Glass was a revelation as a sophomore by passing for 2,426 yards and 20 touchdowns, both SWAC-leading totals. Their 28.2-point average was up over 10 per game.



HEAD COACH: Donald Hill-Eley (9-8, two seasons; 68-84 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 4-7 overall, 3-4 SWAC East (4th)


PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (10 offense/6 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: New offensive and defensive systems are being implemented. Former South Carolina State offensive coordinator Joe Blackwell was hired in the same role and Travis Pearson promoted to defensive coordinator as Hill-Eley revamped his coaching staff.

NOTABLE: Two years ago, the Hornets ranked fourth against the run in the SWAC, but they fell to last a year ago, allowing over 270 yards per game. Many of the players in the offensive skills positions were underclassmen, including season-ending quarterback KHA'Darris Davis, who enters his redshirt junior season. Included in the 2019 schedule is a run of four straight home games followed by five consecutive games away from Montgomery.



HEAD COACH: Fred McNair (21-15, three seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 9-4 overall, 6-1 SWAC East (1st)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 4-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: After leading the FCS in sacks (52) and tackles for loss (124), the reigning SWAC champion Braves have to replenish on the defensive line after losing tackle Sterling Shippy and end Myshawn Smith. All-conference end Terry Whittington considered turning pro or making a graduate transfer, but is expected back.

NOTABLE: The hiring of a new offensive coordinator isn't expected to bring much change considering the Braves return quarterback Noah Johnson, the SWAC offensive player of the year; 1,200-yard rusher De'Shawn Waller, the SWAC newcomer of the year; and four starting offensive linemen. The Braves ranked No. 1 in the conference in offensive yards per game and yards allowed per game. Their defense returns three first-team All-SWAC selections in linebacker Solomon Muhammad and defensive backs Javen Morrison and Qwynnterrio Cole.



HEAD COACH: John Hendrick (2-1, one season; 20-26 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 5-5 overall, 4-3 SWAC East (3rd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 13-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (8 offense/4 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: There is open competition at quarterback. Western Michigan transfer Matt Little joins a mix with junior Derrick Ponder, who started the first part of the 2018 season, and redshirt freshman Jack Strouse.

NOTABLE: Hendrick received the full-time job after serving the final month of the season as interim coach. Ron Dickerson Jr. is his new offensive coordinator and Lionel Stokes was promoted to defensive coordinator. Starting place-kicker and punter Christian Jacquemin received an extra year of eligibility, but he won't be returning to the program.



HEAD COACH: Vincent Dancy (1-10, one season)

2018 RECORDS: 1-10 overall, 1-6 SWAC East (5th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 19-April 15

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: The Delta Devils have only nine wins over the last six seasons, so the goal is to improve across the offense, defense and special teams. Particular improvement is needed in the trenches after they totaled only eight sacks yet allowed 41.

NOTABLE: Quarterback Christopher Fowler is not returning after two up-and-down seasons. Returning senior Dejerric Bryant led the team in rushing, but he threw for eight interceptions with only four touchdowns. The offense has to replace playmakers Booker Chambers, the team's only all-conference player, and Quinn McElfresh.




HEAD COACH: Cedric Thomas (2-9, one season)

2018 RECORDS: 2-9 overall, 1-6 SWAC West (Tie/4th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 5-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (10 offense/6 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Defense, defense, defense. The Golden Eagles ranked last in the FCS in total defense (558.1 yards per game) and fifth from the bottom in scoring defense (43.2 points per game) last season. They were particularly porous on the defensive line and in the secondary.

NOTABLE: The offense was promising last season: Taeyler Porter led the SWAC in rushing, gaining 1,220 yards in only 10 games, while quarterback Skyler Perry formed a solid duo with wide receiver Dejuan Miller, the conference's freshman of the year. Among the losses is Jamie Gillan, who was first-team All-SWAC as both the place-kicker and the punter.



HEAD COACH: Broderick Fobbs (44-16, five seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 4-3 (Tie/2nd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 7-April 16 (spring game is April 13)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: That Grambling didn't have any offensive linemen with All-SWAC honors reflects rare inconsistency at the position last season. The Tigers tied for the SWAC low by allowing 41 sacks and they went for a conference-low 265 yards.

NOTABLE: The Tigers have to overcome the loss of two-time SWAC defensive player of the year De'Arius Christmas. After early season back-and-forth at quarterback, Geremy Hickbottom took control of the position in the second half of the season. In a 12-game season, the Tigers will play only four home games, where they have won 13 straight games since 2015.



HEAD COACH: Eric Dooley (5-6, one season)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 4-3 SWAC West (Tie/2nd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 25-April 18

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Despite the disappointing record, the Panthers built a strong base in Dooley's first season, so the offseason is about improved execution.

NOTABLE: Defensive back Ju'Anthony Parker has been named to the All-SWAC first team in back-to-back seasons. On the SWAC's top-ranked scoring offense, quarterback Jalen Morton and running back Dawonya Tucker were brilliant in the first half of the season, but they didn't sustain the same high level in the second half.



HEAD COACH: Dawson Odums (50-29, seven seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 7-4 overall, 6-1 SWAC West (1st)


PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 18 (9 offense/9 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: The West Division champs have to develop their wide receivers and improve at place-kicker.

NOTABLE: The Jaguars return most of their impact players, including quarterback Ladarius Skelton and pass rush specialist Jordan Lewis, so even better days could be ahead of them. The 2019 recruiting class was their best under Odums, a reflection of the program's emergence from NCAA sanctions. They lost only to Alcorn State (twice) and FBS programs TCU and Louisiana Tech last year.



HEAD COACH: Clarence McKinney (first season)

2018 RECORDS: 2-9 overall, 1-6 (Tie/4th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 2-April 13


OFFSEASON PRIORITY: McKinney, the Arizona running backs coach, seeks to lift a program that last had a winning season in 2010. There will be many changes in schemes and personnel.

NOTABLE: Improvement starts with the run game, where the Tigers ranked last in the SWAC at 85.1 yards per game. They have to replace leading rusher Brad Woodard, leading receiver Bobby Hartzog and leading tackler Sean Jones. The Tigers bring a 13-game road losing streak into the new season.

Updated March 11, 2019

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