Alcorn State, Prairie View A&M to Top SWAC
I’m excited to write HBCU Game Time, powered by BOX TO ROW for JET! As host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all sports, with an emphasis on our Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) will be wide open this year.
This year — more than any other year — the top three teams all have a shot to win their respective divisions. While the media and coaches have picked Alabama State to win the Eastern Division and Southern to repeat as Western Division champs, I have a different take.
Despite the loss of BOXTOROW All-American Isaiah Crowell (currently in camp with the Cleveland Browns), Alabama State has an array of talent returning and the defense will be led by the SWAC’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Kourtney Berry. Berry may be just a sophomore, but he is undoubtedly a game changer and one of the league’s best. The defense will lean heavily on Berry to improve a unit that gave up close to 400 yards per game last year.
Offensively running back Malcolm Cyrus (742 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, six touchdowns) could be as talented as Crowell and quarterback Daniel Duhart (1,903 yards, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions) should be even better than last year.
However, I like Alcorn State in the East.
Alcorn State finished 9-3 last year, including strong wins over Prairie View A&M and Jackson State to end the season. On offense, third-year head coach Jay Hopson returns perhaps the best offensive line in the conference, led by All-SWAC preseason first team selections Isaac Sampson and Jonathan Scott, and second team selection Detonio Dade. That will be plenty of protection for quarterback John Gibbs, who had a phenomenal season in 2013, when he completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,567 yards, 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He is also a threat to run the ball, rushing for 455 yards and four touchdowns last year.
Gibbs returns his top receiver Tollette George (52 catches, 637 yards), and three of his top four, including redzone specialist tight end Jordan Payne (24 catches, 350 yards, nine touchdowns) and receiver LaDarrien Davis (23 catches, 371 yards, three touchdowns).
The question mark is at running back: How does Alcorn State replace Arnold Walker, who led the conference in rushing with 1,191 yards and 16 touchdowns? Perhaps seniors Joe Price, Anthony Williams III and Robert Clay can do it by committee, or one will emerge. The trio rushed for 498 yards in 2013.
In the West, I like Prairie View A&M.
Southern has to figure out how to go on without quarterback Dray Joseph, the BOXTOROW National Offensive Player of the Year last year, as well as leading wide receiver Lee Doss. The Jaguars will also have to figure out how to average more than 113 yards rushing per game. The defense gave up 412 yards per game, so there are a lot of holes to fill for the defending SWAC champions.
Meanwhile, PVAMU had the top offense in the SWAC, and placed in top 15 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Quarterback Jerry Lovelock (completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,838 yards, 23 touchdowns, nine interceptions) returns as one of the top passers in the conference. The Panthers had the second-best rushing attack in 2013 and return their top two rushers in Courtney Brown (1,039 yards rushing 5.8 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns) and Jonta’ Herbert (907 yards rushing , 5.8 yards per carry, five touchdowns). While Lovelock will miss receiver Deandre Cooper (80 catches, 1,038 yards, 12 touchdowns), he does a good job of distributing the ball to various receivers as well as his running backs.
Defense is certainly a concern, however; the Panthers finished next to last in the conference giving up almost 500 yards per game. That said, if they are a smidge better defensively, the offense should be able to overcome the defense’s inefficiencies.
Also look for Arkansas-Pine Bluff – with the SWAC’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Ben Anderson – to rebound after a disappointing 2013, coming off a SWAC championship in 2012.
In the coming weeks, I will tell you why Texas Southern will surprise a lot of people, as well as the story on Mississippi Valley State and all the excitement in Itta Bena with the hiring of former Jackson State head coach Rick Comegy.
Donal Ware is the authority on HBCU football. Listen to Box to Row on Fridays 1p ET/10a PT on SiriusXM Channel 141 and Saturdays 12p/9a PT on SiriusXM Channel 142. You can follow Donal Ware on Twitter @dware1 and @boxtorow and Facebook /box2row. Please share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.