HBCU Game Time

Bethune-Cookman, S.C. State Picked to Top MEAC

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, with some entertainment sprinkled in from time to time.

Thirty-three days and counting.

That’s how many days we are away from the start of the HBCU football season … And I can’t wait.

It’s no surprise that Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State have been picked to finish first and second, respectively, in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) this year. Both shared the conference crown in 2013 and both made it to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national playoffs.

Head coach Brian Jenkins is known to be intense, but he made time for a little fun this offseason–including a family motorcycle trip and an mixed martial arts (MMA) fight. He’ll need that intensity going into the season as the Wildcats have lost quite a few players from last year’s team, with only five starters returning on offense and three on defense.

He’s been known to shuffle quarterbacks and plays as many as three regularly in a season. Quentin Williams, a former Florida High School Player of the Year from Tampa, is his top returner and was part of Jenkins’ first recruiting class. Williams threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions last year, but completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,270 yards. He also showed his versatility, rushing for 424 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Wildcats have always run the football well under Jenkins and last year was no different, leading the MEAC and finishing 10th in the FCS, averaging 243 yards per game. Despite the loss of Isidore Jackson’s 828 rushing yards, the Wildcats return Cary White and Anthony Jordan, who combined to rush for 895 yards and 13 touchdowns.  The Wildcats also return three starting offensive linemen.

Defensive end LeBrandon Richardson (14. 5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) will be the leader of a defense that will have a new look as far as personnel is concerned.  B-CU finished second in the MEAC and FCS in 2013, giving up only 255.5 yards per game.

The Wildcats begin the season on the road against FBS opponent Florida International, who they defeated last year.

SCSU and head coach Buddy Pough, on the other hand, has much more experience returning with seven players each returning on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs were tops in the FCS in defense in 2013 and that will be their strength this year.  More specifically, the line will be the strength led by defensive ends Alexander Glover and Andrew Carter, a BOXTOROW All-American in 2013.  Carter recorded 47 tackles (32 solo), 11 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss, while Glover added nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss.  Starting interior lineman Javon Hargrave also returns, having recorded 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

The line play up front will be vital, as the linebacking core took a hit with the loss of MEAC Defensive Player of the Year and BOXTOROW All-American linebacker Joe Thomas and his 20.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.  The secondary also took a hit with the loss of three starters, but year end and year out, players emerge, as evidenced by the players currently in the NFL or those that are invited to camp.

While North Carolina A&T and Howard are picked to finish third and fourth, respectively, I like Norfolk State – picked to finish sixth – to rise back toward the top.  Head coach Pete Adrian said this team potentially reminds him of the 2011 MEAC championship team.  Nine starters return on a defense that finished 13th in FCS in total defense, led by the top player in HBCU football (and one of the best in the country), linebacker Lynden Trail, who recorded 94 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, two interceptions and five forced fumbles.  By the way, at 6’7”, he was used as a tight end and caught three passes last year, all for touchdowns.

Delaware State is picked to finish fifth; Hampton, with new coach Connell Maynor, seventh; North Carolina Central, with new coach Jerry Mack, eighth; and Morgan State, with new coach Lee Hull, ninth.

Florida A&M and Savannah State are both ineligible for post-season play.

The league has a lot of talented players, so look out for Howard quarterback Greg McGhee, a dual threat, who needs just 2,913 yards to break fellow HU quarterback Ted White’s mark for total offensive yards in MEAC history.