Once again, our band of merry bloggers gathers 'round to commune on the topic of winners and losers. Today, three teams are big ol' losers, and to the surprise of none Kansas State is involved in the argument phase of our discussion.
Iowa State at Baylor
Both of these games were 11-0 picks, and that's a shame because it would have been wonderful to completely humiliate the staff member who tried to be cute picking either one.
Pervis. Panjandrum. Derek. These three are the enemy. These three, these traitors, have dared to publicly suggest that Kansas State will lose to the burnt orange menace. Shame them, citizens. It is your duty. Meanwhile, by an 8-3 margin, BotC's official pick shall be the right and proper one.
This one was also a clean sweep for Oklahoma, but it's going to be awfully fun seeing which version of Baker Mayfield shows up. Against Texas Tech. After all that drama.
BotC's Projected Big 12 Standings after Week Eight
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Preview
|2014 Standings and Info|
|rv||Morgan State University Bears||Baltimore MD||6-2||7-6|
|North Carolina Central University Eagles||Durham NC||6-2||7-5|
|rv||South Carolina State University Bulldogs||Orangeburg SC||6-2||8-4|
|23||Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats||Daytona Beach FL||6-2||9-3|
|rv||North Carolina A&T State University Aggies||Greensboro NC||6-2||9-3|
|Norfolk State University Spartans||Norfolk VA||4-4||4-8|
|Florida A&M University Rattlers||Tallahassee FL||3-5||3-9|
|Howard University Bison||Washington DC||3-5||5-7|
|Hampton University Pirates||Hampton VA||2-6||3-9|
|Delaware State University Hornets||Dover DE||2-6||2-10|
|Savannah State University Tigers||Savannah GA||0-8||0-12|
The MEAC was, to put it bluntly, insane last season. Heading into the season's final week, all A&T had to do was beat NC Central to claim the conference title outright. They didn't, and everyone else who was lurking a game back won, creating a five-way tie. And out of that tie emerged the unlikeliest of conference champions: the 7-5 Morgan State Bears. Morgan had earlier dispatched NC Central and South Carolina State by a total of four points, earning them the two wins which would ultimately prove crucial when all the head-to-head tiebreakers started being applied.
Of course, the other cruel twist was that the entire sequence of events was started the week before when NC Central took down Bethune-Cookman by a mere touchdown, preventing the Wildcats from winning the MEAC autobid right then and there. That loss undoubtedly kept Bethune-Cookman out of the post season.
Heading into 2015, the coaches/SID poll has North Carolina A&T as the favorite, earning nine of the possible 22 first-place votes. South Carolina State picked up four, and are a clear second; Bethune-Cookman is likewise a clear third, with one first-place nod. And then there's Central, who managed to pick up four first-place votes but is well behind in fourth place. They're followed by Morgan State, then Hampton (who got two first-place votes), and then it's a long, long drop to the tightly-packed pair of Norfolk State and Florida A&M. Howard's enough votes back of the Rattlers to effectively count as a full position, and then there's another large gap before Delaware State, and another to Savannah State.
And here's where we just scratch our heads and wonder who's playing games with their ballot, as Delaware State and Savannah State received one first-place vote each. I don't know, maybe they actually let the coaches and/or SIDs vote for their own teams? Or maybe some of the folks at the front of the league are being catty. After all, even removing that lone first place vote from Savannah leaves then with 58 points. That's almost three points per ballot. That's insane.
Florida A&M and Savannah State are ineligible for the post-season due to APR violations, and the league has had several coaching changes. The MEAC picks first- through third-teams for both All-MEAC and preseason honors, so the numbers will look higher than you're expecting for both.
North Carolina A&T
All-MEAC selections (total, gone/returning): 11 (5/6)
Preseason selections: 8
Key losses: WR Desmond Lawrence (386/2), OLs William Ray Robinson III and All-American Ronald Canty, DL Daniel Pinnix (13 TDL/6.5 sacks), LBs D'Vonte Grant (85 tackles/16.5 TFL), DB Donald Mattocks (7 INT/19 PD)
Key returnees (preseason first-team picks in italics): QB Kwashaun Quick (1418 yards, 13 TD/6 INT; 610/6 rushing), RB Tarik Cohen (1340/15), WR Denzel Keyes (361/6), OLs Brandon Parker and Wes Cole, DLs Marquis Shephard (15.5 TFL/8 sacks) and Michael Neal, LB Landis Shoffner (86 T), DB/RS Tony McRae (5 INT/27 PD; 25.7 avg KOR/1 TD), K Cody Jones
Incoming FCS transfers: none; WR Donovahn Jones (Minnesota) signed in February, but is not on the roster.
The Aggies were sitting at 9-2 and only needed to win one last game against 6-5 NC Central to win the conference title outright and head to the playoffs. They did none of those things, and a pretty angry squad is coming back to try and rectify that mistake. The schedule is less of an issue this year, as what probably kept the Aggies on the sidelines more than anything was a 31-30 loss to Coastal Carolina. It's not that it was a bad loss; the Chants were #5 in the nation both at the time and at season's end. It's the fact that it was a loss, period. A 10-2 Aggie team would have made the field.
Offensively, the biggest losses are on the line, but it's a very talented line that should be able to absorb the loss of Canty and Robinson. Lawrence was the team's leading reciever, but the Aggies aren't that much of a passing team; Cohen shared Offensive POY honors last fall (and claimed the preseason award all on his own) for his running ability. Defensively, each unit suffered a big loss, but also has at least one key playmaker returning. On balance, those things tend to even out.
South Carolina State
All-MEAC selections: 9 (3/6)
Preseason selections: 9
Key losses: OLs Devin Flowers and Domanic Wilson
Key returnees: QB Adrian Kollock, Jr. (1244, 7/7), RB Jalen Simmons (1082/9), WR Taquan West (481/6), TE Tammarrick Hemmingway, OL Javarius Leamon, DLs Javon Hargreave (23.5 TFL/16 sacks), Reggie Owens (9 TFL) and James Settles, LBs Darius Leonard (87 T/13.5 TFL) and Chris Pauling, DB/RS Antonio Hamilton (3 INT; 25.6 avg PR/2 TD; 28.6 avg KOR/1 TD)
Incoming FCS transfers: none
It was an interesting off-season for a pair of Bulldogs, and in a good way. Hemingway, who graduated with honors in May and is working on his MBA, spent 10 weeks as an intern at the Charleston airport learning all about, well, running an airport. Owens, meanwhile, helped save three children thrown from a vehicle in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver.
If there's one team that's primed to step up and dominate the league, it's South Carolina State. The offensive line needs rebuilt, but that's one of those things you have to really know a program closely to judge. The Bulldogs could have deep issues there, or they could be just fine. Defensively, State loses nobody who put up any eye-popping numbers, and the defense returns last year's Defensive POY in Hargreave while Leonard was the league's Rookie of the Year. That's a core to build any defense around. The issue here, really, is depth. The guys a step down from the two defensive stars were merely pretty good, and guys a step down from them were just sort of average. So for South Carolina State to make a solid play in 2015, those players are going to have to improve a bit. But make no mistake, the Bulldogs are a fine team and a definite threat.
All-MEAC selections: 6 (6/0)
Preseason selections: 7
Key losses: WR Jhomo Gordon (527/5), DLs LeBranden Richardson (15 TFL), Erik Williams (15 TFL/6.5 sacks), and Rakeem Knight (9.5 TFL), LBs Ralph Williams (98 T/15 TFL) and Tavarus Dantzler (80 T/8.5 TFL), DB Thomas Finnie (4 INT)
Key returnees: QB Quentin Williams (1426, 7/7), RBs Michael Jones (730/5) and Anthony Jordan (579/12), WR Frank Brown (381/4), OLs Dariusz Bladek and Trevin Huff, LB Donald Smith (46 T), DB Marquis Drayton, P Jonathan Cagle
Incoming FCS transfers:
With Brian Jenkins departing for Alabama State (with a cloud of accusations rising in his wake), Bethune-Cookman hired former assistant Terry Sims as his replacement.
The offense? Oh, it's going to just keep doing what it was doing last year. Despite no truly eye-opening playmakers, the Wildcat offense trundled on at a 361 YPG pace, scoring just over 27 points a game. Not fantastic, but completely serviceable when your defense only allowed 237 yards a contest.
Oh. About that. There are three players whose tackle stat for last year is listed above. Go look at them and then come back.
Yeah, that's not good. Also not good: every player on the defense who had five or more TFL is gone. Every player with more than one sack is gone. We never want to assume a program is incapable of replacing losses, because that's a good way to look foolish. But when you have this many losses, you have to depend on some level of simple luck to swerve through the minefield, and it's baffling why they've been picked to finish third -- although that lone first-place vote sort of stands out now, doesn't it?. BCU has been so good for so long, but this might just be the year they plunge into the middle of the standings. Whether it's a temporary stumble, a long-term slide, or a miracle 2015 is up in the air.
North Carolina Central
All-MEAC selections: 11 (5/6)
Preseason selections: 8
Key losses: RB Andre Clarke (723/15), WRs Adrian Wilkins (557/3) and Anas Hasic (530/4), OL Christopher Pressley, DLs Ty Brown (15 TFL/7.5 sacks) and Felix Small (14 TFL/7 sacks)
Key returnees: QB Malcolm Bell (1984, 15/5; 416/5 rushing), WR Quentin Atkinson (615/5), TE Jvon Simmons, OLs Clevonne Davis and Carl Jones, LB Jeremy Thompson (76 T), DB/RS Michael Jones (5 INT/31 PD; 19.1 avg PR), DB C.J. Moore (90 T)
Incoming FCS transfers: LB Kenneth O'Neal (Texas-San Antonio)
Dark horse if there ever was one. The Eagles are going to need someone to step up at running back, but they've got a bunch of guys who saw limited action behind Clarke last year from which to choose. They'll need a solid second option at receiver (likely JUCO transfer Khalil Stinson). Most importantly, they'll desperately need to replace production from the two big losses on the defensive line. But a strong offensive line remains, the conference's preseason first-team quarterback is calling the shots, the top two receivers return, and the good parts of the defensive back seven was basically untouched by graduation. Individually, nothing really leaps off the page at you about Central this season. Taken as a whole, this is a much better team than they appear at first glance, and they are a definite threat... unless the defensive line is mush, at which point another .500-ish season is probably in store.
All-MEAC selections: 8 (6/2)
Preseason selections: 10
Key losses: RB Robert Council (565/6), OLs Darren Pinnock and Clarence Swain, DL Christopher Robinson (18 TFL/14 sacks), LB Cody Acker (113 T/11.5 TFL), DB Paul Eatman Jr. (95 T/19 PD), P Lawrence Forbes
Key returnees: QB Moses Skillion (1392, 11/8), RB Herb Walker Jr. (1408/13), WRs Andrew King (508/6), Thomas Martin (346/3), and Lawrence Spearman (307/2), OLs Dominque Woods and Matthew Thompson, DL Andrew Mitchell, DBs Dalonte Hall (20 PD) and Peterson Janvier (86 T), K Chris Moller, RS Orlando Johnson
Incoming FCS transfers: DL Jai Franklin (Old Dominion)
The last time the Bears had won the MEAC, or even a share of the title, was back in 1979 when it was still a Division II conference. That was also their last post-season appearance. So when the Bears stumbled into the playoffs last year with the MEAC's autobid, there was no small amount of celebration in Baltimore. But can they do it again?
Offensively, the Bears do lose Walker's partner in the backfield and two key offensive linemen. They return a pair of preseason first-team selections on the line, however, so Skillion's going to have time to work and Walker's going to have holes to run through. It's on defense that Morgan State has issues. Their three best players on defense are gone, and while the secondary looks pretty good the front seven is a bit of a wasteland. Expect Franklin to step in immediately to anchor the line.
The Bears non-conference schedule is even more terrifying than last year. They visit Air Force and FCS runner-up Illinois State, and it's no disrepect to Morgan State to state flatly that they'll begin the season 0-2. But the Bears should then rip off a five-game winning streak before they finally have to deal with North Carolina Central, and they completely avoid A&T and South Carolina State this year. So yes, Virginia -- or, rather, Maryland -- there is a chance for a miracle repeat.
All-MEAC selections: 7 (3/4)
Preseason selections: 9
Key losses: RB Jorrian Washington (834/5), OLs Kory Alpichi and Ronald Rose
Key returnees: QB Jaylian Williamson (1259, 6/5), RB Eric Carter, Jr. (541/3), WRs Twarn Mixon (615/6), Rashawn Proctor (550/4), and Rayshad Riddick (475/3), OLs Michael Young and Torrian White, DLs Miles Grooms (13 TFL/5 sacks) and Charles Owens, LBs Josh Thorne (113 T/13.5 TFL/5.5 sacks) and Tyrone Ward (93 T), P Christian Faber-Kinney (42.9 avg)
Incoming FCS transfers: QB David Watford (grad, Virginia), FB Javaris Giles (FAU), WR Shakim Alonzo (Cincinnati), TE Drew Owens (South Carolina), OLs Will Foxx (grad, East Carolina) and Jamal Parker (Oregon), DLs Robert Zimmerman (Toledo) and Davonte' Spruill (East Carolina), DBs Allen Ramsey (grad, Wake Forest), Justin Williams (Michigan State), and Jaston George (Syracuse)
The Pirates have recoverable losses on the offensive line, and Washington isn't irreplacable. The defense returns mostly unscathed. So why not give Hampton a boost? Questions, that's why. Save for a late-season upset of Bethune-Cookman which cost the Wildcats the MEAC title, Hampton was unable to beat anyone clearly better than themselves, and even lost to two teams they're picked to finish above this year. Their non-conference schedule again features three teams they're probably not beating, but at least they're spread out some, unlike last year when the Pirates opened with Old Dominion, William & Mary, and Richmond. ODU has been replaced with a late-season game against Stony Brook, so Hampton shouldn't enter the MEAC season on crutches.
And that was a huge problem last year. Take another look at Williamson's stats, and if you've let the stats of all the other quarterbacks we've mentioned so far stick in your head, this will hurt: Williamson only played six games last year. So a healthy Williamson will do a lot to push Hampton up the standings, but unlike last year he doesn't have experience backing him up if he's still prone to injury.
Finally, Hampton absolutely loaded up on FBS transfers this year. If a few make an impact, watch out.
All-MEAC selections: 10 (7/3)
Preseason selections: 7
Key losses: QB Terrance Ervin (1310, 8/9), RB Aaron Daniels (377/1), DL George Riddick (12.5 TFL/8 sacks), LBs Lynden Trail (11.5 TFL/5 sacks) and Marcell Coke (107 T), DB Keenan Lambert
Key returnees: WR Isaac White (664/7), DLs Shawn Fauntleroy and Kevin Williams, LBs Deon King (106 T/18 TFL/7.5 sacks) and Lamar Neal, DB Brandon Walker, K Cameron Marouf
Incoming FCS transfers: QB Greg Hankerson, Jr. (FAU), WR Quinta Funderburk (Arkansas/Syracuse), DB Sandy Chapman (Old Dominion)
Pete Adrian retired following the season after 10 years on the Spartan sidelines and 45 in all as a football coach. Latrell Scott, fresh off two seasons at Virginia State where his teams won the CIAA North title, takes over. Scott also spent one year as the head coach at Richmond, taking over when Mike London left for Virginia, but after a single 6-5 season Scott resigned, just a week before the start of the following campaign, after being charged with a DUI.
The linebacking corps was shredded with the loss of Coke and Trail. Trail, who transferred in from Florida in 2012, was an All-American in 2013 but slipped a bit in 2014, only earning second-team honors. He was still a Buck Buchanan Award finalist, however, and was widely considered a strong draft sleeper in the 2015 NFL Draft. He wasn't picked, but he signed with Houston and has been making noise in camp. So his loss will be keenly felt in Norfolk. But Trail was arguably not even the best linebacker in the unit last year, as Deon King had better numbers. He'll be joined on defense by some solid complimentary pieces, but the Spartans' losses there can't be ignored.
More damaging may be the loss of Ervin, as Norfolk was definitely a pass-first squad last year; the team only rushed for 1288 yards total. Malik Stokes, a former Bowling Green signee, is the only returning quarterback who saw action last year. He'll be pushed by Hankerson in camp.
Norfolk won't compete for the title, but they've got enough pieces that they might well mess up someone else's chances.
All-MEAC selections: 5 (3/2)
Preseason selections: 4
Key losses: QB Damien Fleming (2159, 17/13), LB Shaun Ward (11 TFL), K Chase Varnadore
Key returnees: FB Gerald Hearns (475/0), WR Brandon Norwood (516/1), OL Keonte Cash, DL Michael Lovejoy, LB Alik Blount (72 T/7 TFL), DB Jacques Bryant, P Colby Blanton
Incoming FCS transfers: We have no freakin' idea.
Florida A&M's roster has exactly one player listed, and information from camp provided by the university has been sorely lacking outside of the returning players with whose resumes we're already familiar. Point here is: we can't really offer our best insight here, because we don't have much to go on. We'll just note that a month ago, when we did NAIA previews, every single team had their 2015 rosters posted for public perusal. Florida A&M had ambitions if being an FBS program not that long ago.
Earl Holmes was fired in October, and Corey Fuller replaced him on an interim basis for the final four games. After the season, the Rattlers hired Alex Wood, who himself had been the interim replacement for Jeff Quinn at Buffalo before they hired Lance Leipold, as the permanent replacement. Wood, who has the distinction of being the only coach to have ever worked at both Miami (FL) and Miami (OH), was the head coach at James Madison from 1995-98, taking the Dukes to the playoffs his first season.
Carson Royal is already tabbed as the starter at quarterback after throwing for 64 yards last year. What little information A&M offers on anyone else who might contribute consists entirely of how energetic and dependable they are. Whatever. They can't win the conference title anyway because of APR violations, and even if they could it wouldn't matter because if nothing else we know who graduated and we know what everyone else actually did on the field last year. It wasn't much.
All-MEAC selections: 6 (2/4)
Preseason selections: 8
Key losses: QB Greg McGhee (2388, 15/8; 847/13 rushing)
Key returnees: RBs William Parker (673/7) and Aquanius Freeman (421/5), WRs Matthew Colvin (611/1) and Richard Aiyegoro (395/3), TE Myles Williams, OLs Toree Boyd and John Smith, DL Damon Gresham-Chisholm, LBs Devin Rollins (122 T/9 TFL) and Khari Brown (92 T), DB Kenneth Russ, P John Flack
Incoming FCS transfers:
First, the basis: Everyone important is coming back to this team from last year with one exception. There are only two problems with this.
One, the exception. McGhee was the conference's leading passer, and shared the Offensive POY award. That's a huge loss for a team that just wasn't that good in the first place. His replacement will be decided in camp; sophomore Jamie Cunningham is fighting it out with freshmen Da'Vaughn Johnson and Kalen Johnson. Cunningham appeared in six games last year, but only attempted one pass, a four-yard completion.
Two, which we already spoiled: they're not that good. Howard was the only MEAC team not named Savannah State to cough up 5000 yards of offense to opponents. Yes, they led the league in offense themselves, but over 75% of that yardage graduated in May, and they still got outgained by 400 yards.
In short, McGhee, a four-year starter, pushed the Bison to a few close wins over bad teams and kept Howard in some losses to good teams. (He even kept the Bison in their loss to Rutgers, so hats off for that one.) Without him? With an unproven commodity at quarterback? Cover your eyes.
All-MEAC selections: 3 (2/1)
Preseason selections: 3
Key losses: QB Marlon Kelly (668, 2/8), WR Milton Williams III (586/5), DL Rodney Gunter (12 TFL/7 sacks)
Key returnees: QB Gil Rivera (898, 6/10), RB Jamaal Jackson (493/1), WR Malik Golson (275/2), OL Anthony Mengoni, DL Gabriel Sherrod, DB Terrick Colston (75 T/4 INT)
Incoming FCS transfers: RB Laray Smith (Indiana), WR Kamal Abrams (UConn)
Kermit Blount's contract was not renewed after the season, and former Charlie Strong assistant Kenneth Carter was brought in to replace him.
Rivera split time with Kelly last year, and neither were any good. Whether Rivera can hold onto the job at quarterback this year is an open question. This is just a bad football team, which is sort of sad considering they've made a playoff appearance in the last decade. Maybe they can get some help from Smith and Abrams, but those guys aren't tackling anyone.
All-MEAC selections: none
Preseason selections: 1
Key losses: ...no, not really
Key returnees: QBs Tino Smith (849, 5/8) and Leon Prunty (643, 1/3), RB Richard Williams III (370/3), WR Jeremiah Harris (273/3), LBs Marquis Smith (17 TFL/8 sacks) Trevion Ashford (74 T)
Incoming FCS transfers:
Savannah State was outscored last year 557-137. Oh, you'd like to ignore the losses to FBS teams? Okay, then Savannah State was outscored 349-121. They lost by two touchdowns to Division II Fort Valley State. At home. Well, at least they beat Fort Valley in Fort Valley in 2013. They've lost 21 straight since, and their only non-conference games this year are at Colorado State and Akron. By December, the Tigers could be riding a 32-game skid.
Game of the Year
The game of the year last year was arguably the one that caused all the ruckus in the first place, and we're going to circle that one again this year. November 21, NC Central at NCA&T. Our sarcastically bold prediction here is that the winner will claim at least a share of the conference title. Our legitimately bold prediction is that they'll be playing for the automatic bid to the playoffs.
Week nine of Picking the Big 12, and we will jump ahead (or behind, we suppose) alphabetically to cover the Big Sky -- because 30 minutes after tomorrow's post is published, an actual Big Sky team will be playing an actual football game on your actual television set.
Unless you don't actually love football. You don't want to be accused of that, do you?