It’s never too early to think about the end of the season before it begins.
If you look at preseason media predictions during various football conference media days, it is easy to see who many believe will be in the mix for either a postseason berth or a conference championship across the HBCU football landscape.
The road to a conference or division championship, however, won’t be an easy one.
Voters say: Grambling State will win the SWAC West.
Why will they: Confidence. The Tigers fell one win short of winning the division last season during an improbable run that saw them win seven games after winning two in 2012 and 2013 combined. Head coach Broderick Fobbs said expectations will be even higher coming into 2015. Grambling knows it can compete with the best in the conference, especially after receiving such confirmation with then-third string QB Johnathan Williams to help in leading the team to the brink of a SWAC championship game appearance.
Why they won’t: Can they run?: As good as Williams was a starter last season, he won’t be able to do it alone without a rushing attack to compliment him. Grambling averaged 3.2 yards per attempt last season, which ranked near the bottom of the SWAC. Jestin Kelly will be expected to take the bulk of the carries this year, but he’s an unproven back.
Voters say: Alcorn State will win the SWAC East.
Why they will: Alcorn State still has John Gibbs Jr., a solid running game and head coach Jay Hopson, who has been keen in making adjustments and fitting whatever scheme in place to the talent on the current roster.
Why they won’t: Even though the team lost offensive coordinator Willie Simmons to Prairie View and the defense lost four of its five leading tacklers from 2014, the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of Alcorn State winning the East is the big target implanted on their backs – a year removed from winning everything. The Braves will be the hunted. They will be the biggest game of the season for their opponents. It will be interesting to see how Alcorn State handles the pressure of being expected to win.
Voters say: North Carolina A&T will win the conference title.
Why they will: The Aggies have eight players who are either first, second or third All-MEAC team led by Tarik Cohen, the favorite to win Offensive Player of the Year. North Carolina A&T is probably the deepest most talented team in the conference. It is very realistic they could win 10 or more games this season.
Why they won’t: The depth of the MEAC. Although there are four new head coaches in the conference this season, the league is tremendously competitive, as we all saw five school win a share of the MEAC title in 2014. The Aggies might be the favorite, but South Carolina State, North Carolina Central, Morgan State and Bethune-Cookman are worthy challengers, too.
Voters say: Winston-Salem State will win the CIAA.
Why they will: Reputation. It seems that no matter if the team loses players or coaches, the Rams find a way to be right in the middle of the CIAA hunt. First-year head coach Kienus Boulware won nine games last season during what was expected to be a transition period for WSSU.
Why they won’t: Questions at quarterback. WSSU will be without quarterback tandem Rudy Johnson and Phil Sims when the 2015 season starts. Sophomore Justin Johnson is the only QB on the roster with any game experience.
Voters say: Albany State will win the East.
Why they will: Albany State landed nine selections, including running back Jarvis Small and linebacker Tavarius Washington on the 2015 SIAC preseason unit.
Why they won’t: New coach. First-year head coach Dan Land will have a lot to prove replacing Mike White.
Voters say: Tuskegee will win the West
Why they will: Tuskegee returns nine starters from last season, including senior Jewell Ratliff and Julian Morgan.
The defense also returns SIAC Freshman of the Year Osband Thompson and All-SIAC member Michael Robinson to a unit that that ranked among the best in Division II in 2014.
The Golden Tigers offense will get back quarterback Kevin Lacey, who threw for 1,299 yards to go along with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in spit duty last season with the departed Justin Nared.
Why they won’t: Leading rusher Hoderick Lowe is reportedly academically ineligible and will miss the 2015 season.