We’ll do the BCSP preview on all four conferences beginning this week with the SIAC.
You’ll find some picks here you didn’t find at or in the preseason media events!
Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC)
For the first time since the 2001-02 season, someone other than Tuskegee, Albany State or Miles won the SIAC championship.
Tuskegee, in fact, had the best record in conference play (6-1) and Albany State had the second best mark (4-2) but neither won its divisional race.
It was indeed a crazy and unpredictable result as two below .500 teams, Fort Valley State (5-6 overall, 4-3 SIAC) in the East and Kentucky State (4-7, 4-3) in the West, won their divisions with 3-1 records.
Now, entering the 2017 season, both Tuskegee (West) and Albany State (East), not surprisingly, have been picked by coaches and SIDs to be back on top. That was the news out of the
SIAC preseason event at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on July 11.
But prospects are high for similar shenanigans to shake out in 2017.
Both SIAC title game combatants sported new head coaches in 2017. FVSU earned the crown in its first year under relatively unknown head coach Kevin Porter.
The fellow first-timer at Kentucky State was the relatively well-known John L. Smith, who formerly helmed big-time programs at Arkansas, Michigan State and Louisville.
Albany State (5-4, 4-2, 3-1 E) will be entering this season with a new coach of its own in former five-year Charleston Southern offensive coordinator, Gabe Gardenia, who joins Smith as white head coaches in the SIAC.
Gardenia, who played as a walk-on at Alabama in the early 2000s, was hired in April too late for the Golden Rams to have spring football. Still, coaches and SIDs voted them as East Division favorites.
That may have something to do with Gardenia’s success running the Charleston Southern offense. His unit at CSU averaged 33 points and over 400 yards per game a year ago. With Gardenia leading the offense, CSU won back-to-back Big South championships and made successive FCS playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016.
They defeated SIAC West Division champ Kentucky State 57-7 last season.
While Gardenia may have a positive effect on Albany State’s chances, the others in the East are not far behind.
Benedict (5-5, 4-3, 2-2 E) head coach James “Mike” White won six SIAC championships in 15 years while at Albany State and enters his third year at Benedict.
Turning around the Tigers has never been a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ for White. The ‘when’ may be this season as Benedict has ten players voted to the preseason all-SIAC teams, more than any other program. The list includes 1,000-yard rusher George Myers Jr.
Clark Atlanta (5-5, 3-4, 2-2 E) boasts quarterback Johnathan McCrary, the preseason pick as offensive player of the year. The Vanderbilt transfer is the top SIAC returner in passing yards (190.3 ypg.) and passing efficiency. He showed his stuff in a big-time 450-yard, five-TD performance vs. rival Morehouse last season. He gets back his top receiver in Dre Martin who hauled in 38 catches for 678 yards (17.8 yards per catch) as a freshman.
Defending champ Fort Valley State won its last five games, including the title game and a division-clinching regular-season ending win over Albany State. This after losing its first six games. The Wildcats have momentum on their side.
Morehouse (3-7, 2-6, 0-4) had the worst record in the East but lost each of its four divisional games by single digits and by a total of 17 points. Don’t count the Maroon Tigers out!
The West may have an even more spirited race. Tuskegee lost plenty to graduation while Miles, Lane, and Kentucky State appear to be better.
Miles (5-6, 4-3, 2-2 W) gets the full attention of head coach Reginald Ruffin who returns after dealing with the ill health of his wife all last season. She passed in January.
Lane (5-5, 3-4, 1-3 W) has the preseason all-SIAC backfield of first team running back Marcus Holliday (1,126 rushing yards, 6 TDs), the first 1,000-yard back for the Dragons since Fred Lane, and second team dual-threat quarterback Marcus Reynolds.
Kentucky State moved Jules St. Gee, who led them to last year’s division title playing quarterback, to wide receiver to make room for a couple of newcomers. Ironically, St. Gee was voted in as a preseason second team selection at wide receiver. Here’s a hint. These newcomers must be pretty good! The Thorobreds had six preseason all-SIAC selections.
Head coach Willie Slater’s Tuskegee Golden Tigers just keep marching along regardless of whether they win the SIAC or not.
Despite not winning the crown in three of the last four years, Slater’s Tigers have now made four straight Div. II playoff appearances, winning games in each of their last two appearances. In other words, though they placed only four players on the preseason all-SIAC teams, don’t ever count the Golden Tigers out!