We’ll do the BCSP preview on all four conferences continuing this week with the SWAC.
You’ll find some picks here you didn’t find at or in the preseason media events!
Southwestern Athletic Conference
Don’t pencil Grambling State in just yet in the SWAC.
For the last two years, Alcorn State and Grambling have met for the SWAC championships. Alcorn State won in 2015. Grambling won in 2016.
Alcorn State should have won in 2016. Alcorn State will win in 2017. At least, that’s the opinion of the Black College Sports Page as the 2017 season begins.
The Braves, champions of the East Division last year in their first year under Fred McNair and winners of three straight division crowns, finished 5-6 overall and only 5-4 a year ago in SWAC play.
Beset by injuries all season, Alcorn was fortunate to come away with the division title. All four of its losses in conference play were to West Division teams. Against the East, they were 4-0, beating division teams by an average 40-15 score (159-60 total).
Grambling finished 11-1 overall, an undefeated 9-0 vs. SWAC competition in taking the West Division crown. The Tigers were dominant, outscoring all their opponents the way Alcorn did its East foes, 40-16. Grambling handily defeated Alcorn State 43-18 in the regular season and was a big favorite to run away in the championship game.
But something strange happened in the title game.
Alcorn jumped up early on the G-Men and pitched a first half shutout to lead 17-0 at the break. Grambling made big plays in the second half.
– a 73-yard kickoff return opened the second half and led to Grambling’s first TD (17-7).
– receptions of 33 and 31 yards set up a second score (17-14).
– a 26-yard pass play and fumble recovered an the Alcorn 2-yard line led to a third score (20-20).
Grambling outscored the Braves 27-3 in the second half to pull out a 27-20 win.
For the game, Alcorn outgunned Grambling on the ground (189 to 175 yds.), thru the air (259 to 237), led in time of possession (34:04 to 24:56) and had eight sacks to Grambling’s four.
Why did Alcorn lose? One of the reasons is a wide open tight end incredibly dropped two (two?) walk-in touchdowns near the Grambling end zone that could have helped keep the GMen at bay.
If he pulls in those passes, Grambling likely doesn’t win the SWAC, doesn’t play in and win the Celebration Bowl and is not crowned HBCU national champion.
McNair described it at the preseason SWAC Media Day as “the one that got away.” He said his squad has put it behind them and is ready to go after the 2017 title.
It’s highly unlikely that Alcorn will have the injuries to key people that derailed its fortunes a year ago. The Braves return as many skill position players as does Grambling and their players have more experience.
They include both quarterbacks (Lenorris Footman and Noah Johnson), its top two running backs (DeLance Turner and Aron Baker) and top wideouts (Norlando Veals and Marquis Watford). Watford is also a special teams star.
Grambling lost the top HBCU pick in the NFL draft, wide receiver Chad Williams as well as big-play receiver Verlan Hunter. Bruising running back Jestin Kelly is not on the preseason roster. They also lost heavily on the defensive side of the ball including as many as seven starters.
Perhaps no one is more confident than returning Grambling senior quarterback Devante Kincade who believes that his team this year is more talented than last year’s squad. Head coach Broderick Fobbs echoes the same sentiment. While this year’s Grambling team might be more talented, they don’t have the experience or seasoning that last year’s team had.
The fact is, no one would be surprised to see a Grambling vs. Alcorn State three-peat on December 2 in what will be the last SWAC Championship Game.
But, as I’ve said, don’t necessarily pencil Grambling in just yet. Its major challenges are expected to come from West Division foes Southern and Prairie View A&M.
Southern has a senior quarterback with more experience and seasoning than Kincade in Austin Howard, already the Jags’ career passing leader. Under head coach Dawson Odums, Southern has been just a step behind Grambling since winning the 2014 West title. Don’t count the Jaguars out.
Ditto for Prairie View. They feature preseason first team all-SWAC standouts in wide receiver Khadarel Hodge and defensive lineman Devohn Reed and a promising young quarterback in 6-4, 230-pounder Jalen Morton.
Texas Southern is a sleeper pick.
Alcorn may be head and shoulders above others in the East.
Alcorn State in the East.
Grambling State in the West.
Alcorn State in the title game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Martez Carter, RB, Grambling State
Austin Howard, QB, Southern
Devante Kincade, QB, Grambling State
Lenorris Footman, QB, Alcorn State
Jordan Bentley, RB, Alabama A&M
Marquis Watford, WR/RB, KR, Alcorn State