Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Think of all the traditionally strong programs in Southwestern Athletic Conference history and Arkansas-Pine Bluff doesn't quite roll off the tongue.
But, oh, do the likes of Grambling State, Jackson State and Southern University, among others, wish they could be attempting to do what UAPB - yes, Pine Bluff - can do this season - repeat as the SWAC champion.
Since the SWAC started playing a championship game 15 seasons ago, only Grambling has been a repeat champion, winning three in a row from 2000-02.
UAPB won its first outright title last season, having only earned a four-way share of the 1996 crown before the championship game existed. And the Golden Lions return a veteran team this year, one that looks like it could be playing in Houston come Dec. 7.
"We are poised to repeat," UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. "The key for us is to stay healthy. Our senior leadership will be a big part of our success as a team."
In beating Jackson State, 24-21, in overtime, UAPB became the fifth straight West Division champion to defeat the East Division champion. Overall, 11 of the 14 games have gone to the West champ, although Texas Southern later vacated the 2010 title.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2013 Southwestern Athletic Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Jackson State
2. Alabama State
3. Alabama A&M
4. Mississippi Valley State
5. Alcorn State
1. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
3. Prairie View A&M
4. Texas Southern
5. Grambling State
1. JACKSON STATE TIGERS
LOCATION: Jackson, Miss.
COACH: Rick Comegy (48-31 in six seasons at Jackson State; 156-82 overall)
LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 7-2 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Rakeem Sims, R-Jr. (152 carries, 784 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Qua Cox, Sr. (50 TT, 5 TFL, 5 INT, 8 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Clayton Moore, Sr. (127-of-246, 1,863 yards, 11 TD, 7 INT; 141 carries, 633 yards, 11 TD)
QB LaMontiez Ivy, R-Fr.
RB Tommy Gooden, Sr. (107 carries, 601 yards, 5 TD)
WR Zachary Pendleton, Sr. (33 receptions, 457 yards, 1 TD)
WR DeSuan McKenzie, So.
WR/KR Tobias Singleton, Jr.
OL Jordan Arthur, Sr.
OL Derrick Jean, Sr.
DE Tedderick Terrell, R-So. (37 TT, 10 TFL, 3 sacks)
DL Cedric Hogan, Sr.
LB Todd Wilcher, R-Sr. (64 TT, 7 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
LB John McNabb, Sr.
LB Ryan Griffin, Jr.
DB Cameron Loeffler, Sr. (84 TT, 13.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 5 PBU)
CB Travis Woods, R-Sr.
PK Ryan Deising, So.
BIG LOSSES: WR Rico Richardson (60 receptions, 1,153 yards, 11 TD) and DE Joseph LeBeau (66 TT, 23.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 6 QBH)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 186.92 (28 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 215.08 (56 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Total Offense, 402 (39 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 28.50 (46 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 122.25 (18 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 194.58 (38 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Total Defense, 316.83 (17 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 26.50 (57 in FCS, 5 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: The Tigers represented the East Division in the SWAC Championship Game because of its head-to-head win over Alabama State, which also finished 7-2 in conference games. Jackson State will host this season's early meeting on Sept. 7. The Tigers usually have a strong defense and this year's unit features Cox, a Buck Buchanan Award nominee and the SWAC preseason defensive player of the year, and Loeffler, last year's leading tackler, in the secondary; Terrell, the next great defensive end in the program; and Wilcher leading a solid linebackers corps. Moore is a dual threat at QB and one of three returning players who rushed for more than 600 yards last season - Sims and Gooden being the other two at running back. Comegy will have to get his squad through a tough first half of the conference schedule.
Aug. 31 - at Tulane
Sept. 7 - vs. Alabama State
Sept. 14 - vs. Tennessee State (at Memphis, Tenn.)
Sept. 21 - vs. Texas Southern
Sept. 28 - at Southern
Oct. 5 - vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Oct. 12 - at Mississippi Valley State
Oct. 19 - vs. Grambling State
Oct. 26 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Nov. 9 - at Alabama A&M
Nov. 16 - vs. Alcorn State
2. ALABAMA STATE HORNETS
LOCATION: Montgomery, Ala.
COACH: Reggie Barlow (34-33 in six seasons at Alabama State)
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 7-2 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Isaiah Crowell, Sr. (159 carries, 842 yards, 15 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Carlton Jones, Sr. (30 TT, 7 TFL, 4 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Daniel Duhart, R-So. (29-of-422, 288 yards, 4 TD)
QB Arsenio Favor, R-Jr. (Southern Mississippi transfer)
RB Malcolm Cyrus, Jr. (82 carries, 459 yards, 5 TD)
WR Marcus Gamble, Jr. (24 receptions, 164 yards)
WR DeMario Bell, So.
WR Nehemia Henry, R-Jr.
TE Justin Robinson, Sr.
C Edmond Davis, Sr.
RT Tovar Allen, Jr.
LT Matthews Bates, Jr.
DT Derek Billups
LB Leland Baker, R-Sr. (64 TT, 9 TFL)
LB Brandon Slater, Sr.
LB DeMarques Taylor, R-Sr.
S Deandre Rashada, Jr. (45 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
CB Nick Martin, So.
PK/P Bobby Wenzig, Sr. (61 punts, 45.6 yppg; 62 points)
BIG LOSS: QB Greg Jenkins (137-of-233, 1,691 yards, 9 TD, 10 INT; 121 carries, 507 yards, 8 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 184.36 (32 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 180.18 (82 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Total Offense, 364.55 (64 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 32 (25 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 161.27 (62 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 214.73 (63 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Total Defense, 376 (59 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 20.82 (20 in FCS, 3 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: The Hornets believe they have the right team to play in their new $62 million ASU Stadium. They have won at least six SWAC games in each of the past three seasons and will be neck-and-neck with Jackson State in the East Division title race. But they face the toughest start to any SWAC schedule by visiting the two 2012 championship game participants, Jackson State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Crowell possesses power and speed in the backfield and will fuel the offense, which has a new starting quarterback, perhaps Duhart, although Favor made three starts at Southern Mississippi last year. Former Texas Southern head coach Kevin Ramsey will coordinate the defense, which suffered a handful of key losses, including safety Kejuan Riley. The depth at linebacker - veteran players and young talent - will help settle the unit. Barlow is especially excited about Billups filling the defensive tackle spot. Wenzig ranked fourth in the FCS in punting average.
Aug. 31 - vs. Jacksonville State
Sept. 7 - at Jackson State
Sept. 14 - at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Sept. 21 - vs. Grambling State
Sept. 28 - vs. Alcorn State
Oct. 5 - at Texas Southern
Oct. 12 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Oct. 26 - vs. Alabama A&M (at Birmingham, Ala.)
Nov. 2 - at Kentucky
Nov. 9 - vs. Southern
Nov. 16 - at Mississippi Valley State
Nov. 28 - vs. Stillman
3. ALABAMA A&M BULLDOGS
LOCATION: Huntsville, Ala.
COACH: Anthony Jones (79-49 in 11 seasons at Alabama A&M; 97-61 overall)
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 6-3 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Montarius Smith, R-So. (49 receptions, 526 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Reginald Bailey, Jr. (37 TT, 13 TFL, 2 PBU, 4 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kyle Harmyk, Jr.
QB Brandon Wells, R-Fr.
RB Brendan Johnson, So.
RB Brandon Eldemire, R-Fr.
FB Bryan Nelson, So.
WR Reshaad DeJarnett, So. (32 receptions, 498 yards, 4 TD)
WR/KR Terrance Pride, R-So.
RG Justin Goodrich, Jr.
LT Winston Hunt, So.
DE Corey Johnson, Fr.
DT Anthony Lanier, R-Fr.
OLB Conrad Johnson, So.
MLB Robert Nelson, R-So. (45 TT, 4 TFL)
CB Derrick Harris, Jr.
CB Tremaine Shepherd, Sr.
SS Jeremy Isabelle, So.
FS A.J. Clark, Sr.
BIG LOSSES: QB Deaunte Mason (171-of296, 2,026 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT; 122 carries, 323 yards, 10 TD) and RB Kaderius Lacey (182 carries, 932 yards, 8 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 149 (62 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 187.82 (78 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Total Offense, 336.82 (86 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 23.91 (72 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 160.91 (61 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 171.73 (17 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Total Defense, 332.64 (26 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 21.55 (30 in FCS, 4 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: Jones, the dean of SWAC coaches, faces the task of replacing 23 players from last year's senior class. Included in the losses were a four-year starter at quarterback (Mason) and a running back who nearly had back-to-back 1,000-yards seasons (Lacey). The line even suffered big losses, so the offense faces some growing pains. Also, the defense lost its top four tacklers, so it appears to be a rebuilding season on "The Hill." The deepest positions on the team are wide receiver - led by the impressive Smith - and at linebacker, also led by sophomores. The Bulldogs have had only two losing records in Jones' first 11 seasons, and this might be another one. Their November portion to the schedule is particularly tough.
Aug. 31 - at Grambling State
Sept. 7 - vs. Tuskegee
Sept. 14 - at South Carolina State
Sept. 21 - at Prairie View A&M
Sept. 28 - vs. Texas Southern
Oct. 5 - vs. Mississippi Valley State
Oct. 12 - at Southern
Oct. 26 - at Alabama State (at Birmingham, Ala.)
Nov 2 - at Alcorn State
Nov. 9 - vs. Jackson State
Nov. 16 - vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Nov. 23 - at Georgia Tech
4. MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE DELTA DEVILS
LOCATION: Itta Bena, Miss.
COACH: Karl Morgan (6-26 in three seasons at Mississippi Valley State)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 5-4 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (7 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/KR Julian Stafford, Jr. (51 receptions, 779 yards, 4 TD; 29.5-yard KO return average, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Robert Simpson, Sr. (59 TT, 22.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Carl Davis, Jr.
QB Jeremy Collins, Jr.
RB Cortez Frizell, Jr. (15 carries, 126 yards, 1 TD)
WR Richard Drake, Sr. (12 receptions, 173 yards, 1 TD)
OL Timothy Johnson, Jr.
OL Eddie Wright, So.
OL Wesley Steele, Jr.
OL Justin Barner, Sr.
OL Trevin Wallace, So.
DT Rico Shaw, Sr.
LB Jameel Franklin, Sr.
LB Antonio Benson, Sr.
CB Jeremy Johnson, Jr. (51 TT, 5 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 2 FF, 2 BK)
S Kevin Eugene, Sr. (38 TT, 4 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
BIG LOSS: RB Brandon Stansell (132 carries, 757 yards)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 161.18 (50 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 122.09 (116 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Total Offense, 283.27 (113 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 17 (108 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 116.18 (13 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 163 (8 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Total Defense, 279.18 (4 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 18.73 (12 in FCS, 2 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: The Delta Devils won only one game in Morgan's first two seasons, but came on strong last season, winning their final three games and finishing with their highest victory total since 2006. They swept Grambling State and Southern for the first time since 1984, back when Willie Totten-to-Jerry Rice set defenses on fire. Unfortunately, many of the key players are gone from last year's team, including seven key seniors who helped form one of the SWAC's most impressive defenses. Simpson, who ranked second in the FCS in tackles for loss, returns from that group as a Buck Buchanan Award nominee. On offense, the Delta Devils' backfield sounds a lot like Alabama A&M as they also replace their quarterback and key running backs. Davis, who had the starting quarterback job as a freshman early in the 2010 season, hopes to answer some of the questions and form a steady passing duo with Stafford, who has breakaway speed. A national television appearance to open the season (versus Florida A&M in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge) is a highlight for the Delta Devils.
Sept. 1 - at Florida A&M (at Orlando, Fla.)
Sept. 7 - vs. Delta State
Sept. 14 - at Alcorn State
Sept. 21 - vs. Southern
Oct. 5 - at Alabama A&M
Oct. 12 - vs. Jackson State
Oct. 19 - at Prairie View A&M
Oct. 26 - vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Nov. 2 - at Grambling State
Nov. 9 - vs. Texas Southern
Nov. 16 - vs. Alabama State
5. ALCORN STATE BRAVES
LOCATION: Alcorn State, Miss.
COACH: Jay Hopson (4-7 in one season at Alcorn State)
LAST SEASON: 4-7 overall, 4-5 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB John Gibbs, So. (126-of-259, 1,406 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT; 113 carries, 390 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Devin Francois, Jr. (41 TT, 6 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jordan Payne, So.
RB Arnold Walker, Sr. (113 carries, 390 yards, 4 TD)
WR/RS Tavoris Doss, Sr. (27 receptions, 315 yards, 2 TD)
WR Tollette George, Jr.
OL Jonathan Scott, Jr.
OL Iskeli Ongosia, Jr.
OL Jeremy Toines, Jr.
DT Carrington Aloese, Jr.
DT Rickey Joseph, So.
LB Deion Roberson, Jr. (40 TT, 15 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FF)
LB William Thomas, Jr.
DB Jamison Knox, Sr.
DB Anthony Williams Jr., So.
DB Hendrick Taylor, Jr.
P Marcquiso Jean, So.
BIG LOSS: LB Robert Gainwell (59 62 TT, 13 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF, 1 BK)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 125.82 (88 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 165.36 (101 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Total Offense, 291.18 (109 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 16.09 (110 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 220.73 (110 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 156 (4 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Total Defense, 376.73 (60 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 34.55 (102 in FCS, 8 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: Yet another team with too many question marks to be a division title contender, the Braves hope to reach the .500 mark in Hopson's second season. They showed signs of improvement last year, but may struggle to win more than once on the road in a tough schedule, so their six home dates are important. The offense will be improved after it relied on some younger players last season. A lot depends on QB Gibbs showing more consistency after he made eight starts as a freshman. Walker is a physical back who can soften a defense and allow the 6-6 Gibbs to look downfield to a decent group of receivers. On defense, the Braves hang their hat on defending the pass. They allowed only 165 yards per game to rank first in the SWAC and fourth in the FCS. Francois and Knox anchor what remains an experienced secondary.
Aug. 31 - vs. Edward Waters
Sept. 7 - at Mississippi State
Sept. 14 - vs. Mississippi Valley State
Sept. 21 - at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Sept. 28 - at Alabama State
Oct. 5 - vs. Warner
Oct. 12 - vs. Grambling State
Oct. 19 - at Texas Southern
Oct. 26 - at Southern
Nov. 2 - vs. Alabama A&M
Nov. 7 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Nov. 16 - at Jackson State
1. ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF GOLDEN LIONS
LOCATION: Pine Bluff, Ark.
COACH: Monte Coleman (29-27 in five seasons at Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
LAST SEASON: 10-2 overall, 8-1 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (10 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Ben Anderson, Jr. (174-of-299, 2,346 yards, 16 TD, 13 INT; 115 carries, 519 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Ryan Shaw, Sr. (62 TT, 1 INT, 13 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Justin Billings, R-Sr. (148 carries, 852 yards, 5 TD)
WR Ladarius Eckwood, R-Sr. (52 receptions, 787 yards, 6 TD)
WR Willie Young, So.
TE Dezmond Beverly, Sr. (46 receptions, 434 yards, 6 TD)
LG Kenny Eagle, Sr.
RG Keathric Brown, Sr.
RT Me'Kale Carter, R-Jr.
LT LaFarious Hoskins, Sr.
DE Damien Lee, Sr. (31 TT, 10 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 5 FF)
DE DeMarcus Berry, So.
LB Jer-ryan Harris, Sr. (98 TT, 10 TFL, 6 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF)
LB Xavier Lofton, R-Sr. (107 TT, 14 TFL, 2 sacks, 6 PBU)
LB Kyle Walker, R-So.
CB Gyovanni Harvey, R-Sr.
PK/P Tyler Strickland, Jr. (12-of-19 FG, 50 long; 75 points)
BIG LOSSES: LT Terron Armstead and DE Brandon Thurman (70 TT, 25 TFL, 17.5 sacks, 3 FR, 1 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 200.25 (24 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 199.08 (69 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Total Offense, 399.33 (43 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 26.75 (56 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 145.50 (48 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 167.50 (15 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Total Defense, 313 (12 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 18.50 (11 in FCS, 1 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: Coming off the 2012 SWAC championship and a school record for wins, UAPB was an easy pick in the conference's preseason poll to earn a West Division title repeat, if not a second straight overall title. It doesn't hurt to have 19 returning starters as well. Granted the losses were big ones in LT Armstead, DE Thurman and leading tackler Bill Ross at linebacker, but Coleman has an experienced team this season. Anderson was the SWAC's preseason offensive player of the year, having earned the championship MVP award after leading the Golden Lions to the overtime win over Jackson State. Opponents find it hard to chase the 5-8 Billings when he's running the ball, but the Golden Lions have to replace power back Dennis Jenkins. Eckwood is the big-play receiver and Beverly is one of the more proficient tight ends in the FCS. Even the loss of Armstead to the NFL is tempered by the return of four starters on the offensive line. Thurman's pass-rushing skills (a runaway leader in the FCS with 17.5 sacks) can't be replaced, so the defense might have to win in a different way. Ryan and Shaw are among the best at their positions in the SWAC. There may be no slowing UAPB, which hosts three of its four intradivision games.
Aug. 31 - at Arkansas State
Sept. 7 - at McNeese State
Sept. 14 - vs. Alabama State
Sept. 21 - vs. Alcorn State
Oct. 5 - at Jackson State
Oct. 12 - vs. Texas Southern
Oct. 19 - vs. Southern
Oct. 26 - at Mississippi Valley State
Nov. 9 - vs. Grambling State
Nov. 16 - at Alabama A&M
Nov. 23 - at Prairie View A&M
2. SOUTHERN JAGUARS
LOCATION: Baton Rouge, La.
COACH: Dawson Odums (4-5 in one partial season at Southern)
LAST SEASON: 4-7 overall, 3-6 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Dray Joseph, Sr. (210-of-359, 2,516 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Anthony Balancier, Sr. (68 TT, 11.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Lenard Tillery, R-Fr.
RB Darrius Clayton, Sr. (54 carries, 183 yards)
WR Lee Doss, R-Sr. (65 receptions, 703 yards, 8 TD)
WR Chuck Baker, Fr.
WR Sam Altman, R-Jr.
OL Dwayne Houston, Jr.
OL Anthony Mosley, So.
OL Corey White, R-So. (LSU transfer)
C Aaron Hall, Sr.
DE Kadeem Lewis, Sr.
DE Arthur Miley, Jr.
DT Gabe Echols, So.
DT Justin Woods, So.
LB Daniel Brown, Jr.
CB/RS Virgil Williams, Sr. (62 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU; 10.4-yard punt return average)
CB Johnathan Mack, R-Sr. (54 TT, 8 PBU)
S Dionte McDuffie, R-So. (South Alabama transfer)
BIG LOSS: OL Chris Brown
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 80 (117 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 248.55 (28 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Total Offense, 328.55 (92 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 23.82 (74 in FCS, 6 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 148.91 (50 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 229.27 (82 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Total Defense, 378.18 (62 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 29.18 (74 in FCS, 6 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: The interim head coaching tag came off Odums after last season and the Jaguars are pointing toward having their first winning season since 2009. Four of their seven losses last year were by a combined 11 points, so they weren't far off. Joseph will drive them after an exceptional junior campaign in which he threw for 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He has a standout wide receiver in Doss, and Baker could be a breakout player as a freshman. What would help the offense immensely is Tillery, a redshirt freshman, having a breakout season of running the ball because the Jaguars ranked last in the SWAC a year ago. Odums' specialty is defense, so his fingerprints are on the 3-4 unit. Balancier and Williams are the defense's senior leaders. Expect improvement in the Jaguars' first full season under Odums.
Aug. 30 - at Houston
Sept. 7 - at Northwestern State
Sept. 14 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Sept. 21 - at Mississippi Valley State
Sept. 28 - vs. Jackson State
Oct. 12 - vs. Alabama A&M
Oct. 19 - at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Oct. 26 - vs. Alcorn State
Nov. 1 - at Texas Southern
Nov. 9 - at Alabama State
Nov. 16 - vs. Clark Atlanta
Nov. 30 - at Grambling State (at New Orleans)
3. PRAIRIE VIEW A&M PANTHERS
LOCATION: Prairie View, Texas
COACH: Heisham Northern (8-14 in two seasons at Prairie View A&M)
LAST SEASON: 3-8 overall, 3-6 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (9 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RT Tre Glover, R-Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Jerome Howard, Jr. (101 TT, 12.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 8 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB De'Auntre Smiley, Jr. (119-of-176, 1,429 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT; 60 carries, 367 yards, 3 TD)
QB Jerry Lovelocke, Jr. (98-of-150, 1,033 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT)
RB Fred Anderson, Jr. (104 carries, 578 yards, 2 TD)
RB Courtney Brown, Jr. (110 carries, 527 yards, 9 TD)
FB Josh Curry, Sr.
WR Deandre Cooper, R-Sr. (34 receptions, 532 yards, 5 TD)
WR Robert Primes, Sr.
TE Olatunde' Idowu, Jr.
RG Glen Haisley, R-So.
C Dillon Bonnet, R-Jr.
DE Meshak Williamson, So.
DE Darrien Patterson, Jr.
MLB Raheem Cardwell, R-Sr. (68 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
OLB Chuck Obi, Sr. (76 TT, 4 TFL)
LB James Paul Bryant, R-Sr.
CB Stephen Meighan, Sr. (47 TT, 5 PBU)
FS Korey Alston, Sr.
S Adrian Grant, Sr.
PK Chris Barrick, R-Jr. (9-of-11 FG, 38 long; 65 points)
P Travis Jatziau, Jr.
RS Johnta Hebert, So.
BIG LOSS: WR/PR Spencer Nelson (60 receptions, 577 yards, 2 TD; 16.5-yard punt return average)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 186.27 (30 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 230.36 (41 in FCS, 2 in SWAC); Total Offense, 416.64 (28 in FCS, 1 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 27.73 (50 in FCS, 3 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 200.45 (102 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 245.64 (98 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Total Defense, 446.09 (106 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 36 (106 in FCS, 9 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: So much of the good that the Panthers' offense created last season unraveled with their declining defense. The offense, which was top-ranked in the SWAC, should be strong again with the return of nine starters. Northern will utilize two quarterbacks, Smiley and Lovelocke, and two running backs, Anderson and Brown, to put up the big numbers. Plus, the Tigers have four returning starters on the offensive line, with Howard and Bonnet earning preseason first-team all-conference honors. The defense has a new coordinator in Charles McMillian. The linebackers hope to fuel a resurgence with the defense after Howard, Obi and Cardwell ranked 1-2-3 on the team in tackles last season. The special teams, whose key returner is 2012 SWAC freshman of the year Hebert, promise to be among the SWAC's best. After playing on-campus only twice last season, the Panthers will double that this season. A win at Texas Southern to open the season would really jump-start the Tigers after they opened 0-5 last year.
Aug. 31 - at Texas Southern
Sept. 7 - at Texas State
Sept. 14 - at Southern
Sept. 21 - vs. Alabama A&M
Sept. 28 - at Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 5 - vs. Grambling State (at Dallas)
Oct. 12 - at Alabama State
Oct. 19 - vs. Mississippi Valley State
Oct. 26 - at Jackson State
Nov. 7 - at Alcorn State
Nov. 16 - vs. Abilene Christian
Nov. 23 - vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
4. TEXAS SOUTHERN TIGERS
COACH: Darrell Asberry (2-9 in one season at Texas Southern; 42-34 overall)
LAST SEASON: 2-9 overall, 2-7 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (6 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Edward Perkins-Loving, Sr. (123 carries, 541 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Le'Tevin Wilcox (56 TT, 3 INT, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Jamal Small, R-Jr.
QB Homer Causey, R-So.
QB Jay Christophe, Fr.
RB Daveonn Porter, Jr. (Coahoma CC transfer)
WR/KR Fred Plummer, Sr. (34 receptions, 534 yards, 2 TD)
WR Dedric Shipman, Sr. (25 receptions, 282 yards)
TE Billy Rosenberg, So.
OL Earnest Lang, Jr. (East Mississippi CC transfer)
OL Keith Brock, R-Fr.
OL Glenn Jackson, R-So.
DL Derrick McWilliams, R-Jr.
DL Quinton Salsberry, R-Jr.
DL Amir Bloom, R-So. (25 TT, 8 TFL, 1 FR, 2 FF)
DL Adrian Gamble, Jr. (Scottsdale CC transfer)
LB Jarius Moore, So. (33 TT, 4 TFL)
LB Zack Bamijoko, R-Fr.
DB Tray Walker, Jr. (45 TT, 2 INT)
DB Steve White, R-Sr.
S Darveon Trahan, R-Jr.
BIG LOSS: PK/P Robert Hersh (7-of-10 FG, 47 long, 38 points; 75 punts, 41.6 ypp)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 96.18 (111 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 169.82 (93 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Total Offense, 266 (118 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 15 (114 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 223.64 (112 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 244.36 (93 in FCS, 9 in SWAC); Total Defense, 468 (112 in FCS, 10 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 38.91 (113 in FCS, 10 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: Still on NCAA probation, the Tigers are working toward improvement in Asberry's second season. Their program won the SWAC championship in 2010, but is 6-16 since then and went off track with the NCAA sanctions. They have a quarterback competition going on in preseason camp as none of the candidates has played a down at TSU. The Tigers have veterans in the skills positions, including RB Perkins-Loving, although Porter, a touted transfer, will push for carries. The secondary, featuring Walker and Wilcox, is the strength of the defense. The road portion of the schedule is difficult and the Tigers might have to come on strong late in the season to show a difference in the win-loss column.
Aug. 31 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Sept. 14 - at Sam Houston State
Sept. 21 - at Jackson State
Sept. 28 - at Alabama A&M
Oct. 5 - vs. Alabama State
Oct. 12 - at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Oct. 19 - vs. Alcorn State
Oct. 26 - at Grambling State
Nov. 1 - vs. Southern
Nov. 9 - at Mississippi Valley State
Nov. 16 - vs. Howard
5. GRAMBLING STATE TIGERS
LOCATION: Grambling, La.
COACH: Doug Williams (65-39 in eight seasons at Grambling State)
LAST SEASON: 1-10 overall, 0-9 SWAC
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR Anthony McGhee, Jr. (42 receptions, 561 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Tyree Hollins, Jr. (61 TT, 10 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB D.J. Williams, Jr. (92-of-195, 1,214 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT)
RB Cedric Skinner, So. (127 carries, 407 yards, 6 TD)
RB/KR Justin Fortson, So.
RB Juwan Martin, Jr.
WR Robert Bailey, Sr.
OL Clint Marsh, Sr.
OL Justin Miller, So.
C Anthony Cherry, Jr.
DT Centerio Ford, So.
LB Aaron Breed, Jr.
LB Steve Orisakwe, Jr.
BIG LOSS: Eric Harper (55 TT, 13 TFL, 4 sacks)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 98.73 (110 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Passing Offense, 207.27 (61 in FCS, 4 in SWAC); Total Offense, 306 (101 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Scoring Offense, 18.18 (104 in FCS, 7 in SWAC); Rushing Defense, 211.82 (106 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Passing Defense, 194.36 (37 in FCS, 5 in SWAC); Total Defense, 406.18 (84 in FCS, 8 in SWAC); Scoring Defense, 32.36 (98 in FCS, 7 in SWAC)
OUTLOOK: The Tigers are hoping to rebound from their first winless season in SWAC play. It was a stunning fall after they won the 2012 SWAC title in Doug Williams' return season to GSU. Despite last year's collapse, they lost a lot of close games, so there is a possibility of taking big steps to get back on track. The Tigers have to improve an offense that averaged only 18.2 points per game. Williams' son, D.J., has the full-time job again after Frank Rivers transferred out of the program. Skinner and Fortson have to establish a consistent run game behind Marsh. WR McGhee broke out as a sophomore and offers a go-to target for D.J. Williams. The defense is retooling, but has an emerging young talent in Ford (6-3, 320) up front. Still, the Tigers will be hard-pressed to avoid a second straight losing record.
Aug. 31 - vs. Alabama A&M
Sept. 7 - at ULM
Sept. 14 - at Lincoln (Kansas City, Mo.)
Sept. 21 - at Alabama State
Sept. 28 - vs. Lamar
Oct. 5 - at Prairie View A&M (at Dallas)
Oct. 12 - at Alcorn State
Oct. 19 - at Jackson State
Oct. 26 - vs. Texas Southern
Nov. 2 - vs. Miss Valley State
Nov. 9 - at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Nov. 30 - vs. Southern (at New Orleans)