In 2011, the SWAC West was wild with unexpected teams leading the pack after the first half of the regular season, while traditional powers struggled to find their way. There were freshmen quarterbacks performing like seniors, and upperclassmen failing to live up to expectations. There were even brawls and suspensions midway through the season. In the end, however, it was Grambling State bouncing back from a slow start to win the division and league championship.
The question now can the Tigers muster up another December run?
1. Grambling State: After getting out to an uncharacteristic 1-4 start then winning the next seven to take home the SWAC crown, the Tigers should be favorites to repeat as Western Division champions with now sophomore quarterback D.J. Williams having a year under his belt. Additionally, Grambling will welcome back the conference’s second leading rusher in Dawrence Roberts. While the offense lost the play-making ability of wide receiver Mario Lewis, the unit should be in good hands with Anthony McGhee, Richard Wilson, Musa Mahmud. Let’s not forget the Tigers’ defense that gave up only 19.8 points per game during the team’s 7-game winning streak, including 12 and 15 in the Bayou Classic and SWAC championship game respectively.
2. Southern: Lost in the Jaguars second straight losing season under head coach Stump Mitchell (and postseason ban) was the fact heading into the final three weeks of the regular season, Southern had an opportunity to tie for a share of the division lead. If the improvement pattern continues (2-9 in 2010 and 4-7 in 2011) the Bayou Classic could be a meaningful game in 2012.
3. Arkansas-Pine Bluff: If not for all the suspensions due to a mid-season post-game brawl against Southern, the Golden Lions more than likely would have ended up in the SWAC title game. Monte Coleman and his bunch will look to build on a 6-5 2011 year led by quarterback Ben Anderson, who his looking to build on an impressive freshman campaign that saw him throw for 1,893 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games.
4. Texas Southern: There was nothing wrong with the Tigers defense last year, allowing 82.5 yards per game on the ground and 162 yards per game in the air. It was the inconsistency of the offense — in 2011 and during the spring game — that has been the concern of head coach Darrell Asberry. “Today they came out flat. In my eyes they walked; they loafed and I know we’re a much better football team than that,” Asberry said following the April 21 spring game in which the defense dominated the offense 32-6. “The kids can get it done, because I’ve watch them do it all spring.” If TSU wants to ascend to the top of the standings, they’ll need to rely on senior quarterback Riko Smalls, who tallied 2,177 yards (only Jackson State‘s Casey Therriault threw for more), 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
5. Prairie View: The Panthers were solid on offense in 2011 piling up 350 yards per game while scoring 25.4 points in the process. But the other side of the ball was dead last in total defense (30.8 points per game), second from the bottom in yards per game (371.3) and No. 9 in total rushing at (1,750 yards) with a unit that featured sack master Adrian Hamilton on it.