A pair of losses by less than a touchdown to two SWAC East opponents cost Reggie Barlow and Alabama State a trip to the conference championship games last season.

With 18 starters back on offense and defense, the Hornets are hoping to return atop the division in 2014.

Although ASU lost starting running back Isaiah Crowell to the NFL, the offense, led by quarterback Daniel Duhart, probably won’t miss a beat with Malcolm Cyrus stepping in and looking to improve on his 802-yard, six touchdown performance from 2013.

The Hornets also bring back a veteran receiving corps that features Earl Lucas, DeMario Bell and Jamel Johnson who combined to total more than 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

“We felt like we were really close (in 2013), and we really didn’t lose much,” Duhart said. “We’ve got some guys stepping into key roles this year. It’s just about executing and, more than anything, we need to be disciplined this year. If we can do that, I think we’ve got a chance at a championship this year.”

All the pieces seem to be in place on the offensive side of the ball.

It is the defense – a group that finished in the middle of the pack in total defense (fifth), including dead last in pass defense (299 yards per game) – that has been the concern for Barlow heading into spring practice.

The secondary will feature new additions to team with the likes of Dionte Ponder and T. J. Presley.

The middle of the defense should be not be a problem with 2013 SWAC Newcomer of the Year Kourtney Berry patrolling behind the defensive front.

The first three games of the 2014 SWAC slate provides an opportunity for the Hornets to get out to a good start, unlike last year that saw them drop their first two games out of the gate.

Mississippi Valley State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern – teams than combined to go 6-21 last year – will be the Hornets foes following the opener against Sam Houston State.

Once again the Hornets will be favorites to come out of the SWAC East.


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