It’s never too early to think about the end of the season before it begins.
If you look at preseason media predictions during various football conference media days, it is easy to see who many believe will be in the mix for either a postseason birth or a conference championship in the SWAC, MEAC, CIAA and SIAC.
The road to a conference or division championship, however, won’t be an easy one.
Voters say: Southern will win SWAC West.
Why will they: Even though Southern is replacing Dray Joseph who led them to a SWAC championship in 2013 with freshman Deonte Shorts, the offensive returns four starters from last year’s offensive line and are deep at running back with the likes of leading rusher Lenard Tillery, Pittsburgh transfer Malcolm Crockett and junior Jamarus Thomas. On defense, the secondary is young but returns all starters from a unit that has looked strong during fall camp to go along with a linebacker corps that returns senior linebackers Daniel Brown and Javon Allen.
Why they won’t: Starting quarterback Deonte Shorts hasn’t taken a snap under center at Southern. Although he was tabbed the guy by head coach Dawson Odums, Shorts didn’t win the job outright until nearly a week before the season. Additionally, Odums said he will go with a two-quarterback system against Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday. This might signal there still is some uncertainty at the position.
Voters say: Alabama State will win the SWAC East.
Why they will: Alabama State probably has the best collection of talent in the division even after losing Isaiah Crowell to the NFL Draft. The defense, especially returns nine of 11 starters from 2013 and the offense has seven starters returning. Not to mention the Hornets have finished either first or second in the division four straight years.
Why they won’t: Complacency. It seems every year Alabama State is picked to win the SWAC East, but oftentimes find themselves fighting to hang on late in the season after losing games they should win on paper (such as at home to Southern). Every team in the division will or has gotten better in a calendar year. It would be wise for Alabama State to avoid the pitfalls.
Voters say: Bethune-Cookman will win the conference title.
Why they will: Bethune-Cookman is 28-4 over the last four years in MEAC play and were co-conference champions in 2013.
Why they won’t: Bethune-Cookman plays one of their final six games at home, including Oct. 25 at South Carolina State in a matchup that could decide the MEAC race.
Voters say: Winston-Salem State will win the CIAA.
Why they will: The Rams have won 28 consecutive games against CIAA opponents and return all-CIAA quarterback Rudy Johnson, who threw for 2,400 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2013.
Why they won’t: Longtime head coach Connell Maynor left in the offseason for Hampton to be replaced by Kienus Boulware, who will have to establish continuity with the new group.
Voters say: Albany State will win the conference.
Why they will: Albany State landed 11 selections, including five first-team picks on the 2014 SIAC preseason squad.
All-SIAC quarterback Frank Rivers, voted preseason player of the year, spearheads the Golden Rams’ offense. Last year, Rivers threw for 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. He posted 200.4 yards per game and connected 164-of-296 passes for a 55.8 completion percentage. Rivers will have help keeping the offense moving with wide receiver Jesse Atkins and running back Phillip Moore.
Why they won’t: A slow start. Albany State got off to a 1-4 start last year before rebounding to win the East Division. They won’t be afforded such opportunities with the likes of Fort Valley State, Miles and Tuskegee expected to be quality challengers.