Media days are filled with quips from coaches, snazzy suits worn by players and preseason picks that sometimes pan out in late November.
In HBCU football, the Southwestern Athletic Conference is first up with its 2016 preseason honors as the league’s 10 coaches and 20 players — two from each school — gather in Birmingham, Ala., Friday for its annual media day.
There will be obvious storylines at play once the interviews end Friday, including the following: [easyazon_infoblock align=”right” cart=”y” identifier=”B008J4CLEW” locale=”US” tag=”hbcusports-20″]
- Can Alcorn State three-peat, this time after head coach Jay Hopson bolted for FBS Southern Miss in the offseason?
- Can new head coach Tony Hughes lead Jackson State into a resurgence?
- Is this the year for Brian Jenkins and Alabama State to break through?
- Can Prairie View field a defense to complement its explosive offense — now without All-American Jonthà Hebert?
- Will new defensive coaches be the key to Southern winning the SWAC West?
- Does Grambling have enough in the tank to win the SWAC title?
BTW, the answers to all of those questions at the moment is “maybe with a heaping helping of perhaps.”
However, there are some questions just below those headlines that need answering. These questions — albeit not among the sexiest questions that will be asked Friday — could make for some interesting storylines during the 2016 season.
Who gets the nod as preseason offensive player of the year? Will it matter at season’s end?
There are several options this season. However, the four preseason frontrunners shape up as follows:
- Texas Southern WR Derrick Griffin: The conference’s men’s basketball player of the year and Associated Press All-America honorable mention, caught 36 catches for 708 yards and a SWAC-high 11 scores in 2015. A definition of matchup problem, he posted those numbers while the Tigers played musical chairs at quarterback last season.
- Southern RB Lenard Tillery: The SWAC’s 2015 rushing champion (197 carries, 1,192 yards, 14 rushing TDs) returns for his senior after posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Believe it or not, he still has a lot to run for in 2016.
- Prairie View QB Trey Green: Green impressed in his first season as a starter last season, completing nearly 59 percent of his passes for 2,614 yards and 21 scores against three interceptions. With Hebert gone, the Green becomes the focus for the explosive PV offense.
- Alcorn QB Lenorris Footman: Footman supplanted John Gibbs Jr. as the focal point of the Braves offense, rushing for 1,023 yards and 11 scores while throwing for 1,106 yards and 14 more scores. Footman figures to be a calming influence as new coach Fred McNair leads the Braves out of the Hopson era.
There are arguments for and against those four being named preseason offensive player of the year. However, there are other players of note like Jackson State WR Dan Williams and Grambling State RB Martez Carter that could easily have breakout seasons and have a say in postseason individual honors.
Outside of Alabama State LB Kourtney Berry, are there any other defensive players to challenge him for defensive player of the year?
Berry, the SWAC’s reigning and defending defensive player of the year, is back for his final season. The All-American ranked in the top 10 of FCS in total tackles the last two seasons, and has racked up 100 or more stops in each of his three seasons in Montgomery.
Berry will be named preseason defensive player of the year, unless some body snatchers replace the folks voting on preseason honors and give the honor to someone else. However, the conference is not lacking in talent on the defensive side of the ball in 2016.
Jackson State DL Javancy Jones (91 total tackles; nine sacks in 2015) returns for his senior season. Grambling DB Guy Stallworth (101 total tackles in ’15) and Southern DL Aaron Tiller (SWAC-best 10 sacks in ’15) also return. The Jones-Stallworth-Tiller trio will more than likely share some of the defensive top billing with Berry this season.
Can these two break records this season?
The Southern duo of running back Lenard Tillery and return specialist Willie Quinn could find themselves in the record books at the end of the 2016 season. [easyazon_infoblock align=”right” cart=”y” identifier=”B0046KMAUS” locale=”US” tag=”hbcusports-20″]
According to statistics compiled from SWAC member schools and the NCAA, Tillery is within reach of becoming the conference’s all-time leading rusher.
Tillery — the Jaguars’ all-time leading rusher — enters this season with 3,140 career rushing yards. Tillery’s career total is 910 yards shy of the league’s all-time top mark, the 4,050 yards racked up by Jackson State’s Destry Wright (1997-99).
Tillery is only one of 14 SWAC rushers since 1970 to gain over 3,000 career rushing yards. He can join Wright as the only post-1970 SWAC running backs with 4,000-plus career yards with 860 this season.
Meanwhile, Quinn enters this season with nine career total return touchdowns (six kickoff returns/three punt returns). Two more returns tie the 2015 consensus All-America selection with Florida A&M’s LeRoy Vann for the FCS all-time career mark for total return scores.
Vann scored 11 times on returns during his career at FAMU (2006-09), taking eight punts and three kickoffs to the house.
Quinn already shares the FCS career record for kickoff returns for scores. He tied former Hampton standout Jerome Mathis’ record with a 96-yard TD return last season against Texas Southern.
Who is going to get the ball to Derrick Griffin?
Griffin may arguably be the SWAC’s best athlete in decades. However, the Tigers’ chances of making noise in the SWAC Western Division race hinge on consistency at the quarterback position.
Texas Southern finished 2015 ninth in total offense (316.6 yards per game) and eighth in passing offense (179 passing yards per game).
Three players — Averion Hurts, Johnathan Brown and Homer Causey — took the majority of snaps at quarterback. In total, the six players that threw passes for TSU combined for 1,796 yards and 19 TDs on 141-of-268 passing (nearly 53 percent).
For Texas Southern to maximize Griffin’s ability and potentially play a role in the West race — the Tigers close the regular season with division foes Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Grambling State — new head coach Mike Haywood has to get better production from the quarterback.
Jay Christophe, who didn’t play in 2015, looks to have the inside track to be the starter coming out of the spring.