As HBCU media days wind up, we are reminded of some certainties in life in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference:
Tarik Cohen will be named preseason offensive player of the year and we should not expect an undisputed MEAC champion.
Those two statements are not hyperbole, but established facts in these last few years. As coaches and players converge on Norfolk, Virginia for MEACs annual Football Press Luncheon (that’s another phrase for “media day”), let’s take some time to discuss a couple of items that will be on our minds going into the 2016 season.
Will there be an undisputed MEAC champion this season? If so, which school will be it?
[easyazon_infoblock align=”right” cart=”y” identifier=”B00BI3MRNG” locale=”US” tag=”hbcusports-20″]The MEAC football title has been shared in four of the last six seasons, including the last three straight years. The last outright MEAC champion was Bethune-Cookman in 2012.
Celebration Bowl champion North Carolina A&T split with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central in 2015. All three teams could have a definite say in who moves on to play the SWAC champion in the 2016 Celebration Bowl. However, it may just come down to who is on the conference schedule and some help from teams that aren’t on the conference schedule.
N.C. A&T and B-CU will play key a Thursday night game Oct. 13 in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Aggies host South Carolina State Nov. 5 before ending the season two weeks later in Durham against rival North Carolina Central.
B-CU has to take on NCCU (home), South Carolina State (in Orangeburg) and N.C. A&T (home) in three-straight weeks to open the October portion of their schedule. The second-to-last game of the season is a road trip to Baltimore to take on Morgan State.
NCCU doesn’t have S.C. State on the schedule, but has an Oct. 22 road game against Morgan State.
You can make arguments for/against why N.C. A&T, B-CU or NCCU could come out of the MEAC and play in the Celebration Bowl. However, special attention has to be placed on S.C. State, Hampton and Morgan State in 2016. Just remember this as the season goes:
- S.C. State plays N.C. A&T and B-CU, but does not play Morgan State.
- Morgan plays B-CU and NCCU, but does not play N.C. A&T.
- Hampton plays N.C. A&T, but does not play B-CU or NCCU.
S.C. State loses key players on defense (anyone bought their Pittsburgh Steelers Javon Hargrave jersey yet?), Morgan State gets back its All-America running back (read below) and Hampton looks to break through in Year 3 of the Connell Maynor era.
Tarik. Cohen. Is. Awesome.
If you haven’t heard by now, let me break it down to you simple and plain:
[easyazon_infoblock align=”right” cart=”y” identifier=”B011DT817K” locale=”US” tag=”hbcusports-20″]Cohen — HBCU football’s best player and one of the best in FCS — finished sixth in FCS in rushing with 1,543 yards, including ripping SWAC champion Alcorn State up for 295 yards and three scores in last year’s Celebration Bowl. The All-American returns for his senior year, looking for a fourth-straight 1,000-yard campaign.
Already holding the N.C. A&T single-season rushing record (surpassing Maurice Hicks’ 1,487 in 2000) and career rushing mark (4,031 yards), Cohen enters his final season on the verge of setting the Aggies’ career rushing touchdown mark. Sidney Polite scored 41 touchdowns in his NCAT career.
Cohen, like his SWAC counterpart Southern RB Lenard Tillery, could end the season as the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher. According to NCAA statistics, Cohen is 629 yards away from catching the MEAC’s top career mark, the 4,660 rushing yards racked up by South Carolina State’s William Ford (2006-09).
We know Cohen is awesome! Are there any other MEAC offensive players to look out for in 2016?
Cohen gets the headlines, and deservingly so. However, he is not the only All-American running back in the MEAC this season.
Morgan State’s Herb Walker Jr. returns for his senior season after being declared ineligible last season. Walker entered last season as a preseason All-America selection after leading the MEAC in rushing with 1,408 yards in 2014.
NCCU running back Dorrel McClain finished last season second in the conference in rushing (958 yards), earning MEAC rookie of the year honors and finishing 12th in the STATS FCS freshman of the year voting. McClain also finished second to Cohen in all-purpose yards.
The MEAC’s top two receivers are set to return as well. Hampton wide receiver Twarn Mixon (59 catches; 1,027 yards; 9 TDs) led the MEAC in receiving last season. B-CU receiver Jawill Davis (39-788-6) joined Mixon as the All-MEACs’ first-team receivers in 2015.
Who will be defensive player of the year?
South Carolina State All-American defensive tackle Javon Hargrave? He was drafted in the third round by Pittsburgh and is prepping for his rookie season in the NFL.
Norfolk State All-American linebacker Deon King? He signed with Dallas as a free agent and seeks to nail down a roster spot with America’s Team.
Does that mean the MEAC’s defensive cupboard is bare now that Hargrave and King are chasing NFL dreams? No. It doesn’t.
Delaware State linebacker Malik Harris, a third-team All-MEAC pick last season, was only one of three MEAC defenders with 100 or more total tackles. The other two — King and NCCU’s C.J. Moore — are gone. Another DSU defender, All-MEAC first-team lineman Gabe Sherrod, is the MEAC’s top-returning sack artist after racking up eight sacks last year.
First-team selections like NCAT defensive lineman Marquis Ragland (11.5 TFLs) and SCSU linebacker Darius Leonard (70 total tackles; 5 sacks) will likely get first-team preseason spots.
Howard defensive back Travon Hunt returns after leading the conference with five interceptions last season.