The kickoff to the 2012 football season is less than a week away and with it comes high expectations for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.  The Cats ended last season on a 6 game win streak and was as hot as any FCS team in the country.  Even still, BCU was overlooked and failed to receive an at-large invite to participate in the FCS playoffs.

This season Brian Jenkins’ squad looks to control its own destiny by winning the conference’s automatic playoff berth outright.   The journey begins on Sunday, September 2nd at noon when the Wildcats faceoff against Alabama State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Orlando.  To help get you ready for the season, we previewed the BCU defense, offense, special teams and schedule.

DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK—The Wildcats lose six regular starters and a ton of experience on the defensive side of the ball.  Preseason All-MEAC selectees Harold Love III (defensive line), Jarkevis Fields (linebacker), and DJ Howard (secondary) will need to provide leadership and stability to the defensive unit while some of the newer starters round into form.  Last season the Cats ranked 3rd in the conference in Scoring Defense (20.2 points per game) and 2nd in Red Zone Defensive Efficiency (yielding 22 scores on 32 chances). 

Linebackers–Middle linebacker Jarkevis Fields led the team in tackles (76 total tackles) and returns for his junior campaign.  Fields will likely be flanked by true sophomore Tavarus Dantzler and redshirt senior Dawud Lane in the linebacker corp.  What the two new projected starters lack in experience, they make up for in speed and athleticism.  Nesly Marcellon and Markeil Floyd are also likely to see time in the regular LB rotation. 

Secondary–The defensive secondary is stocked with experienced players.  DJ Howard, Tim Burke, Dion Hanks and CJ Wilson have all played a ton of snaps in their college careers.  We expect Burke and Hanks to get the starting nods at cornerback and ultra-talented sophomore Nick Addison to join DJ Howard in the safety roles.  Call it a hunch, but we would not be surprised if true Freshmen Terry Harden found his way on the field as a backup to either Addison or Howard at safety.

Defensive Line–Tevin Toney and Anthony Woodard join Harold Love as highly productive returners along the defensive front from a year ago.  Rakeem Knight and Jerome Culp also saw their share of action last season and look to factor into the defensive line rotation again this year.  UCF transfers Brandon Bryant and LeBrandon Richardson are two of the newcomers that we expect to contribute to this unit right away.  Defensive line coach Earl Lane joined Brian Jenkins’ staff last season.  Under his watch, Ryan Davis progressed from a good football player to the best defensive player in the conference.  Wildcat fans are hoping that this trend continues and that another diamond along the defensive front is unearth in 2012.

Spotlight Performers 
Jarkevis Fields (Jr.,Middle Linebacker)
76 Total Tackles
6 Tackle for Loss
2012 Preseason All-MEAC 1st Team Selectee

DJ Howard (Jr.,Safety)
45 Total Tackles
3 Interceptions, 4 Pass Break-Ups
2012 Preseason All-MEAC 1st Team Selectee

Harold Love III (Sr.,Defensive Tackle)
37 Total Tackles
6 Tackles for Loss
2012 Preseason All-MEAC 2nd Team Selectee

Keep your eye on Newcomers:
Tavarus Dantzler (So., Linebacker)
Nick Addison (So., Defensive Back)
Brandon Bryant (Jr., Defensive End)

OFFENSIVE OUTLOOK-Seven regular starters return to an offensive unit that led the conference in Scoring Offense (33.6 points per game), Total Offense (435.3 yards per game) and Rushing Offense (259.3 yards per game) a year ago.  Jim Pry debuts as the third offensive coordinator for the Wildcats in as many years, but don’t expect big changes to the offense.  The Wildcats are expected to run the same brand of high-octane offense we have witnessed over the past two seasons. 

Offensive Line–If the old football adage “it all starts up front” holds true, the BCU offense should be in great shape in 2012.  The offensive line features 3 players that have won All-MEAC honors in their careers (Terrence Hackney, Marquell Rozier, and Alex Monroe).  Blake Pritchard and R.C. Mullins are also experienced players along the offensive front and will look to compete for starting roles and/or provide solid depth in the trenches.  Lavon McCoy is down to 380 pounds according to BCU’s online roster and will convert from defensive tackle to offensive guard this year.  Based on our projections, BCU’s starting offensive line averages 6’5”, 325 pounds this season.

Running Back–BCU’s potent rushing attack will be led by 5’10”, 195 pound junior running back Isidore Jackson.  Jackson had a breakout season a year ago averaging 103.7 All-Purpose yards per game (86.6 rushing and 17.1 receiving) earning All-MEAC 1st team honors in the process.  He racked up 206 yards rushing in an ESPN nationally televised contest against eventual conference champion Norfolk State last season.  Jackson has an opportunity to amass over 1,000 yards rushing this season but states that it is more important to him that the running backs gain over 2,000 yards rushing as a unit.  Old Miss transfer Rodney Scott is expected to play a significant role in the rushing attack this year as well.  Andronicus Lovette will have a chance to play significant minutes at fullback, while speedsters David Allen, Angelo Cabrera, and Tyree Smallwood will vie to find playing time in the talent crowded backfield.

Wide Receiver–Eddie Poole returns as the Cats top threat on the outside.  The senior from Glades Central High caught 41 balls last season and added 4 receiving touchdowns.  David Blackwell converts from quarterback to wide receiver this season and offers the Cats another dynamic playmaker at the receiver position.  KJ Stroud, Patrick Harris, and Preston Cleckley all have big play potential and will look to contribute in the passing game.  True Freshmen Ray Martin is an electric player who has a chance to contribute in the receiving and return game right away.

Quarter Back–Jackie Wilson emerged from spring drills atop the depth chart at quarterback. Wilson completed over 66% of his pass attempts last year and was undefeated as a starter against FCS competition. The 6’0”, 215 pound junior from Ft Lauderdale is expected to be pushed for the starting nod by Louisiana Tech transfer, Brock Waters and 2010 Florida Mr. Football, Quentin Williams.  Waters seems to be the best of the three with his legs, Williams with his arm, and Wilson the best dual threat. 

Spotlight Performers 
Isidore Jackson (Jr., Running Back)
103.7 All Purpose yards per game (86.6 rushing; 17.1 receiving)
2011 and 2012 1st Team All-MEAC Selectee

Terrence Hackney (Jr., Offensive Line)
6’6”, 310
All-MEAC Selectee in 2011 and 2012

Eddie Poole (Sr., Wide Receiver)
41 Receptions, 4 TDs
2nd Team All-MEAC Selectee

Keep your eye on Newcomers:
Brock Waters (Sr., Offensive Weapon)
Ray Martin (Fr., Wide Receiver/Return Specialist)
David Blackwell (Jr., Wide Receiver)

SPEACIAL TEAMS OUTLOOK—Sven Hurd and Kory Kowalski return as the placekicker and punter respectively.  Last year, Hurd set a BCU single-game scoring record for kickers when he recorded 7 PATS and 3 field goals (16 total points) against Fort Valley State.  For the season, Hurd went 46 for 47 on point after attempts but struggled with his field goal accuracy (7 for 13).  Newcomer Austin Stewart adds depth to the Wildcat kicking unit and provides Coach Jenkins with an alternative at placekicker.  The Wildcats will be looking to improve upon their pedestrian 7.3 yard punt return average and 20.9 yard kick return average from last season.  Angelo Cabrera, Preston Cleckley, Courtney Keith, and Patrick Harris shared the bulk of the return duties last season.  All four players return this year; however, they can expect to be pushed by newcomers Brock Waters and Ray Martin who could factor into the return game. 

The Schedule

Alabama State (MEAC/SWAC)—The Hornets are loaded with talent and have a ton of momentum in their program.  ASU debuts a brand new stadium this year and have been rumored to be considering a move to the FBS level.  Coach Reggie Barlow’s team features good balance on both sides of the ball and finished 2nd in the SWAC in both Scoring Offense (26.7 points per game) and Scoring Defense (17.5 points per game).  University of Georgia Transfer Isaiah Crowell (RB) and Greg Jenkins (quarterback transfer from Troy) will present challenges for the Wildcat defense.

South Carolina State (Away)— This early season matchup with the Bulldogs will likely have significant conference championship implications.  The Bulldogs are led on defense by safety Darious Drummond.  Offensively the Bulldogs return most of their starters from a year ago.  Standout receiver Lennel Elmore returns after sitting out last season (academics).  BCU defeated SCSU 14-0 in their last visit to Orangeburg but fell to the Bulldogs 18-26 at home in 2011.

Miami (Away)—Al Golden is in rebuilding mode in Coral Gables.  But let’s not kid ourselves; it is still “The U”.  BCU gave the Hurricanes all that they could handle for 3 quarters last year.  With a lucky bounce here or there and if one or two other things go our way this year who knows how this year’s contest will turn out.  I would not bet Aunt Bessie’s social security check on it but it’s the preseason and we’re allowed to dream a little aren’t we?

Tennessee State (Home)—Head Coach Rod Reed is quietly stock piling talent in Nashville.  Reed, a one-time BCU assistant, seems to be capitalizing on his Florida connections as the Blue Tigers have seemed to established a recruiting pipeline in the Sunshine State.  Tennessee State is one of the most storied HBCU football programs.  This rare meeting between TSU and BCU should bring a lot of excitement to Municipal Stadium on September 22nd.

Hampton (Away)—7-3-6, as in NCAA football Rule 7, Section 3, Article 6, subsections IX, XII, XIII.  A.R. 7-3-6 is the Rule that was cited and allowed replay officials to overturn Hampton receiver Isiah Thomas’ apparent game-winning touchdown catch as time expired against the Wildcats in Daytona last season. BCU survived with a 35-31 victory over Hampton.  Junior running back Antwon Chisholm leads a talent laden offensive unit while linebackers Lyndell Gibson and Delbert Tyler anchor the defensive units.  The Pirates will be looking for revenge while BCU will be looking to extend their four game winning over HU.

North Carolina A&T (Home)—Last year Brian Jenkins stated that North Carolina A&T lined up and whipped his team’s tail.  The statistics agree.  The Aggie defense held BCU to 5 yards rushing and 108 yards of total offense.  OUCH!  Offensively the Aggies boast the league’s leading rusher from last year in Mike Mayhew.  Two years ago Mayhew ran for over 200 yards against The Wildcats in a one-sided contest that went in BCU’s favor (remember the blackout game).

Norfolk State (Home)—The Spartans won their first ever MEAC title last season. NSU’s lone conference defeat was suffered at the hands of BCU.  Head Coach Pete Adrian and his Spartans will be looking for their first ever conference win over BCU in Daytona Beach when they visit on October 20th.  Jamal Giddens (LB) and Xavier Boyce (WR) lead the Spartans on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball.

North Carolina Central (Home)—The Wildcats defeated NCCU in a tightly contested contest two seasons ago.  Last year the game was more one-sided.  The Eagles visit Daytona this year for the first time since rejoining the MEAC.  NCCU may not have the same level of across the board talent as BCU, but you can be certain that a Henry Frazier led team will be well-prepared and well-coached.

Morgan State (Away)—The Bears have a great nucleus of offensive skill players.  Travis Davidson is one of the best 2 or 3 running backs in the conference; Seth Higgins is a play making quarterback; and Tyrone Hendrix is a productive wide receiver and return specialist.  MSU’s struggles last year occurred in the trenches.  If coach Donald Hill-Eley’s team can improve along the offensive and defensive lines, the Bears may be this year’s sleeper.

Savannah State (Away)—Steve Davenport’s team is still a few years away from competing consistently with the MEAC’s elite but there is seemingly a renewed interest in Savannah State football.  SSU is definitely a program on the rise.  We look for great things to come from SSU; but not this year.  The Tigers open the season against Oklahoma State and Florida State.  I’m not sure how much they will have left in them after those two contests in back to back weeks.  Good luck!  

FAMU (Florida Classic)—See you in November!

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