The Bethune-Cookman football team has enjoyed a prolific run of success under the leadership of now 4th year head coach Brian Jenkins. Over the past 3 seasons, the Jenkins led Wildcats have accumulated the highest winning percentage of all Division I (FBS and FCS) football programs in the state of Florida; BCU has earned 2 MEAC titles during that span; and they are currently riding a 14 game conference winning streak.
14 starters return to the offensive and defensive units (7 on each side) this season. Among those returning are 2013 MEAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Jarkevis Fields (linebacker), and 2013 MEAC Preseason Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Isidore Jackson (running back). The Beach Cats led the conference in Total Offense (387.9 yards per game) and ranked 7th Nationally in Total Defense (301.4 yards per game) a season ago.
In less than 30 days, the Wildcats will carry their talented squad and extremely high expectations into Nashville to square off against fellow Top 25 foe Tennessee State.
Here are 5 key storylines to watch throughout Fall Camp as BCU continues its pursuit of becoming one of the nation’s premier FCS programs.
How Well/Quickly Will the Offensive Line Gel?
BCU suffered its greatest attrition from a season ago along the offensive line. All-MEAC first teamer Alex Monroe and capable starter Rashard Brown will look to anchor the unit. Brian Dorsey, Michael Jones, and Josue Joseph are all highly talented players who have played quality minutes at the collegiate level. The trio will have first dibs at claiming the 3 vacant starting roles along the offensive front this season.
The Wildcats signed 6 quality offensive linemen on signing day including 2 JUCO transfers; and if history is any indicator, coach Jenkins’ has one or two transfer offensive linemen walking around campus whose identities will remain concealed until kickoff draws near.
There is no shortage of talent or bodies at this position. The question is will this group gel quickly enough and well enough to help BCU lead the MEAC in Total Offense for a 4th consecutive year?
Will the Passing Game Progress in 2013?
The overall success of this year’s team may very well come down to how effective the Wildcats will be in the passing game. The Beach Cats passed for a pedestrian 147 yards per game and only eclipsed the 200 yard passing mark in one contest last season.
Top pass catching target Eddie Poole returns for another year as does big play potential receivers Preston Cleckley and Jhomo Gordon. CFPA Awards Watch transfer tight end Justin Henderson is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and provides the Wildcats with another quality pass catching option.
Jackie Wilson, Quentin Williams, and Brodrick Waters are in their 4th, 3rd, and 2nd year respectively in this offense. Brian Jenkins has repeatedly stated that all three quarterbacks are capable of leading the Wildcat offense, but if BCU is to truly take that next step, at least one of the aforementioned signal callers will need to elevate the passing game into a more lethal component of the BCU attack.
Who Will Emerge as the Team Leaders?
Coaches lay the foundation and parameters of a successful program, but players lead players. BCU received a great deal of on the field and emotional leadership from players like D.J. Howard, Eugene Solomon and Dawud Lane last season. All three have moved on and a new crop of vocal, performance and emotional leaders must now emerge.
Speaking about leadership only excites coaches, but it is as critical to a team success as 1,000 yard rushers and All-American quarterbacks.
What Newcomer Will Have the Greatest Impact?
Justin Henderson has yet to play an official down for the Maroon and Gold, yet the transfer from the University of Memphis has already been named to the CFPA Awards Watch list for tight ends. Henderson enjoyed a highly productive spring campaign and will look to provide BCU quarterbacks with a security blanket and matchup advantage in the passing game this coming fall. On the defensive side of the ball, University of Miami transfer Thomas Finnie will likely compete for one of the starting cornerback spots and help bolster a defensive backfield which led the country in takeaways last season.
Returning players Anthony Jordan (RB) and Erik Williams (DL) possess all-conference level talent and will surely be highly impactful this season if they can overcome the injury bug.
How Well Will the Team Handle Expectations?
Bethune-Cookman received 16 of the 21 first place votes casted in the MEAC’s annual preseason poll. The Wildcats are coming off a perfect 8-0 mark in conference in 2012. Brian Jenkins’ squad is sure to get every team’s best effort in the 2013 campaign. If the Wildcats wish to defend The Belt, they must stay emotionally and physically engaged for 12 weeks next season.
Bethune-Cookman travels to Nashville on Sunday, September 1st for a 7:00 P.M. kickoff against Tennessee State in the John Merritt Classic. The Wildcats are 3-0 in season openers under the leadership of head coach Brian Jenkins.