Early season schedules of MEAC’s elite add intrigue

‘Do you remember,
the 21st night of September.
Love was changing the minds of pretenders,
while chasing the clouds away.’

The funky lyrics from Earth, Wind, and Fire seem apropos for the four teams predicted to finish atop the MEAC football standings in 2011.  Most sports fans understand the correlation between momentum and confidence and  winning and losing.  They also understand that winning (and losing) can be as contagious as a funk band’s groovy beats.  South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, and Hampton may find it  difficult to establish early season momentum as they all experience their toughest stretch of games at the kickoff of the 2011 campaign.  By the end of September, the league crown could be out of reach for one or more of these expected contenders.

bulldogsSouth Carolina State has the most difficult opening stretch of games.  The Bulldogs will be double-digit underdogs to FBS opponents Central Michigan (9/1) and Indiana (9/17).  Nestled between the two FBS contests is a matchup against Bethune-Cookman.  Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs are 29-1 vs. HBCU’s over the past three seasons.  The Wildcats handed the Bulldogs their lone HBCU defeat last year in Orangeburg.  SCSU conclude the month with a matchup versus new look and hopeful contender Delaware State.

The Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman opened last season with one-sided victories against undermanned Edward Waters and overmatched Savannah State.  This year’s early season competition is much tougher for Brian Jenkins’ squad.  The Wildcats will look to extend the MEAC’s 4-2 record in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge when they face SWAC power Prairie View A&M on the 4th. BCU finish their September schedule at home with contests against SCSU (9/10) and Hampton (9/22). 

pLike Bethune, Hampton kickoff their 2011 campaign versus a SWAC Opponent.  Hampton and Alabama A&M square off on September 3rd in the Chicago Football Classic.  The Pirates next three opponents,  FAMU (9/8), Old Dominion (9/17), and BCU (9/24), were 3-0 versus Donovan Rose’s team in 2010. 

fFlorida A&M face perhaps the easiest opening schedule of the top four teams from a year ago.  Division II Ft. Valley State visits Tallahassee on September 3rd.  FAMU will have a quick turnaround and play a Thursday night/ESPNU contest against Hampton on September 8th.  Big East title contender University of South Florida host Joe Taylor’s squad in Tampa on the 17th.  The Rattlers end the month against one of their old nemesis, Southern University (9/24).  FAMU should be favored over SU, but as the saying goes: “you can throw out all of the records in a rivalry game”. 

The top-heavy schedule of the MEAC’s elite may leave the door open for other squads looking to contend.  Morgan State can thank the schedule makers for leaving FAMU and SCSU off of their schedule.  Unlike the teams mentioned above, the Bears face their toughest stretch of games at the end of the season.  Norfolk State avoids FAMU this year and may have time to build confidence before facing South Carolina State, Delaware State, Hampton, and Bethune in the month of October.

The second full week of the season (the week ending Saturday, September 10th) may be the most pivotal in the race for conference supremacy.  Hampton host FAMU on Thursday (9/8) and SCSU travels to Daytona Beach to face BCU on Saturday (09/10).  These early season matchups will certainly cause a lot of “scoreboard watching” and should help quickly weed out the pretenders.  By the month’s end, some expected contenders may have their hopes dashed while others may be humming “ba-de-ya” and dancing in September.

Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receiver preview

There is an old adage in sports that states “defense wins championships”.  Perhaps that’s true, but the last I checked the team that scores the most points wins the game.  In this article we take a look at the units responsible for scoring touchdowns; the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.

Eddie Poole (pictured) scored 9 TDs in 2010.

Wide Receiver

Eddie Poole (Glades Central High School/Rutgers) is the most polished of BCU’s talented wide receivers.  He has good size at 6-3, 190 pounds, he runs good routes, but most importantly, he consistently wins in one-on-one situations.  Poole caught 33 passes for 550 yards and scored 9 touchdowns a year ago.  Poole’s former Rutgers teammate, Keith Stroud, is a welcomed addition to the receiving unit.  Stroud, a 4 star recruit (Fork Union Virginia Military Academy/Rutgers)  provides the Cats with another big, athletic target (6-4, 206 pounds) on the outside. http://rivals.yahoo.com/footballrecruiting/football/recruiting/player-Keith-Stroud-72410

Maurice Francois and Courtney Keith are former Option quarterbacks who transitioned to wide receiver last season.  Keith and Francois’ athleticism and football instincts allow them to make up for their inexperience at the position.  They are dynamic playmakers who are electric with the ball in their hands.  Both players should progress in their 2nd year as wide receivers.  Randy James and speedster Preston Cleckly are also expected to see playing time at the position. Sophomore Jordan Murphy provides the Cats with a sure-handed target at the tight end position.

The depth and versatility of the receiving corp makes it the highest rated unit on the offensive side of the ball.  Grade: B

Running Backs

Isidore Jackson scores in the 2nd Quarter of the FL Classic

Despite being a backup last year, Isidore Jackson led the squad with 11 touchdowns and only Matt Johnson rushed for more yards.  The offseason signing of Ole Miss transfer, Rodney Scott, means Jackson will likely have to share carries again this season. 

Rodney Scott is an agile runner who possesses the type of speed and vision that makes him a scoring threat from anywhere on the field.  Andronicus Lovette and Jonathan Moment provide good depth at the position combining for 524 yards and 9 tds last year (Lovette 264 yards and 6 touchdowns, Moment 260 yards and 3 touchdowns).  Last year’s unit was a servicable bunch but the Cats will need to get better production and more explosion from the running back position if they wish to duplicate last year’s success.  Grade: C- 

Quarterbacks

Jr. QB Jackie Wilson (#5)

The success of Brian Jenkins’ second season as a head coach will depend heavily on his team’s quarterback play.  Gone is the reigning MEAC Offensive Player of the Year Matt Johnson.  Jackie Wilson, David Blackwell, and Quentin Williams will look to replace Johnson as the primary signal caller.

Jackie Wilson is the only one of the three that has taken a snap from center against FCS competition.  Last year Wilson completed just 47 percent of his passes throwing 3 TDs and 2 INTs in the process.  Blackwell played quarterback for Iowa Western Junior College in 2009 before redshirting at BCU in 2010.  Although Blackwell and Wilson both took snaps with the first team during spring drills, Coach Jenkins has yet to reveal which player enters fall camp atop the depth chart. 

True Freshman Quentin Williams, the 2010 Florida “Mr. Football” award recipient is already the most popular quarterback on campus.  Williams is the state of Florida’s all-time leader in TD passes (109) and passing yards (10,384).  Yet “major” FBS schools were slow to offer him a scholarship because of his height (6-0).  Williams is extremely poised, he has a very strong and accurate arm and he is a threat in the running game.  A source close to the Wildcat program has stated “Williams will have a chance to play quarterback on Sundays when his college career ends”.  Quentin Williams is certainly the future of Wildcat football but the immediate question is ‘is he ready to contribute right away’?  The Wildcat Quarterbacks are a talented but unproven bunch.   Our preseason grade is a D+.

Offensive and Defensive Line preview

It’s only fitting that we start our preseason preview by highlighting the units that are traditionally the most overlooked; the offensive and defensive lines.

Offensive Line—Grade B-

All-American Center (#70) celebrating with teammates

While QB Matt Johnson received much of the praise last year for the success of BCU’s vaunted “Speedway Offense”, it is the offensive line that deserves much of the credit.  All American Center Natiel Curry leads the men upfront.  The Senior from Miami Norland appears on numerous preseason All-American and “Watch List”.  Tackles Marquell Rozier and Alex Monroe join Curry as returning starters on the O-Line.  The Cats will have to replace both starting guards from last year’s squad. Expect Junior College transfers Stavion Lowe and Blake Pritchard to compete for starting positions and add depth in the trenches.  Lowe, a 4-star recruit who originally signed with LSU in 2009, projects well at both guard and tackle.  http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/recruiting/player-Stavion-Lowe-64825

The Wildcat offensive line had their share of struggles inside the Redzone in 2010. It’s hard to know if their redzone woes were a result of play-calling, scheme, or execution.  What is known is that this unit must iron out their redzone issues and produce better results inside their opponents’ 20 yardline if they hope to improve upon last year’s success.

Defensive Line

2010 FCS playoffs vs. UNH

Last year’s defensive front was solid.  They didn’t get pushed around, but they didn’t make as many “splash plays” as the faithful would have liked.  They also seemed to struggle getting lined up properly from time to time.  However, this description of the group does not describe the play of defensive end Ryan Davis.  The stud from Tampa Blake led the team with 6.5 sacks and shared the team lead for the most ‘tackles for loss’ with 14.   The coaches believe he has next level talent and that offenses must account for him at all times. Erik Williams and Eugene Solomon are solid players who could blossom into difference makers in their 2nd year in this defense.

The greatest void along this front a year ago was the lack of a consistent inside push against the pass and an interior anchor against the run.  Harold Love, a Feather River Community College transfer, may provide the type of consistent productivity missing from the tackle position a year ago. He seems to possess the type of off-the-ball explosiveness required to be a disruptive force in the middle.  But Love may not have been the biggest addition to the defensive line this past offseason.  The Wildcats signed Coach Earl Lane to be their new defensive line coach.  Yes, that Earl Lane; the former LSU defensive line coach who helped the Bayou Tigers earn a BCS championship and helped Glenn Dorsey win the Lombardi and Outland Awards in 2007.

Fueled by the off the field leadership of Lane and the one the field play of Ryan Davis, we expect this bunch to be the most improved unit on the Wildcats’ squad.  Our grade; C-

Upcoming preview–Backs and Receivers

Upcoming 2011 Preview

Salutations Wildcat fans.  “Da Beach” (Daytona Beach) forecast calls for highs in the 90s with afternoon thunder showers.  That could mean only one thing…football season is nigh.  In less than 60 days, the Fighting Wildcats will begin their defense of their 2010 MEAC Championship and 2010 HBCU National Championship.

To help satisfy your yearning for Wildcat football, we will breakdown each offensive, defensive, and special teams unit of the 2011 Fighting Wildcats.  Following our position breakdown, we’ll preview the Cats’ opponents and provide our Outlook for the 2011 season. 

Be sure to visit often and comment freely.  We would love to hear from you!