Over half of the FCS conferences have at least 10 teams - seven of the 13 - so navigating the schedule is an arduous process that demands talent, execution and luck for the championship team.
Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State have mixed a little more of that in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in recent seasons as at least one of them has won the title in five of the last six seasons, including tying for the championship a year ago. But most of the other teams have been hot on their heels at some point in a conference with little margin for error.
"When you have a young team, teaching them how to win is not enough," said North Carolina A&T's Rod Broadway, the coach of the team picked to be the biggest threat to the big two's dominance. The Aggies have finished 7-4 in each of the past two seasons.
"You have to teach them how to handle winning. We have to arrive at the point where our guys can accept winning and move on. We should have won nine ball games after starting 3-0 last year. If we can teach them how to handle winning, play hard on every play, stay healthy and get a little lucky, I think we'll have a chance to sustain success over a full season."
Unlike the MEAC, the Southwestern Athletic Conference - the other FCS conference for historically black colleges - is the only one of the FCS "superconferences" in which there is balanced scheduling. All of the 10 teams play each other, providing for a nine-game conference schedule.
In the 11-team MEAC, the teams play eight conference games, so some are at an advantage in who they miss or don't miss on their conference schedule. This season, Bethune-Cookman won't face North Carolina A&T and Morgan State, while South Carolina State will miss Delaware State and Howard. Those opponents did well in the conference race last season, so the two powers likely have an advantage in their schedules.
"We must be able to consistently run the ball to have success throughout the conference season," Delaware State coach Kermit Blount said, looking at success over the long haul. "We've proven we can throw the ball, but a better running game will make our offense even stronger. Solid run defense and creating turnovers, in addition to good special teams play are also keys. As with all teams, of course, avoiding the injury bug is also a factor."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 MEAC race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. South Carolina State
3. North Carolina A&T
5. Delaware State
6. Norfolk State
7. Florida A&M
8. North Carolina Central
10. Morgan State
11. Savannah State
1. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE BULLDOGS
LOCATION: Orangeburg, South Carolina
STADIUM: Oliver C. Dawson Stadium
COACH: Buddy Pough (97-43 in 12 seasons at South Carolina State)
LAST SEASON: 9-4 overall, 7-1 MEAC (Tie/1st); No. 25 TSN Final Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Richard Cue (161-for-292, 1,894 yards, 16 TD, 12 INT; 71 carries, 274 yards, 5 TD); WR Tyler McDonald (50 receptions, 935 yards, 7 TD); WR/KR Caleb Davis (31 receptions, 300 yards, 4 TD); C Tristian Bellamy; LB Joe Thomas (116 TT, 19 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); DB/PR Darius Drummond (55 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU); DB Kimario McFadden (75 TT, 9 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR); DB Mason Harris (27 TT, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR); PK/P Nick Belcher (17-of-24 FG, 91 points)
OFFENSIVE STAR: OL Domanic Wilson, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Andrew Carter, Sr. (47 TT, 15.5 TFL, 11 sacks, 6 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF, 1 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Adrian Kollock Jr., So.
QB TeDarrius Wiley, Jr.
RB Justin Taylor, So. (206 carries, 706 yards, 6 TD)
RB Dondre Lewis-Freeman, Jr. (110 carries, 409 yards, 4 TD)
RB Jalen Simmons, Jr. (injured last season)
WR Dennis Rowe, Sr. (18 receptions, 337 yards, 4 TD)
WR Taquan West, Jr.
WR Dennis Rowe, Jr.
TE/WR Temmarick Hemingway, Jr. (26 receptions, 223 yards, 4 TD)
OL Javarius Leamon, So.
OL Charles Henderson, Jr.
OL Avery Grant, Jr.
OL Devin Flowers, Sr.
DL Alex Glover, Sr. (41 TT, 14.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 9 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)
DL Javon Hargrave, Jr. (52 TT, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 4 FF)
DL James Robinson, So.
DL Curtis Hill, Sr.
LB Justin Hughes, Sr. (58 TT, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
LB Tevin Richard, Jr. (49 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU)
LB Darius Leonard, R-Fr.
DB Shaquan Brock, So. (43 TT, 8 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DB Shelden Robinson, Sr.
DB/PR Steven Murphy, Sr. (9.1-yard punt return average)
OUTLOOK: South Carolina State rebounded quite nicely after suffering through the first losing season of Pough's 12 years (5-6) in 2012. The Bulldogs earned a share of the MEAC title and an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs last season. Kollock appears to have the edge at quarterback, and if he settles what has been an inconsistent spot, the offense will be improved. It features a veteran offensive line and two strong running backs - Simmons, who rushed for 515 yards in 2012 but missed last season with a shoulder injury, and Taylor, who stepped in to impress as a freshman. The Bulldogs led the FCS in total defense a year ago, surrendering just 238 yards per game. In Carter, Glover and Hargraves, they have one of the more productive defensive lines in the nation. Still, it will be hard to replace LB Thomas, the MEAC defensive player of the year. A solid non-conference schedule will help prepare the Bulldogs for a run at another conference title.
Aug. 30 - at Benedict (at Columbia, South Carolina)
Sept. 6 - at Clemson
Sept. 13 - at Coastal Carolina
Sept. 20 - Furman
Sept. 27 - at Hampton
Oct. 4 - North Carolina A&T (at Atlanta)
Oct. 11 - North Carolina Central
Oct. 25 - Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 1 - Savannah State
Nov. 8 - at Florida A&M
Nov. 15 - at Morgan State
Nov. 22 - Norfolk State
2. BETHUNE-COOKMAN WILDCATS
LOCATION: Daytona Beach, Florida
STADIUM: Memorial Stadium
COACH: Brian Jenkins (37-11 in four seasons at Bethune-Cookman)
LAST SEASON: 10-3 overall, 7-1 MEAC (Tie/1st); No. 16 TSN Final Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
BIG LOSSES: RB Isidore Jackson (148 carries, 828 yards, 8 TD; 21 receptions, 150 yards, 2 TD); WR Eddie Poole (39 receptions, 682 yards, 3 TD); OL Alex Monroe; OL Rashard Brown; LB Jarkevis Fields (105 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FF); FS Nick Addison (64 TT, 3 TFL, 5 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF); DL Tevin Toney (49 TT, 9 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF); LB Nesly Marcellon (37 TT, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF); DL Dyton Dye (36 TT, 9 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK); DB Tim Burke (28 TT, 3 INT, 9 PBU, 1 FR)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Quentin Williams, Sr. (90-for-140, 1,270 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT; 136 carries, 424 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE LeBrandon Richardson, Sr. (64 TT, 14.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Larry Brihm, So.
RB Cary White, Sr. (96 carries, 485 yards, 8 TD)
RB Anthony Jordan, Sr. (82 carries, 410 yards, 5 TD)
RB Drexler Dixon, Jr.
WR Jontavious Carter, Jr.
WR Jhomo Gordon, Sr.
WR/KR Darian Baker, So. (21.9-yard KO return average)
WR/RS Michael D. Jones
OL Dariuz Bladek, Jr.
OL Andrew Edouard, Sr.
OL Anthony Kibler, Sr.
DT Rony Barrow, Sr. (34 TT, 8 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 6 QBH)
LB Tavarus Dantzler, Sr. (47 TT, 8.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FF)
LB Ralph Williams, Sr.
CB Thomas Finnie, Sr. (25 TT, 2.5 TFL, 3 PBU
S Marquis Drayton, Sr. (47 TT, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR)
DB Joshua Richardson, Sr.
PK/P Jonathan Cagle, Jr.
OUTLOOK: Bethune has won three MEAC titles in Jenkins' first four seasons, but he is 0-3 in the postseason. So the Wildcats are motivated as usual. The slight favorite in the conference's preseason poll, they lost a lot of talent off last year's team, including Addison to early entry into the NFL Draft. Williams, who's probably better as a runner than a passer, and Brihm should both see time at quarterback, while Jordan and White will have to share some carries at running back. The athletic defense finished just behind South Carolina State in the FCS in total defense, allowing 255.5 yards per game last season. There's an All-MEAC-type standout in each unit with disruptive DT Barrow, LB Fields and S Drayton. If there is vulnerability, it's probably in the secondary, which lost three starters. The Wildcats beat FIU last season and open there again. They play a second FBS opponent in UCF, but their biggest game of the season is at South Carolina State.
Aug. 30 - at FIU
Sept. 13 - Grambling State
Sept. 20 - at UCF
Sept. 27 - Florida Tech
Oct. 4 - Delaware State
Oct. 11 - Howard
Oct. 18 - at Savannah State
Oct. 25 - at South Carolina State
Nov. 1 - North Carolina Central
Nov. 8 - at Norfolk State
Nov. 15 - at Hampton
Nov. 22 - at Florida A&M (at Orlando)
3. NORTH CAROLINA A&T AGGIES
LOCATION: Greensboro, North Carolina
STADIUM: Aggie Stadium
COACH: Rod Broadway (19-14 in two seasons at North Carolina A&T; 87-37 overall)
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 4-4 MEAC (Tie/5th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (5 offense/4 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Lewis Kindle (130-for-223, 1,631 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT); LG Danye Gorrell; RT Nathan Isles; RG Timothy Sunkins; DE Tyree Hearn (38 TT, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 9 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); MLB Brian Houston (100 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 6 QBH, 1 FF); S Travis Crosby (96 TT, 7 TFL, 5 PBU, 1 QBH); FS Isaiah Martin (53 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF); CB/PR D'Vonte Graham (102 TT, 10 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 3 QBH, 4 FR, 2 FF, 2 BLK); CB Ayodeji Olatoye (39 TT, 2 INT, 9 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Tarik Cohen, So. (195 carries, 1,148 yards, 8 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB D'Vonte Grant, Grad Student (14 TT, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kwashaun Quick, Jr. (14-for-28, 115 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)
QB Frank Foster, Jr. (Southwestern College transfer)
FB Anthony McMinn II, So.
WR/KR Desmond Lawrence, Sr. (37 receptions, 403 yards, 3 TD)
WR Joseph Spann, So.
WR Darren Bullock, Jr. (24 receptions, 215 yards, 1 TD)
LT William Ray Robinson, Sr.
C Ronald Canty, Sr.
DE Daniel Pinnix, Jr. (22 TT, 9 TFL, 7 sacks, 5 QBH)
DE Angelo Keyes, So.
DT Michael Neal, Jr.
DT James Morris, Jr. (25 TT, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DT Marquis Ragland, So.
OLB Marcus Albert, So. (21 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 QBH)
MLB Denzel Jones, Jr.
CB/KR Tony McRae, Jr. (24.8-yard KO return, 1 TD)
PK Cody Jones, So. (9-of-13 FG, 57 points)
P Dominic Frescura, So.
OUTLOOK: If there is a MEAC team that can break through the dominance of Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State, it's N.C. A&T. The Aggies beat Appalachian State to open last season and went on to post their second straight 7-4 record. On offense, they hope to utilize their team speed, which includes RB Cohen, the 2013 MEAC Rookie of the Year and its rushing champion, and WR Desmond Lawrence, a track sprinter, as well as some players signed this offseason. They still need a quarterback to take command of the offense, and Quick appears on his way to holding off Foster, a touted transfer. Improvement at the position is particularly important because the Aggies have relied on their defense and running game the last two seasons. The defense graduated a lot, but it returns fifth-year LB Grant, who is coming off an injury-plagued season. With an opening game in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge, A&T has a spotlight to jump-start what it hopes will be a championship season.
Aug. 31 - at Alabama A&M (at Orlando)
Sept. 6 - Coastal Carolina
Sept. 13 - at Elon
Sept. 20 - Chowan
Sept. 27 - at Howard
Oct. 4 - at South Carolina State (at Atlanta)
Oct. 11 - Hampton
Oct. 18 - at Delaware State
Oct. 25 - Florida A&M
Nov. 8 - Morgan State
Nov. 15 - at Savannah State
Nov. 22 - at North Carolina Central
4. HOWARD BISON
LOCATION: Washington, D.C.
STADIUM: William H. Greene Stadium
COACH: Gary Harrell (12-10 in two seasons at Howard - took leave of absence last season)
LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 MEAC (Tie/5th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR/PR Brandon Flanagan (42 receptions, 368 yards, 2 TD); WR Jonathan Booker (30 receptions, 369 yards, 4 TD); LB Tabrian Resby (63 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); DB Curtis Simmons (29 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 9 PBU); DB Ademola Olatunji, Sr. (45.5 TT, 3 INT, 16 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Greg McGhee, Sr. (228-for-385, 2,379 yards, 16 TD, 12 INT; 157 carries, 896 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SS Julien David, Sr. (injured last season)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: HB Anthony Philyaw, So. (179 carries, 721 yards, 15 TD)
WR Stewart Hartman, Sr. (30 receptions, 302 yards, 3 TD)
WR Matt Colvin, Jr.
WR/RS Richard Alyegoro, Sr.
LT John Smith, Jr.
LG Deonta Allen Wright, Jr.
RT Toree Boyd, So.
DE Damon Gresham Chisholm, Jr. (29.5 TT, 10 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 3 QBH)
DE Marquise Blanchard, So. (14.5 TT, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DE Godspower Offor, Sr. (18 TT, 6.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 5 QBH, 2 FR)
DT Tommie Boozer, Jr. (32 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
LB Devin Rollins, Jr. (56 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 BLK)
LB Khari Brown, Jr. (34 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU)
CB Kenneth Russ, So. (37 TT, 2 INT, 6 PBU)
CB Tamlin Antoine, So.
FS Cameron Alston, Sr. (80.5 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 INT, 1 FF)
PK/P John Fleck, Jr. (14-of-24 FG, 72 points; 50 punts, 40 ypp)
OUTLOOK: While Harrell was on a leave of absence last season, the Bison rallied for wins in five of their final six games to overcome a brutal start under their interim coach, Rayford Petty. Harrell returns to the best quarterback in the MEAC, preseason offensive player of the year McGhee, and an aggressive defense that also has an All-American on the back end in SS David, who was injured last season. McGhee, a left-hander, led the conference in total yards per game (272.9), including 896 yards on the ground. His two most productive receivers are gone, so McGhee will want RB Philyaw (15 touchdowns) to work a lot behind the team's excellent tackles (Boyd and Smith). The excellence truly comes in pairs as the Bison also rely on their safeties (Alston and David) and defensive ends (Chisholm combining with either Blanchard or Offor). The special teams lagged behind last season, so there is a need for great improvement. The schedule also is front-loaded with tough games.
Aug. 28 - at Akron
Sept. 6 - at Rutgers
Sept. 13 - Morehouse (at RFK Stadium, Washington)
Sept. 20 - at Morgan State (at East Rutherford, New Jersey)
Sept. 27 - North Carolina A&T
Oct. 4 - at North Carolina Central
Oct. 11 - at Bethune-Cookman
Oct. 18 - Florida A&M
Nov. 1 - Delaware State
Nov. 8 - at Savannah State
Nov. 15 - at Central Connecticut State
Nov. 22 - Hampton
5. DELAWARE STATE HORNETS
LOCATION: Dover, Delaware
STADIUM: Alumni Stadium
COACH: Kermit Blount (14-19 in three seasons at Delaware State; 105-106-3 overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 5-3 MEAC (Tie/3rd)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Cory Murphy (205-for-369, 2,307 yards, 13 TD, 14 INT); WR Cory Scott (60 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF); DL Chikezie Ukeje (38 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks); LB Ernest Adjei (79 TT, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF); DB Joe Boyd (64 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INT, 2 PBU); CB Cameren Judge (30 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Milton Williams III, Sr. (58 receptions, 888 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Rodney Gunter, Sr. (43 TT, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Esayah Obado, So. (21-for-40, 168 yards, 2 TD)
RB Malcolm Williams, Sr. (66 carries, 208 yards, 1 TD)
RB Dae-Hon Cheung, Jr. (83 carries, 361 yards, 2 TD)
RB Nagaee Jackson, Jr. (49 carries, 167 yards, 2 TD)
WR Joe "Bo" Ceravolo, Jr. (31 receptions, 326 yards, 1 TD)
WR/RS Malik Golson, So. (55 receptions, 517 yards, 4 TD)
LT Dimitri Hill, Jr.
LG Clark McCready, Jr.
RG Sal Carrero, Sr.
RT Jerron Searles, So.
DL Corey Barnes, Jr.
LB Elbie Williams, Sr. (49 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
LB Alex Perry, Sr. (36 TT, 8 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF)
S Terrick Colston, Jr. (83 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 4 FR)
FS Davon Moore, Sr. (54 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
CB J.R. Robinson, Jr. (31 TT, 3 INT, 5 PBU)
PK Mitchell Ward, Sr. (5-of-8 FG, 31 points)
OUTLOOK: The Hornets have built momentum with back-to-back 5-3 conference records and have a veteran squad seeking the next step. A lot could change quickly on a team that scored only 169 points last season. If Obado settles in at quarterback, he can make good use of the strongest receiving corps in the MEAC. Among the receivers, Williams made the MEAC preseason first team and Ceravolo the second team, while Golson didn't gain preseason honors but he had 55 receptions as a freshman last season. Obado and the offense, which returns eight starters, will look to improve on a minus-six turnover ratio. As good as the DSU passing offense was a year ago, the pass defense must improve, and the secondary has strong answers in safeties Colston and Moore, who is coming off a knee injury late last season. Gunter is a versatile defensive lineman who must provide a pass rush up front.
Aug. 30 - at Monmouth
Sept. 6 - at Delaware
Sept. 13 - Towson
Sept. 20 - at Temple
Sept. 27 - Savannah State
Oct. 4 - at Bethune-Cookman
Oct. 11 - at Norfolk State
Oct. 18 - North Carolina A&T
Oct. 25 - Hampton
Nov. 1 - at Howard
Nov. 15 - Florida A&M
Nov. 22 - at Morgan State
6. NORFOLK STATE SPARTANS
LOCATION: Norfolk, Virginia
STADIUM: William Price Stadium
COACH: Pete Adrian (50-52 in eight seasons at Norfolk State; 86-89-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 3-5 MEAC (Tie/8th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (4 offense/9 defense)
BIG LOSSES: RB Rolandan Finch (235 carries, 1,113 yards, 4 TD; 27 receptions, 178 yards); TE Joseph Hawkins (39 receptions, 438 yards, 1 TD); OL Blake Matthews; LB Brent Singleton (68 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 FR); DB Marcus Center (52 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); LB Mike Privott (43 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 FR)
OFFENSIVE STAR: OT Justin Myler, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Lynden Trail, Sr. (94 TT, 12.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 INT, 8 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF, 2 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Tyler Clark, Jr. (106-for-180, 937 yards, 7 TD, 6 INT)
QB Malik Stokes, Jr.
QB Omari-Ali Timmons, Jr.
RB Brendon Riddick, Jr. (71 carries, 240 yards, 1 TD)
RB Shakeem Copeland, So.
WR DeAndre Sangster, Jr. (18 receptions, 289 yards, 2 TD)
WR Isaac White, Jr.
WR Keith Johnson, Sr.
C Mike Phillips, Jr.
DT Noel Clarke, Sr.
DT Lamonte Clark, Sr.
DT George Riddick, Sr. (46 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 1 BLK)
DE/OLB Deon King, Jr. (84 TT, 18.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 FR, 1 FF)
ILB Marcell Coke, Sr. (108 TT, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 3 FF)
CB Darrin Marrow, Sr. (37 TT, 3 TFL, 5 INT, 11 PBU, 1 FF)
SS Keenan Lambert, Sr. (62 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR, 3 FF, 1 BLK)
DB Troi Hughes, Jr. (35 TT, 3 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
PK Cameron Marouf, So.
P Dylan Shaddix, Sr. (75 punts, 36.8 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Since winning an outright MEAC title in 2011, the Spartans have struggled through back-to-back losing seasons. The offense (14 ppg, 271.7 ypg) was to blame a year ago as the defense worked to keep the Spartans in some games. LB Trail is back to lead that defense after being a 2013 Buck Buchanan Award finalist. With nine returning defensive starters, there's still plenty of talent surrounding him, including DE/LB King, ILB Coke, CB Marrow and SS Lambert. On offense, the Spartans must overcome the loss of 1,000-yard rusher Finch, which is not an easy assignment considering their struggles. But QB Clark comes back a year wiser to an unsettled position and RB Riddick was a go-to player two years ago and is motivated to be the featured back again. The non-conference schedule suggests an 0-4 start, unless the Spartans can pull an upset or two, but it could set them up for a good start to the conference race. Some of the team's veterans can draw on their 2011 experiences.
Aug. 30 - at Maine
Sept. 6 - Liberty
Sept. 13 - at William & Mary
Sept. 20 - at Buffalo
Sept. 27 - Morgan State
Oct. 4 - at Savannah State
Oct. 11 - Delaware State
Oct. 18 - at Hampton
Nov. 1 - at Florida A&M
Nov. 8 - Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 15 - North Carolina Central
Nov. 22 - at South Carolina State
7. FLORIDA A&M RATTLERS
LOCATION: Tallahassee, Florida
STADIUM: Bragg Memorial Stadium
COACH: Earl Holmes (4-10 in one-plus seasons at Florida A&M - 1-1 as interim coach in 2012)
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MEAC (10th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: TB/KR James Owens (96 carries, 379 yards, 2 TD); RB Al-Terek McBurse (75 carries, 325 yards, 2 TD); WR Lenworth Lennon (33 receptions, 406 yards, 2 TD); C Kevin House; RT Douglas Almendares; DE Frank Mayes (47 TT, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks); OLB Brandon Denmark (59 TT, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FF, 1 BLK); OLB Michael Ducre (62 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); LB Bobby Jackson (46 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF); SS Devan Roberts (39 TT, 3.5 TFL); FS John Ojo (76 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF); DB Jonathan Pillow (46 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FR)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Damien Fleming, Sr. (106-for-201, 1,016 yards, 6 TD, 13 INT; 62 carries, 215 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Patrick Aiken, Jr. (42 TT, 4.5 TFL, 4 INT, 3 PBU, 1 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: TB Lemond Buice, Sr. (68 carries, 238 yards, 3 TD)
RB Tysean Holloway, Jr. (Appalachian State transfer)
WR Casey Glines, Sr. (16 receptions, 160 yards, 5 TD)
WR DeWayne Harvey, Sr. (13 receptions, 153 yards, 1 TD)
Slot Dennis Hall, Sr. (13 receptions, 138 yards)
TE Michael Morris, Jr.
LT Zerrie Patterson, Jr.
LG Keonte Cash, So.
RG Timothy Jones, So.
OL Ryan Templeton, Sr.
DE Derrick Conner, Sr.
DE Matthew Caleb, Jr.
NG Michael Lovejoy, Jr. (31 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks)
MLB William Smalls, Sr. (39 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
ILB Akil Blount, Jr. (51 TT, 8 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 BLK)
CB/PR Devontae "Terry" Johnson, Jr. (46 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF; 16-yard punt return average, 1 TD)
S Neal Cunningham, So.
PK Chase Varnadore, Sr. (4-of-7 FG, 35 points)
P Colby Blanton, So. (74 punts, 39.6 ypp)
OUTLOOK: "Setting the Record Straight" - that's the Rattlers' rallying cry this season as they look to rebound from two consecutive subpar seasons. They aren't eligible for the MEAC title because of NCAA Academic Progress Rate penalties, but they should be improved nonetheless. It doesn't hurt to have motivation coming from the new athletic director, Kellen Winslow Sr. QB Fleming slumped last season, missing the final three games before he had season-ending foot surgery. He will be more comfortable in the Rattlers' second-year offensive system. The running game will feature Buice, who began his career at Clemson, and Holloway, once a touted recruit at Appalachian State. Despite the team's struggles last season, it led the FCS in passing defense (125.2 ypg). The return of cornerbacks Aiken and Johnson will keep the Rattlers strong in that regard, but the defense must overcome some key losses. Yet another MEAC team with a rugged non-conference schedule, the Rattlers hope to get on track and take advantage of two home games to open the conference slate.
Aug. 30 - at Jackson State
Sept. 6 - at Miami (Fla.)
Sept. 20 - Coastal Carolina
Sept. 27 - at Tennessee State
Oct. 4 - Morgan State
Oct. 11 - Savannah State
Oct. 18 - at Howard
Oct. 25 - at North Carolina A&T
Nov. 1 - Norfolk State
Nov. 8 - South Carolina State
Nov. 15 - at Delaware State
Nov. 22 - Bethune-Cookman (at Orlando)
8. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL EAGLES
LOCATION: Durham, North Carolina
STADIUM: O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium
COACH: Jerry Mack (first season)
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 3-5 MEAC (Tie/8th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Jordan Reid (137-for-274, 1,510 yards, 4 TD, 10 INT); PK/P Oleg Parent (9-of-21 FG, 51 points; 43 punts, 41.5 ypp); LB Tazmon Foster (144 TT, 11.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 3 FF); LB Allonte Tuppins (51 TT, 10 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FF); LB Tiron Guion (44 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Adrian Wilkins, Jr. (37 receptions, 432 yards, 2 TD; 13.4-yard punt return average, 2 TD; 30.3-yard KO return average, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Michael Jones, So. (39 TT, 3.5 TFL, 4 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Malcolm Bell, Jr. (30-for-77, 346 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT)
QB Quinn Billerman, Jr. (New Mexico Military Institute transfer)
RB Andre Clarke, Sr. (80 carries, 355 yards, 1 TD)
RB Idreis Augustus, Jr. (75 carries, 333 yards, 3 TD)
RB Deyonta Wright, Jr. (68 carries, 256 yards, 2 TD)
WR Jazz King, Sr. (Marshall transfer)
WR Quentin Atkinson, Jr. (Georgia Military College transfer)
WR DeMario Johnson, Sr.
TE Nathan Scruggs, Jr.
RT Christopher Pressley, Sr.
C Carl Jones, So.
LT Ty Gatson, So.
RG Clevonne Davis, So.
DE Ty Brown, Sr. (53 TT, 5.5 TFL, 5 PBU, 2 FF)
DE Felix Small, Sr. (48 TT, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks)
DE Darius Spruill, So. (40 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
DE Richard Mitchell, Jr. (Holmes CC transfer)
DT Joshua Wade, Jr.
LB Demontray Ryland, Sr. (49 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR)
LB Jordan Miles, So. (55 TT, 3.5 TFL)
LB Tre Smith, So.
S C.J. Moore, Sr. (77 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
S Ryan Smith, Jr. (88 TT, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK)
CB Hakiem Swann, So. (31 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
PK Brandon McLaren, So.
OUTLOOK: At 33, Mack might look like a fifth-year senior as he takes on his first head coaching position. The youthful coach, who already has 10 years of experience, replaced Dwayne Foster, who served as interim coach last season. Mack will seek an impact from some transfers while he seeks discipline and consistency out of the Eagles, whose best season on the Division I level is six wins. QBs Bell and Billerman may both see time running the team's new fast- paced, no-huddle offense after the Eagles ranked 119th in the FCS in total offense last season. They will want to get the ball to Wilkins, who not only caught 37 passes last season but had a nation's-best five touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns. A strong secondary will anchor the defense as CB Jones is coming off a dynamite freshman secondary and Moore and Smith are take- charge safeties. The Eagles also are set at defensive end with the return of Brown and Small.
Aug. 30 - at East Carolina
Sept. 6 - Elizabeth City
Sept. 13 - Charlotte
Sept. 20 - at Towson
Oct. 4 - Howard
Oct. 11 - at South Carolina State
Oct. 18 - at Morgan State
Oct. 25 - Savannah State
Nov. 1 - at Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 8 - Hampton
Nov. 15 - at Norfolk State
Nov. 22 - North Carolina A&T
9. HAMPTON PIRATES
LOCATION: Hampton, Virginia
STADIUM: Armstrong Stadium
COACH: Connell Maynor (first season at Hampton; 45-6 overall)
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 4-4 MEAC (Tie/5th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR/RS Antwon Chisholm (49 receptions, 540 yards, 5 TD); LB Delbert Tyler (131 TT, 9 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF); DB Carvin Johnson (122 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FR); DB Justin Blake (103 TT, 2 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RB/KR Jorrian Washington, Sr. (115 carries, 699 yards, 5 TD; 32 receptions, 225 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Miles Grooms, Jr. (57 TT, 18.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 16 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Bryan Bailey, So. (96-for-171, 1,131 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT)
QB Jaylian Williamson, Jr. (70-for-131, 676 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT)
WR Twarn Mixson, So. (22 receptions, 408 yards, 4 TD)
WR Rashawn Proctor, So.
WR Leon Shorter, Jr.
WR Andre Griffin, Sr.
OL Kory Alpichi, Sr.
OL Ronald Rose, Sr.
DL Alveron Wright, Sr. (43 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 3 FR)
LB Keith McAfee, Jr. (47 TT, 5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 BLK)
LB Denzel Heath, Jr. (41 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU. 1 FF)
LB Alhaji Koroma, Sr.
LB Charles Benning, Jr.
LB Joshua Thorne, Jr. (115 TT, 12.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FF)
DB Khambrel McGhee, Jr. (65 TT, 5 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 2 BLK)
PK/P Anthony Prevost, So. (17-of-19 FG, 76 points)
P Christian Faber-Kinney, So. (57 punts, 41.6 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The Pirates hope to advance past their mediocre and underachieving ways behind Maynor, their new head coach who was highly successful in leading Winston-Salem State's program, including a Division II national runner-up finish in 2012. Just as Maynor did at WSSU, he will try to jump-start the offense, whose most dangerous weapon is WR/RB/KR Washington. Neither Bailey nor Williamson asserted himself at quarterback last season, so that position is key to a Pirates' turnaround. On defense, the Pirates lost three players who had over 100 tackles, but there remains some good pieces to the puzzle led by LB Thorne, who had 115 tackles, and DE Grooms, who ranked second in the MEAC in both sacks and tackles for loss as a sophomore. It's hard to find a MEAC team with a better pair of kickers as PK Prevost made the preseason first team and P Faber-Kinney the second team. Schedule-wise, the Pirates won't shy away from tough opponents, but their fresh outlook fuels them going into the season.
Aug. 30 - at Old Dominion
Sept. 6 - William & Mary
Sept. 13 - at Richmond
Sept. 20 - Miles
Sept. 27 - South Carolina State
Oct. 11 - at North Carolina A&T
Oct. 18 - Norfolk State
Oct. 25 - at Delaware State
Nov. 1 - Morgan State
Nov. 8 - at North Carolina Central
Nov. 15 - Bethune-Cookman
Nov. 22 - at Howard
10. MORGAN STATE BEARS
STADIUM: Hughes Stadium
COACH: Lee Hull (first season)
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 5-3 MEAC (Tie/3rd)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
BIG LOSSES: OL Karim Barton; LB Isaiah Lewis (30 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH); DB Joe Rankin (57 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF, 2 BLK); SS Darien Irby (56 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FR); KR Tubotein Taylor (25.4-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Lamont Brown III, So. (145 carries, 708 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Cody Acker, Sr. (97 TT, 10.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 3 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Robert Council, Sr. (44-for-83, 598 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT; 101 carries, 381 yards, 5 TD)
QB Seth Higgins, Sr. (50-for-96, 609 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT; 102 carries, 478 yards, 5 TD)
RB Herb Walker, So. (99 carries, 390 yards, 1 TD)
WR Thomas Martin, Sr. (28 receptions, 352 yards)
WR Andrew King, Jr.
TE Nate Ingram, Sr.
OL Daniel Onwuegbu, Jr.
OL Darren Pinnock, Sr.
C Clarence Swain, Sr.
DT Andrew Mitchell, So.
DL Heleiance Gates, So. (27 TT, 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 5 QBH)
LB Chris Robinson, Jr. (43 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
LB Bill Hill, Jr. (31 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 QBH)
DB Antonio Jefferson, So.
CB Deshaun Summers, Jr.
FS Peterson Janvier, Jr. (42 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
S Paul Eatman, Sr. (43 TT, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 BLK)
PK Chris Moller, So. (10-of-16 FG, 56 points)
P Lawrence Forbes, So. (52 punts, 43.8 ypp)
OUTLOOK: A 5-3 conference record wasn't enough to save the job of Donald Hill- Eley, who had a 59-76 record in 12 seasons coaching Morgan State. Hull was hired after spending the last six seasons as an assistant coach at Maryland. He inherits a veteran lineup, including two quarterbacks (Council and Higgins) who split snaps last season. The Bears can grow with two running backs (Brown and Walker) who are coming off excellent freshman seasons. Speaking of super sophs, Forbes is one of the better punters in the FCS. The defense must improve against the run after allowing a whopping 5.8 yards per carry. Hull will look to his veteran linebackers, led by Acker, to solve some of the problems. The Bears were picked ninth in the MEAC's preseason poll despite last year's improvement (they were 2-6 in 2012 conference play). One negative is that only two of the first 10 games will be played on their campus.
Aug. 30 - at Eastern Michigan
Sept. 6 - at Holy Cross
Sept. 13 - Bowie State
Sept. 20 - Howard (at East Rutherford, New Jersey)
Sept. 27 - at Norfolk State
Oct. 4 - at Florida A&M
Oct. 18 - North Carolina Central
Oct. 25 - at Villanova
Nov. 1 - at Hampton
Nov. 8 - at North Carolina A&T
Nov. 15 - South Carolina State
Nov. 22 - Delaware State
11. SAVANNAH STATE TIGERS
LOCATION: Savannah, Georgia
STADIUM: Ted Wright Stadium
COACH: Earnest Wilson III (1-11 in one season at Savannah State)
LAST SEASON: 1-11 overall, 0-8 MEAC (11th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Antonio Bostick (125-for-237, 1,397 yards, 11 TD, 10 INT; 78 carries, 181 yards, 1 TD); RB Lereginald Veals (50 carries, 149 yards); WR Simon Heyward (36 receptions, 572 yards, 3 TD); RS/RB DeQuan Daniels (19.3- yard KO return average); OL Jonathan Clowers); OL Billy Burke; DL Micah Blount (54 TT, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR); DL Alex Wierzbicki (26 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF); DB John Wilson (73 TT, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 9 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TE/WR Kris Drummond, Sr. (23 receptions, 296 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Marquis Smith, So. (124 TT, 13 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Leon Prunty, So. (64-for-141, 750 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT)
RB Richard Williams, So.
RB Alex Simmons, Jr.
WR Edward Lackey Jr., Sr. (19 receptions, 186 yards, 4 TD)
WR Arshon Spaulding, So.
OL Chidi Onwuzuruoha, So.
OL Devon Stainrod, Jr.
OL Afolabi Ayangbayi, So.
DL Jovanta Mobley, Jr.
DL William Broadbent, Jr.
DL Edward Booker, So.
LB Justin Dixon, Jr. (122 TT, 9.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR)
LB Trevion Ashford, Jr. (73 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 BLK)
DB Wayne Johnson, Jr. (47 TT, 5 PBU, 2 FF)
DB Greg Brown, Sr. (67 TT, 3 TFL)
DB Alfred Ansley, Jr. (74 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
PK John Barron, So. (5-of-10 FG, 22 points)
OUTLOOK: The optimism found in the preseason is usually short-lived for a Tigers program which has won two or fewer games in 14 of the last 15 seasons. But Wilson believes his program is headed in the right direction as it builds around underclassmen. A pair of back-to-back two-point losses within the MEAC last season whet the appetite a little more for the Tigers. Smith and Dixon had 124 and 122 tackles, respectively, as the team's influential linebackers. Working behind them is Brown, who will provide some senior leadership. Their best senior, though, is TE/WR Drummond, who made the MEAC preseason first team. Working to get him the ball is QB Prunty, who gained plenty of experience as a freshman. The schedule is brutually tough again with three FBS opponents, so the Tigers will have to sneak up on the competition to make much of a dent in the win column. They are under APR penalties this season.
Aug. 30 - at Middle Tennessee
Sept. 6 - at Georgia Southern
Sept. 13 - Fort Valley State
Sept. 27 - at Delaware State
Oct. 4 - Norfolk State
Oct. 11 - at Florida A&M
Oct. 18 - Bethune-Cookman
Oct. 25 - at North Carolina Central
Nov. 1 - at South Carolina State
Nov. 8 - Howard
Nov. 15 - North Carolina A&T
Nov. 22 - at BYU