In the FCS Huddle: SWAC spring football notebook

5:43 AM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The West is best in Southwestern Athletic Conference football.

At least until the East champion changes it.

The West Division representative has defeated the East Division champion in five straight SWAC championship games, and in 11 of the 14 meetings since the game was started in 1999 (West champ Texas Southern later vacated its 2010 title).

Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the defending champ after beating Jackson State, 24-21, in last year's title game.

STORY LINES

Having to replenish the offensive and defensive lines in the same season is never easy on a team, but that's the challenge facing the defending SWAC champions at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Jackson State will look for the offense to carry the team as the defense rebuilds its line. Quarterback Clayton Moore is the returning starter, but redshirt freshman LaMontiez Ivy was one of the more touted recruits in the FCS a year ago, and this year coach Rick Comegy has brought in Ivy's go-to wide receiver from high school, Daniel Moore.

Another East Division member, Alabama State, will try to take the next step after tying for the last two titles but losing the tiebreaker for advancing to the SWAC Championship Game. Coach Reggie Barlow's Hornets, who last made the title game in 2010, is playing a full season in its new stadium for the first time and have a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Ramsey.

Mississippi Valley State is enthused by the work of fourth-year head coach Karl Morgan. The Delta Devils have a spotlight game to open their season - against Florida A&M in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

The biggest surprise last season was Grambling State's 1-10 demise after its SWAC championship season in 2011. Coach Doug Williams is creating a lot of open competition and has brought defensive coordinator Dennis Winston, who manned the position under Eddie Robinson in the 1990s, back to the program

Texas Southern, coming off a 2-9 season in coach Darrell Asberry's first season, is not allowed to have spring practices because of NCAA violations. With scholarship reductions and no returning All-SWAC players, the Tigers face another tough season.

OH, YES, THEM AGAIN

There weren't any 1,000-yard rushers in the SWAC last season, but Alabama State touchdown-maker Isaiah Crowell surely will be one this year.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Ben Anderson came on strong as a sophomore and earned All-SWAC first-team honors. Joining him in a terrific triumvirate are Golden Lions leading rusher Justin Billings and leading receiver Ladarius Eckwood.

After leading the team in tackles as a sophomore, Prairie View A&M linebacker Jerome Howard is expected to become the Panthers' defensive leader.

Brandon Thurmond of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Joseph LeBeau of Jackson State ranked No. 1 and 3, respectively, in the FCS in tackles for loss last season, but in between the two departed seniors was Mississippi Valley State defensive tackle Robert Simpson, who totaled 22.5 of them.

BREAKOUT PERFORMERS

Jackson State safety Ryan Griffin raised his play in the second half of the season and will be a playmaker this season.

Alcorn State sophomore LaDarrien Davis hopes to become a go-to wide receiver.

True freshman Chuck Baker, who originally committed to LSU, hopes to break into the wide receiver mix at Southern.

Texas Southern, second-worst in the FCS in turnover margin last season, desperately needs more playmakers this season. Defensive back Le Tevin Wilcox had three interceptions, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble.

POSITION BATTLES

Alabama A&M is replacing a four-year starting quarterback in Deaunte Mason. Coach Anthony Jones signed three junior college transfers, led by Kyle Harmyk, to compete with inexperienced returnees Jeremy Isabelle and Brandon Wells.

Alabama State coaches like what they have seen in redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Duhart, but transfers Arsenio Favor (Southern Mississippi) and Sam Gibson (Arkansas State) more resemble former signal-caller Greg Jenkins' dual-threat style.

Prairie View has returning quarterbacks. It's just a matter of whether the starter will be the efficient De'Auntre Smiley or Jerry Lovelocke, a 2011 standout.

Last season, Southern made great strides under interim coach Dawson Odums (who's since been given the full-time job) without much of a running game. Darrius Coleman and redshirt freshman Lenard Tillery will try to settle it.

Sophomore-to-be John Gibbs is the incumbent starting quarterback at Alcorn State, but an incoming freshman, Khaderal Hodges, may challenge him for the spot.

Grambling State needs steadier play out of quarterbacks Frank Rivers and D.J. Williams.

SPRING PRACTICE DATES

Alabama A&M: Feb. 22-March 30

Alabama State: April 2-27

Alcorn State: March 18-April 20

Arkansas-Pine Bluff: April 1-27

Grambling State: April 3-20

Jackson State: March 25-April 13

Mississippi Valley State: March 4-22

Prairie View A&M: March 26-April 20

Southern: Feb. 26-March 23

Texas Southern: No spring practices (NCAA sanctions)

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