FCS college football 2021: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preview
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - Preseason favorite South Carolina State must feel it is on the "road" to capturing another MEAC championship.
As the 2019 co-champ seeks to add to its record total of 17 MEAC titles, the Bulldogs will play road games against the teams picked second (Norfolk State), third (North Carolina Central) and fourth (Delaware State) in the conference's preseason poll.
Coach Buddy Pough's team has only four games in Orangeburg, with trips to defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alabama A&M, old rival Florida A&M and FBS programs Clemson and New Mexico State also part of the road schedule.
The MEAC is down to six football members after Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M left the conference for the SWAC and North Carolina A&T for the Big South this summer. Delaware State, Howard and South Carolina State played limited schedules this past spring, while Norfolk State, North Carolina Central and Morgan State opted out of the entire 2020-21 season due to the pandemic.
Here's a preview of the upcoming MEAC season:
With Fall 2019 Season Record Unless Noted
1. South Carolina State (8-3, 6-2; spring 2021: 3-1) - Quarterback Corey Fields' career completion percentage (50.0) should rise by targeting 6-foot-5 wide receiver Shaquan Davis, who has caught 10 touchdowns in his last 11 games. The linebacker position is stacked with B.J. Davis and Chad Gilchrist, who both had 35 tackles during the four-game spring schedule.
2. Norfolk State (5-7, 4-4) - Dawson Odums has taken over the program after a successful nine-year run at Southern (63-35). He coached the FCS spring leader in sacks and tackles for loss (Buck Buchanan Award recipient Jordan Lewis), so he's pleased to arrive at Norfolk State with three of the four defensive linemen on the MEAC preseason first team - Tavien Blackwell, De'Shaan Dixon and Chris Meyers.
3. North Carolina Central (4-8, 3-5) - Three transfers boost an offensive line that will block for running back Isaiah Totten, a three-time All-MEAC selection (twice on first team) who ranks seventh on NCCU's all-time rushing list with 2,122 yards. The defensive line is highly experienced, including emotional leader Jessie Malit, the 2020-21 Stats Perform FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award recipient.
4. Delaware State (2-10, 1-7; spring 2021: 2-3) - A program record-tying seven home games are a boost for coach Rod Milstead's fourth season. Wide receiver Trey Gross has a reception in 32 of 37 career games with 98 catches overall for 1,495 yards and 16 TDs.
5. Morgan State (3-9, 2-6) - Coach Tyrone Wheatley Sr. first season in 2019 was highlighted by the Bears' second straight win over former MEAC power North Carolina A&T. The many candidates at running back include Virginia Tech transfer Terius Wheatley (the coach's son) and Jabriel Johnson, who impressed as a freshman with 346 rushing yards, 10 receptions and two touchdowns.
6. Howard (2-10, 2-6; spring 2021: 0-2) - The Bison figure to have improved continuity after playing Delaware State twice during coach Larry Scott's spring debut. Five of the top six tacklers in 2019, led by safety Ray Williams with 61 stops, are back. The group includes linebacker Christian White, who had five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in the shortened spring schedule.
PRESEASON OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF YEAR
Norfolk State quarterback Juwan Carter - A veteran of 33 career games and 31 starts, Carter ranks second in school history in completions (550), attempts (958), passing yards (6,760) and touchdown passes (49) - all numbers that stand No. 1 in the program's Division I history.
PRESEASON DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF YEAR
South Carolina State cornerback Decobie Durant - The 5-foot-10, 175-pound ballhawk prides himself on tracking the ball in the air, and it reflects in his nine career interceptions over 25 games. Included were three against Alabama A&M standout quarterback Aqeel Glass in the first half of a spring game.
2022 NFL PROSPECT
Norfolk State defensive end De'Shaan Dixon - Named to the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl watch list, Dixon has good speed and length, and should be able to add quality weight to his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame. He was in on 61 tackles in 2019, and his disruptive style included three pass deflections.
Since 2010, South Carolina State is one of five FCS programs (four current, one now in the FBS) to have at least six NFL Draft picks, although the most recent pick out of the MEAC was Morgan State offensive guard Joshua Miles, selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2019 seventh round at 248 overall.
While Pough enters his 20th season at South Carolina State, the coaches at the other five programs have all come aboard since 2018. There's still a lot of getting-to-know-you going on around the MEAC, so surprise schemes and plays could go a long way in the race.
3 MUST-SEE GAMES
North Carolina Central vs. Alcorn State (Aug. 28) - ESPN's "College GameDay" will broadcast from the MEAC-SWAC Challenge at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta, marking the show's 10th all-time appearance at an FCS game and the third at an all-HBCU matchup.
South Carolina State at Delaware State (Oct. 23) - Delaware State's improved program pushed the Bulldogs to the limit twice in the spring season, including a finale that went to overtime in Dover.
South Carolina State at Norfolk State (Nov. 20) - The MEAC's preseason poll suggests both the conference title and the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs will be on the line on the final day of the regular season.
Updated August 23, 2021