Scouting The SWAC: What to watch for in 2016

Updated: August 31, 2016
By Tony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN (BASN) — To show just how strong the SWAC was in 2015, all you have to do is look at the final standings. They were one of just seven FCS leagues that had at least a pair of nine-win teams in their conference.
Two-time defending champion Alcorn State (9-4) and Grambling State (9-3), the two teams that met in the SWAC Championship Game, have both won at least seven conference games the last two seasons.
As we continue our HBCU football previews, today we look at the SWAC.
The Braves have been tabbed by the league’s coaches to win the Eastern Division for a third straight season followed by Alabama State. As for the Western Division, the Panthers of Prairie View A&M have been given the nod just in front of GSU.
After being named the interim coach in January, former Brave and assistant head coach Fred McNair was given the full-time job one month later. While serving as ASU’s quarterbacks coach the last four years, McNair is credited with the development of both John Gibbs Jr. and Lenorris Footman as standout field generals. He inherits a team with 13 starters returning from last year’s championship squad. The Braves will hit the ground running as they open the season against Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. After a pair of home games against Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they’ll travel to Eddie Robinson Stadium to meet Grambling State in a SWAC title game rematch.
Two years ago, a goal-line stand on the final play of the Bayou Classic kept Grambling from a trip to the SWAC Championship Game. Last year, they became the team to go undefeated in the conference since 2008. It got them to the title game, but Broderick Fobbs’ squad would eventually fall to Alcorn State 49-21 in the contest. Will 2016 be the year that the crown returns to GSU? With 14 incumbent starters and an influx of highly-touted transfers, the Tigers expect to be in the mix for their first SWAC title since 2011.
With a pedigree ranging from Hall of Famers like former K.C. Chief Buck Buchanon to perennial Pro Bowler Robert Mathis of the Colts, there’s never been a lack of talented defenders within the SWAC. The 2016 campaign will definitely not be an exception. Take Alabama State’s Kourtney Berry as an example. The senior linebacker led the league in tackles last year and was tabbed as the preseason choice for Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight campaign. There’s also standouts like Jackson State’s versatile Javancy Jones, who doubles as a defensive end and linebacker for the Tigers, and Grambling State defensive back Guy Stallworth. All three of these players will be playing on Sundays very soon.
Despite seeing 2015 Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Williams of Grambling graduate, there are still a plethora of dominant quarterbacks in the league. For example, Trey Green (Prairie View A&M), Austin Howard (Southern) and Lenorris Footman (Alcorn State) all combined for a total of 51 passing touchdowns against 11 interceptions in the SWAC. Collectively, they threw for 6,012 yards passing. Also, Howard and Footman were tabbed as first and second team selections respectively for this year’s All-SWAC preseason squads
Speaking of Mr. Howard, he’ll be part of what may be the league’s most explosive offense. Tabbed as the preseason choice for Offensive Player of the Year, Lenard Tillery led the SWAC in rushing last year with 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns. He needs 969 yards to surpass Destry Wright’s all-time SWAC record of 4,050 career yards at Jackson State. They’re joined by wideout/kick returner Willie Quinn. A 5-foot-5 dynamo, Quinn accounted for 1,350 all-purpose yards and 8 TDs last season. In fact, he returned 25 kickoffs for 28.8 yards and an incredible four touchdowns in addition to running back seven punts at 5.6 yards a clip and another score. He also added 49 catches for just under 600 yards.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at

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