Grambling, Alcorn State preseason favorites in the SWAC

8/12/2017 6:03:24 AM

Grambling State opens the season as one of the favorites to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the program''s players are all over the league''s preseason All-Conference lists.

Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs didn''t seem to mind the preseason love his program is receiving. He also wasn''t particularly excited by it.

''''I don''t really think it matters,'''' Fobbs said at SWAC Media Day in July. ''''We start at the starting line at the same place. Just because you finished first last year or you have all these kids on the All-Conference team, that means absolutely nothing.

''''They don''t give you a 10-yard head start.''''

Grambling had 14 players on the preseason All-Conference teams, including quarterback Devante Kincade, who returns after throwing for 3,022 yards, 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Running back Martez Carter also returns after running for 891 yards, 10 touchdowns and averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

Grambling lost its season opener against Pac-12 foe Arizona in a surprisingly tight 31-21 game. The Tigers then won 11 straight games, beating Alcorn State 27-20 in the SWAC Championship and North Carolina Central 10-9 in the Celebration Bowl.

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Some things to look for this season in the SWAC:

THE FAVORITES

Grambling: Fobbs, who is entering his fourth season with the Tigers, has built a powerhouse. Grambling has a 28-9 record over three seasons, including a 25-2 record in the SWAC. With the return of Kincade and Carter and a stellar defense, the Tigers have a good chance to win the Western Division again.

Alcorn State: The Braves won the SWAC championship in 2014 and ''15 and nearly pulled off the three-peat last season before falling to Grambling in the SWAC title game. It figures to be a wide open Eastern Division - Alabama State and Jackson State are also in the hunt - but the Braves have won the division three straight years and are the champs until proven otherwise.

TOP PLAYERS

Kincade, Grambling: The senior was a good prospect at Ole Miss before getting stuck on the depth chart behind starter Chad Kelly. Kincade transferred to Grambling and found immediate success, throwing the ball with accuracy and also running for four touchdowns.

Keontre Anderson, Jackson State: Jackson was constantly in opponents'' backfields last year, finishing the season with 25+ tackles for a loss, including nine sacks. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive end was named the SWAC''s preseason defensive player of the year.

Austin Howard, Southern: The best quarterback in the SWAC not named Devante Kincade in 2016, Howard completed 58.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,655 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Danny Johnson, Southern: Johnson returns after leading the league with seven interceptions last season, including one that he returned for a touchdown.

SWAN SONG FOR SWAC TITLE GAME

The winners of the SWAC''s Western and Eastern Divisions will meet in Houston for a league title game in December. That''s the last time in the foreseeable future that will happen. The SWAC announced earlier this year that it''s ending the SWAC title game in an effort to put more emphasis on the Celebration Bowl, which pits the SWAC champion against the winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

EAST STILL LEAST?

The SWAC''s Western Division was far superior to the East in 2016. Grambling won the division with a 9-0 mark in conference while Southern was 8-1 and Prairie View A&M was 7-2. The best team in the East was Alcorn State, which finished with a 5-4 league record.

The league''s best teams still figure to come from the West this fall, but improvement for programs like Alabama State and Jackson State in the East might make things a little more even.

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