Because the All-Southwestern Athletic Conference first and second teams included 21 juniors and sophomores last year, the league promises to have a heavy dose of football star power this season.
Southern quarterback Dray Joseph returns for his senior year after passing for a SWAC-best 2,511 yards — with 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions — in his first season as a full-time starter.
Some other notable players to keep an eye on:
- Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Ben Anderson beat out Joseph for first-team All-SWAC honors while distinguishing himself as the league’s top dual threat. The junior, who lit up Southern for 371 yards of total offense in a 50-21 rout, will look to build on a 2012 in which he used his arm (2,356 passing yards) and legs (519 rushing yards) to lead UAPB to the conference title.
- Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell made a predictably big impact on the SWAC last year after rushing for 850 yards at Georgia in 2011 and earning freshman All-America honors. He finished third in the SWAC with 842 rushing yards and scored 15 times on the ground to help fuel the conference’s top scoring offense. Crowell was a five-star recruit coming out of high school but was kicked off the team at Georgia following a 2012 arrest on felony weapons charges.
- Mississippi Valley defensive lineman Robert Simpson is the man players like Anderson and Crowell will never be happy to see. The SWAC’s top returning pass-rusher finished second in the Football Championship Subdivision with 22.5 tackles for loss, and he returns as a senior to lead a Valley squad that paced the conference in total defense.
- Southern senior Lee Doss will no doubt be the player Joseph looks for when times get tough. He was the only Jaguar on the All-SWAC first team last year after averaging a league-best 5.9 catches per game and finishing with 898 receiving yards. The pass-catch tandem of Joseph and Doss is the best in the league.
- Alabama State specialist Bobby Wenzig won’t receive the same kind of fanfare, but he does his job — kicking and punting — well enough to deserve your attention. First-team All-SWAC last season after averaging 45.6 yards per punt, he also had 14 touchbacks to help the Hornets hold opponents to 19 yards per kickoff return.
- Prairie View quarterback De’Auntre Smiley put on a show in a 49-29 victory over Southern last year, passing for 398 yards and rushing for 170 more. If he builds on a rookie season in which he ranked fourth in the SWAC in passing, he could be in line for a breakout sophomore campaign.
- Jackson State defensive back Qua Cox was a big reason JSU won the Eastern Division last year, finishing the season with a SWAC-best five interceptions and leading the team in pass breakups and passes defended. He earned first-team All-SWAC honors in 2012 after being named to the second team as a sophomore.