Hotard: Star power aplenty for SWAC football in 2013

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.