FCS - Alcorn, Grambling favored in SWAC
It referred to Brower as one of the Aggies' running backs.
That, though, is his twin brother, Byran Brower - note the similar spellings of their first names. Bryan Brower is a star linebacker at A&M.
"We've been dealing with it our whole life, so a lot of people get confused with it," Bryan said.
It seemed to sum up SWAC football. What you think you know about it, you probably don't know.
The 10 teams annually play musical chairs in the standings and create some terrific, even improbable conference races.
Everybody will jump into the deep end of the pool again when the season kicks off over the long Labor Day weekend. Defending SWAC champion Alcorn State was installed as the East Division favorite in a vote of coaches and sports information directors, while Grambling State was made a slight favorite over 2013 champ Southern in the West Division.
Naturally, too, when considering the SWAC's style. Alcorn State had never appeared in the SWAC Championship Game until last December, and Grambling State had back-to-back one-win seasons prior to last year's 7-5 turnaround. So what you expect at the start of the season might look a lot different at the end of it.
"The SWAC is a different kind of league," Alabama State wide receiver DeMario Bell said. "Anybody can be beat anybody at any given time. You have a team that's 8-2 that can lose to a team that's 2-4. It's just a crazy league."
The topsy-turvy ways were particularly evident from 2009-13, when each of the five West Division schools won the SWAC title (Texas Southern later vacated its 2010 crown).
Gibbs is back as a senior to lead Alcorn this season, named the SWAC's preseason offensive player of the year. The Braves, who finished with a single-season school record for wins in going 10-3, return the most All-SWAC preseason selections with nine.
They're circled on everybody's calendar this time around.
"This is going to sound silly, but you try not to change anything," coach Jay Hopson said. "You do what you do, and I think every coach here and every team here pretty much has a philosophy that they believe in. We're going to do what we do. We had a great season last year, but there's no guarantee next year. So we're going to stick to our plan and, hopefully, that works out for us."
Added Gibbs, "Remain humble, execute every week. Our game plan is still to buy into the coach's system, not getting beside ourselves, not looking ahead too far, adjust week by week to whatever team we're playing against."
Out West, Southern's two-time defending champions had eight preseason selections - twice as many as Grambling State - but the favorite's role fell to the Tigers and coach Broderick Fobbs, who did an outstanding job on the same sideline that his mentor, the legendary Eddie Robinson, used to roam.
"The team and the coaches and the players, they know the history of Grambling State University," Fobbs said. "I don't think we really surprised anyone, it's just a matter of going out and playing good football and being successful."
The SWAC has two new head coaches. After a highly successful run at Bethune-Cookman, Brian Jenkins has taken over at Alabama State, which boasts SWAC preseason defensive player of the year Kourtney Berry, a junior linebacker who led the conference in tackles last season. Former Alcorn State offensive coordinator Willie Simmons hopes to instill a championship blueprint at Prairie View A&M.
The windy, crazy SWAC season will step beyond the championship game on Dec. 5 in Houston. This year, the SWAC champion will go on and play the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference - the other FCS conference of historically black colleges and universities - in the new Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19 in Atlanta.
"It kind of gives our conference something that no other FCS conference has," Hopson said. "You have a chance to play in a championship and you have a chance to play in a bowl game. So it kind of puts you in an FBS world a little bit."
SWAC FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
Vote of Coaches and Sports Information Directors
1. Alcorn State (10 first-place votes), 95 points
2. Jackson State, 83
3. Alabama A&M, 66
4. Alabama State, 50
5. Mississippi Valley State, 31
1. Grambling State (8), 93
2. Southern, 91
3. Prairie View A&M, 72
4. Texas Southern, 40
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 34
SWAC FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - John Gibbs Jr., QB, Alcorn State
Defensive Player of the Year - Kourtney Berry, LB, Alabama State
QB - John Gibbs Jr., Alcorn State
RB - Lenard Tillery, Southern
RB - Johnta' Hebert, Prairie View A&M
OL - Marcus Cook, Jackson State
OL - Damian Love, Alabama State
OL - Glen Haisley, Prairie View A&M
OL - Anthony Mosley, Southern
OL - Jylan Ware, Alabama State
WR - Daniel Williams, Jackson State
WR - Willie Quinn, Southern
TE - Jordan Payne, Alcorn State
DL - Anthony Lanier, Alabama A&M
DL - Darien Moody, Alcorn State
DL - Demarcus Berry, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
DL - Devohn Reed, Prairie View A&M
LB - Damon Watkins, Alcorn State
LB - Willie Duncan, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
LB - Kourtney Berry, Alabama State
DB - Danny Johnson, Southern
DB - Damond Jackson, Prairie View A&M
DB - Warren Gatewood, Alcorn State
DB - Kevin Rucker, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
First-Team Special Teams
PK - Ryan Deising, Jackson State
P - Corey Carter, Texas Southern
RS - Johnta' Hebert, Prairie View A&M
QB - Johnathan Williams, Grambling State
QB - LaMontiez Ivy, Jackson State
RB - Brian Handley, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
RB - Arron Baker, Alcorn State
OL - Sean Brown, Mississippi Valley State
OL - Terrell Lee, Southern
OL - Jordan Johnson, Prairie View A&M
OL - Glenn Jackson, Texas Southern
OL - Courtney Brown, Alabama A&M
WR - DeMario Bell, Alabama State
WR - Willie Young, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
TE - Natron Brooks, Mississippi Valley State
DL - Javonte Williams, Grambling State
DL - Jamison Goins, Grambling State
DL - Amir Bloom, Texas Southern
DL - Gabe Echols, Southern
LB - Daerius Washington, Alabama State
LB - Henry Taylor, Grambling State
LB - Javancy Jones, Jackson State
DB - Anthony Williams Jr., Alcorn State
DB - Robert Porter, Jackson State
DB - Dionte McDuffy, Southern
DB - Charles Moore, Mississippi Valley State
Second-Team Special Teams
PK - Haiden McCraney, Alcorn State
P - Haiden McCraney, Alcorn State
RS - Willie Quinn, Southern
FIVE KEY CONFERENCE GAMES
Alcorn State at Alabama State (Sept. 12) - New Hornets coach Brian Jenkins faces 2014 conference champ Alcorn State in his first SWAC game.
Jackson State at Southern (Sept. 19) - Is Jackson State still seething over that 98-0 loss to Southern in 1929?
Alcorn State at Southern (Oct. 31) - Alcorn and QB John Gibbs Jr. beat Southern twice last season, including in the SWAC Championship Game.
Alabama A&M at Alabama State (Oct. 31) - Last year's 37-36 A&M win was worthy of the usual 60,000-plus attending this rivalry matchup in Birmingham.
Grambling State vs. Southern (Nov. 28) - The Bayou Classic in New Orleans regained its mojo last season.