July 17, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (STATS) - It was fitting at Southwestern Athletic Conference football media day on Friday that Bryan Brower's placecard at the Alabama A&M table elicited confusion.

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).

But Alcorn State brought the title back to the East a year ago, with quarterback John Gibbs Jr. winning top honors in the championship game - a victory over Southern in his hometown of Houston.

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."


Vote of Coaches and Sports Information Directors

East Division

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

West Division

1. Grambling State (8), 93

2. Southern, 91

3. Prairie View A&M, 72

4. Texas Southern, 40

5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 34


Offensive Player of the Year - John Gibbs Jr., QB, Alcorn State

Defensive Player of the Year - Kourtney Berry, LB, Alabama State

First-Team Offense

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

First-Team Defense

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

Second-Team Offense

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

Second-Team Defense

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


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.

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