(STATS) - Morgan State was going to find it difficult to win either of its first two games even with its team fully intact.
After the academic ineligibility that jarred the Bears last week, second-year coach Lee Hull and his staff are reworking their lineup to try to keep them competitive following their opening games against Air Force and Illinois State.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced on the eve of the season opener that an NCAA review showed shortcomings in mandated academic requirements, and at least 10 players were ruled academically ineligible. Included were six starters, all-conference junior running back Herb Walker Jr., redshirt junior wide receiver Thomas Martin, sophomore right guard Matthew Thompson, senior outside linebacker Joel Scott, redshirt junior outside linebacker Ta'Quon Jackson and junior strong safety Antonio Jefferson.
Morgan State, which last season earned a share of the MEAC title for the first time since 1979 and advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time, fell 63-7 at Air Force last weekend and follows up with a game Saturday night at fourth-ranked Illinois State, the national runner-up last season.
"It was a big impact. We brought 40 freshmen and sophomores, we were just short-handed playing a great offensive attack like that, " Hull said about Air Force on the MEAC weekly coaches conference call Tuesday.
"Obviously just losing that many players the week of the game is hard regardless of the situation is. It was just tough trying to get prepared for a game and especially an opponent like Air Force."
Hull, the 2014 MEAC coach of the year, didn't comment when asked about the possible return of any of the ineligible players. But a person familiar with the team said if any return, Walker likely would not be one of them. The Cleveland native set school records for rushing yards in a game (271) and a season (1,408) and scored 15 touchdowns a year ago.
Walker was named to the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List in July. Thompson joined him on the All-MEAC preseason first team, while Jefferson was a third-team selection.
The Bears faced adversity in Hull's first season last year. Freshman defensive lineman Marquese Meadow died of complications related to heatstroke two weeks after collapsing at an August practice.
The team dedicated its 2014 season to Meadow and went 6-2 in the MEAC as part of a five-way tie for the conference title. The Bears finished with a 7-6 overall record, losing to Richmond in the playoffs.