Alabama State edged out defending champion Jackson State in a tight East Division poll at Monday's SWAC Media Day in Birmingham, Ala.
Alabama State and Jackson State were the only schools to receive first-place votes in the poll, which included a panel of 24 coaches and members of the media. ASU received 15 of the 24 first-place votes and a total of 108 points, while JSU collected 102 total points.
The predicted order of finish:
1. Alabama State (7-4, 7-2) — Isaiah Crowell will be asked to help offset the loss of two-year starting quarterback Greg Jenkins. Crowell, the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year at Georgia, rushed for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns after joining the Hornets as a transfer last season.
Sophomore Daniel Duhart and junior Arsenio Favor are battling for the quarterback job. Duhart saw action in seven games for the Hornets last year. Favor appeared in 12 games over the past two seasons at Southern Mississippi.
Alabama State is the only team in the league with two offensive linemen (Damien Love and Edmund Davison) on the preseason All-SWAC first team.
Carlton Jones (30 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) and linebacker DeMarques Taylor are the Hornets' top defenders.
All-American Bobby Wenzig, who averaged 45.6 yards per punt and booted 14 kickoffs for touchbacks, will handle all of the kicking chores.
2. Jackson State (7-5, 7-2) — The reigning SWAC East champs return 51 lettermen, including eight offensive and seven defensive starters.
Cornerback Qua Cox, the preseason SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, heads a talented secondary. Last year, Cox logged 50 tackles and a league-high five interceptions.
Joining Cox in the secondary is free safety Cameron Loeffler (84 tackles, 16 TFL, 4.5 sacks).
Quarterback Clayton Moore accounted for nearly 2,500 yards of total offense in 2012. He produced 1,863 yards and 11 touchdowns passing and 633 yards and 11 scores rushing.
Zachary Pederson (33 receptions, 457 yards, 1 TD) is expected to be Moore's go-to receiver.
3. Alabama A&M (7-4, 6-3) — The Bulldogs have a huge void to fill at quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Deaunte Mason. None of the four candidates to replace Mason stood out in the spring.
Whoever wins the job will have two established receivers to throw to in Montaurius Smith (49 receptions, 526 receptions, 4 TDs) and Rashaad DeJarnett (32-498-4).
The line is the strength of the defense as Reginald Bailey (77 tackles, 13 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and Corey Johnson (21 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks) return to the starting lineup.
4. Mississippi Valley (5-6, 5-4) — Besides recording their most wins since 2006, the Delta Devils defeated Grambling and Southern in the same season for the first time since 1984 when Willie “Satellite” Totten was throwing touchdown passes to Jerry Rice.
Page 2 of 2 - Valley is more defensive-minded these days as it scored only 17 points per game, while holding foes to 18.7 ppg.
All-SWAC defensive end Robert Simpson, who led the nation with 29 tackles for loss, and safety Kevin Eugene, who was second on the league with four picks, will be counted on to help offset the loss of seven defensive starters.
Wide receiver/return specialist Julian Stafford (51 receptions, 799 yards, 4 TDs) is a proven playmaker, but quarterback and the backfield remain unsettled.
5. Alcorn State (4-7, 4-5) — Quarterback Joseph Gibbs was the most effective of three quarterbacks for the Braves last season.
Regardless of who lines up behind center, Tavoris Doss (27-315-2) is the Braves' go-to receiver.
Cornerback Jamison Knox (37 tackles, 2 interceptions) was a bright spot on a defense which yielded 34.5 points per contest.