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In the FCS Huddle: MEAC spring football primer

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Updated: 3/10 7:32 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Everybody is thinking offense in Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference football this year because there wasn't enough of it last season.

MEAC teams averaged 21.3 points per game, which was over 2.7 points fewer than teams from the second-lowest-ranked FCS conference. In addition, the MEAC was last nationally in offensive yards with its teams averaging less than 313.3 per game.

It doesn't help matters that quarterback is a fairly inexperienced position across the 11-team MEAC this year. Bethune-Cookman, which returns its starter, and South Carolina State, which doesn't, remain the teams to beat after they shared last year's conference title.

A look across the conference with spring practices getting underway around the nation:

STORY LINES

Hampton (Connell Maynor), Morgan State (Lee Hull) and North Carolina Central (Jerry Mack) are all getting settled with new head coaches.

As other MEAC teams develop their quarterbacks, Howard returns perhaps the best one at the position, senior left-hander Greg McGhee.

Bethune-Cookman has won three MEAC titles in coach Brian Jenkins' first four seasons. But his squad is vulnerable after losing key seniors as well as safety Nick Addison to an early entry into the NFL Draft.

North Carolina A&T, coming off a 7-4 season, may have a Caucasian starting quarterback, Frank Foster, for the first time in school history. The transfer accounted for 28 touchdowns (18 passing, 10 rushing) at Southwestern College last year.

MEAC power South Carolina State will have a sophomore or freshman as the starting quarterback. Coach Buddy Pough hasn't had enough consistency at the position since Malcolm Long directed three straight MEAC championship squads from 2008-10.

Florida A&M's proud program, coming off a 3-9 season, will try to get back on track behind second-year coach Earl Holmes. The Rattlers' mantra for 2014: Set the Record Straight.

THEY'RE BACK

North Carolina Central's Adrian Wilkins might be the best returner in the FCS. He had a national-high five special teams return touchdowns, three on kickoffs and two on punts, and all went for at least 73 yards.

Howard is thrilled to have another season from safety Julien David, who missed last season after tearing his right pectoral muscle. He is an All-MEAC first- teamer.

Savannah State wants to see less of linebackers Marquis Smith and Justin Dixon than more after they were on the field enough to collect 124 and 122 tackles, respectively, last season. The Tigers were outscored, 517-174.

South Carolina State returns its entire starting defensive line, led by All- MEAC first-team selections Andrew Carter and Alex Glover, from a defense that ranked No. 1 in the FCS in total defense.

Last season, Hampton unleashed a terrific pass rusher in defensive end Miles Grooms. He had 18.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks as a sophomore.

Florida A&M quarterback Damien Fleming was the MEAC's 2013 preseason co- offensive player of the year, but slumped through a difficult season. He expects to rebound as a senior.

Morgan State's Lamont Brown III was impressive as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 705 yards and five touchdowns.

POSITION BATTLES

After rotating carries at Delaware State last season, Dea-Hon Cheung, Malcolm Williams and Nagee Jackson will all make a case to be the primary option.

Norfolk State's quarterback will be a redshirt junior. The question is, which one between Tyler Clark, Malik Stokes and Omari Timmons? The Spartans averaged only 14 points per game last season.

Bethune-Cookman seemingly has had an endless supply of dangerous quarterbacks. Quentin Williams is the returning starter, but redshirt freshman Larry Brihm, who is valued for his football IQ, has joined the competition for playing time.

Despite Morgan State going 5-3 in conference games last season, the quarterback play was unsettled. In 12 games, Seth Higgins, Robert Council and Moses Skillon combined on 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and a completion percentage under 50.

Starting quarterback Jordan Reid helped pump life into North Carolina Central's program the last two seasons, but he's gone from Durham. Transfer Quinn Billerman, redshirt sophomore Malcolm Bell and fifth-year senior Matt Goggans, who were injured last season, will battle for the starting job.

BREAKOUT PERFORMERS

Having relied on its running game and defense the last two seasons, North Carolina A&T is seeking a playmaker at wide receiver. Track and field star Desmond Lawrence is the likely candidate.

While South Carolina State is loaded on the defensive line, it's safety Shaquan Brock who could take the biggest step on the defense this season.

With the departure of tight end Joseph Hawkins and three senior wideouts, Norfolk State junior wide receiver DeAndre Sangster will become a focal point in the Spartans' passing game.

The Delaware State coaches believe redshirt sophomore Esayah Obado won't just become the starting quarterback, they think he will thrive in the position.

Howard's Richard Aiyegoro made a name for himself as a returner last season. Now he wants to do it at wide receiver.

READY FOR IMPROVEMENT

In a conference that lacked offense, Hampton (116th), Norfolk State (117th), Florida A&M (118th) and Savannah State (121st) ranked among the seven-worst teams in the FCS in third down conversion percentage.

With Bethune-Cookman returning a deep stable of offensive backs, the offensive line must stabilize quickly. The leader is center Andrew Edouard.

Getting more production out of Morgan State's defensive front seven should be one of Hull's goals this season.

Mack will serve as North Carolina Central's offensive coordinator in addition to head coach. He inherits an offense that averaged only 264 yards per game, ranking 119th in the FCS.

Savannah State's offensive line struggled last season as its running game averaged only 2.4 yards per carry, so second-year coach Earnest Wilson III brought in nine new candidates on signing day.

SPRING PRACTICE DATES

Bethune-Cookman: TBA

Delaware State: March 21-April 12

Florida A&M: March 31-April 19

Hampton: March 17-April 11

Howard: March 17-April 18

Morgan State: March 18-April 26

North Carolina A&T: March 10-April 5

North Carolina Central: March 18-April 11

Norfolk State: April 3-26

Savannah State: March 10-April 12

South Carolina State: March 18-April 12

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