(SportsNetwork.com) - Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference offenses were offensive last season, just not in the good sense.
Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State were co-champions again, and they both qualified for the FCS playoffs, but MEAC teams had a hard enough time moving the ball against each other, let alone when they went outside conference play.
The 2014 season brings a fresh start, and there is an excellent chance the MEAC title race will widen, although Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State were still ranked 1-2 in the preseason coaches poll at Friday's media day in Norfolk, Virginia. North Carolina A&T was picked third and Howard, led by preseason offensive player of the year Greg McGhee, fourth.
Last season, many of the best players in the MEAC were on the defensive side of the ball, and some of the better running backs were only freshmen, but the lack of offense was permeating. No team averaged at least 30 points per game - unusual in any college football conference today - and all 11 squads combined on the lowest per-game average in the FCS in total yards (313.3), points (21.3), rushing yards (146.8) and passing yards (166.5). They also were the only conference to throw more interceptions (149) than touchdowns (136).
"So much rides on one guy when you talk about offense," N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway said. "If you have a good quarterback, and if you have some guys that can catch not just the easy ones but the tough ones, too, then you can do some things. It makes your whole offense look better. I think the quarterback play is getting better in this league, so I'm anxious to see how some of these young guys develop."
The 2013 season was summed up in Florida A&M signal caller Damien Fleming. He was named the MEAC's preseason offensive player of the year, but then went on to complete only 53 percent of his passes while throwing more than twice as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (six) before his junior season was ended by a foot injury.
With the new season comes the chance to bounce back, and that's the theme of MEAC offenses.
McGhee leads the way, and he doesn't need a bounce-back season like Fleming. The 6-foot-3 left-handed dual-threat is in his fourth season as a starting quarterback, coming off a junior campaign in which he led the MEAC in total offense (272.9 yards per game).
Bethune-Cookman boasts returning quarterback Quentin Williams, and his sophomore teammate Larry Brihm also is touted. But among the other top teams, South Carolina State is banking on an untested QB, junior TeDarrius Wiley or sophomore Adrian Kollock Jr., while N.C. A&T hopes junior Kwashaun Quick learns like his last name.
There's always a plethora of talented offensive linemen in the MEAC, and that bodes well for the skills position players trying to get the offenses on track. Four of the seven running backs who rushed for over 700 yards last season were freshmen, including rushing champ Tarik Cohen of N.C. A&T and scoring champ Anthony Philyaw of Howard.
Among returning pass catchers, Delaware State's Milton Williams III led the MEAC with 5.3 receptions and 80.7 receiving yards per game.
"Well, it starts with the talent level in the offensive positions on any team," South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said. "If you have a good quarterback and a decent running back and a dominant offensive line, then you are more than likely to put up numbers. The reason why you see more defensive stats in our league is because we have a lot more defensive-style coaches on every team."
Either Bethune-Cookman or South Carolina State has won at least a share of the title in five of the past six seasons. This year's meeting between the two powers will be played on Oct. 25 at South Carolina State.
Florida A&M and Savannah State are ineligible for the FCS postseason because of NCAA Academic Progress Rate sanctions, so the MEAC did not make them eligible for its preseason poll.
MEAC FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors Poll
1. Bethune-Cookman, 487 points
2. South Carolina State, 457
3. North Carolina A&T, 338
4. Howard, 309
5. Delaware State, 229
6. Norfolk State, 225
7. Hampton, 200
8. North Carolina Central, 187
9. Morgan State, 148
Note: Florida A&M and Savannah State ineligible for the poll
PRESEASON ALL-MEAC FOOTBALL TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - Greg McGhee, QB, Howard
Defensive Player of the Year - Lynden Trail, LB, Norfolk State
QB - Greg McGhee, Howard, Sr.
RB - Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T, So.
RB - Anthony Philyaw, Howard, So.
WR - Milton Williams III, Delaware State, Sr.
WR - Desmond Lawrence, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
TE - Kris Drummond, Savannah State, Sr.
C - Andrew Edouard, Bethune-Cookman, Sr.
OL - Domanic Wilson, South Carolina State, Sr.
OL - Willie Robinson, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
OL - Darren Pinnock, Morgan State, Sr.
OL - Devin Flowers, South Carolina State, Sr.
OL - Toree Boyd, Howard, So.
DL - LeBrandon Richardson, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
DL - Miles Grooms, Hampton, Jr.
DL - Alex Glover, South Carolina State, Jr.
DL - Andrew Carter, South Carolina State, Sr.
LB - Lynden Trail, Norfolk State, Sr.
LB - D'Vonte Grant, North Carolina A&T, GS
LB - Tavarus Dantzler, Bethune-Cookman, Sr.
DB - Darrin Marrow, Norfolk State, Sr.
DB - Cameron Alston, Howard, Sr.
DB - Mike Jones, North Carolina Central, So.
DB - Marquis Drayton, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
P - Lawrence Forbes, Morgan State, So.
PK - Anthony Prevost, Hampton, So.
RS - Adrian Wilkins, North Carolina Central, Jr.