SC State picked to win the MEAC

Saturday, July 28, 2007

SCSU freshman quarterback Malcolm Long hands the ball off during a practice held by the Bulldog players recently at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium. Friday, the MEAC coaches selected SCSU as the preseason favorite to win the league championship. BRIAN LINDER/T&DVIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- South Carolina State has been picked to win the 2007 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football title over three-time defending champion Hampton in a close vote of the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.

Also, seven Bulldogs were named to the preseason All-MEAC team, with four earning first-team honors. The announcements came at the MEAC annual Football Roundup Friday.

In getting the nod for the top spot for 2007, SC State, which celebrates its centennial in football and plays two Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) opponents for the first time this season, received eight first-place votes and 266 points to the Pirates’ seven first-place votes and 260 points. The vote was the closest in several years and marked the first time in four seasons (2004) that a team other than Hampton had been picked to snare the coveted crown, which carries with it an automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) playoffs.

SC State head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, although pleased with the respect his team earned from the voters by being picked to finish first this season, said he preferred that his team be at the top at the end of the season.

“It’s nice to be well-thought of,” Pough said. “The vote was awfully close, so maybe the voters were not quite sure between the two teams. But, one thing is for sure, you don’t get a trophy or playoff berth for being number one in the preseason. They only give the trophy for winning the regular season and that’s where we want to be -- at the top at the end of November.”

Following the Bulldogs and Pirates in the preseason poll were Delaware State with 219 points, Bethune-Cookman with two first-place votes and 165 points, Florida A&M with 159 points, Morgan State with 139 points, Norfolk State with 81 points, Howard with one first-place vote and 76 points and North Carolina A&T with 29 points.

Pough, however, who is beginning his sixth year at the helm of the Bulldog football program, expressed excitement about the upcoming season.

“I feel really good about the (2007) season,” he said. “We have a very ambitious schedule, to say the least, but I feel we have the ingredients to have a special year, to be competitive.

“We have to start with quarterback Cleve McCoy, who continues to improve. He is a fantastic player, a class guy and a leader. He’s been in our program five years and the other players look up to him. As he (McCoy) goes, so does our team.

“And, there are some good players around him in running backs Will Ford (2006 MEAC Rookie of the Year) and Jonathan Woods (a 2006 redshirt). We also have experience up front in Nate Richardson (OT), Derrell Pringle (OG), James Lee (OG) and Raymond Harrison (OC), along with a talented group of young receivers.

“We don’t quite have the experience on defense that we had last season, but we do have good talent. Our secondary, led by Marshall McFadden -- who is somewhere between a defensive back and a linebacker -- returns almost intact. We have solid linebackers in David Erby and Tony White, and I think the guys up front will be able to hold their own.”

Pough also said he thought the Bulldog kicking game would be in good hands with the return of Stephen Grantham, who missed all of last season but was one of the MEAC’s top kickers in 2005, and the maturity of punter Aaron Haire, an Orangeburg native who got off to a slow starter as a freshman last season, but has made great strides and looked solid in spring drills.

The SC State players named to the preseason All-MEAC team included Ford, who was second on the team in rushing in 2006; Harrison, a first-team All-MEAC center last year; Lee, a second-team selection at guard last year; and McFadden.

Picked on the second team were McCoy, the All-MEAC quarterback in 2005, and Richardson.

SC State opens the 2007 season Sept. 1 at Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo.