FAMU, Southern favored as Jackson State and the SWAC move on to a season without Deion Sanders

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It’s no longer Prime’s time in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and maybe that’s not an entirely bad thing for the HBCU league.

The departure of Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders and some of his best players from Jackson State to Colorado figures to create a more level playing field.

Florida A&M, not two-time defending champion Jackson State, heads into the season as the SWAC East Division favorite. Southern is favored to repeat as SWAC West champion.

T.C. Taylor, the former Jackson State player now serving as head coach, knows the heightened expectations and the challenges of living up to them.

“Coach Prime, he laid out a great foundation with the way we approach each and every game,” Taylor said. “We’re going to continue that. We’re just going to continue that on a daily basis. That’s all we can do.”

FAMU is led by preseason offensive player of the year quarterback Jeremy Moussa. Jackson State, meanwhile, must replace last year’s winner of that honor, quarterback Shedeur Sanders. Sanders followed his father to Colorado, along with other top players including cornerback/wide receiver Travis Hunter.

FAMU has won 37 championships in other leagues, but none since claiming a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2010. The Rattlers are No. 25 in the preseason American Football Coaches Association rankings.

The Rattlers have lost only two conference game over the past two seasons, both to Jackson State. They’ve won nine straight games since last year’s defeat.

“We’re going to get everyone’s best shot but that’s why you come to FAMU,” FAMU coach Willie Simmons said. “You come here to be the hunted, you come here to compete for championships.”

Well-traveled quarterback Jason Brown could replace Shedeur Sanders at Jackson State. Brown began his career at Saint Francis before starting four games at South Carolina and then moving on to Virginia Tech.

TOP PLAYERS

Colton Adams, LB, Alabama State: Led the FCS in tackles last season, averaging 11.6 per game. The first-team All-SWAC performer had 128 tackles in 11 games.

Sundiata Anderson, DL, Grambling State: The preseason SWAC defensive player of the year had 50 tackles, 7-1/2 sacks and 12-1/2 tackles for loss last season.

Jalen Goss, OL, Florida A&M: The Florida State transfer and graduate left tackle was a first-team All-SWAC pick last season.

Omari Hill-Robinson, DB, Bethune-Cookman: Had four interceptions in each of the last two seasons, returning one 97 yards for a touchdown against Mississippi Valley State in 2022.

Jarveon Howard, RB, Alcorn State: Ran for 1,275 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, including a 299-yard, four-touchdown game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Lewis Matthews, LB, Grambling State: Had 103 tackles and 12 tackles for loss in 2022.

Jeremy Moussa, QB, Florida A&M: The heir apparent to ex-Jackson State star Shedeur Sanders as the league’s top passer. Moussa passed for 2,732 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season. He’s the preseason first-team All-SWAC QB.

NEW FACES

Four programs have hired new head coaches, and all but one played for the program they now lead. That group includes Taylor, a former quarterback and wide receiver at Jackson State; Bethune-Cookman’s Raymond Woodie Jr.; and Mississippi Valley State’s Kendrick Wade. Arkansas-Pine Bluff hired former Louisiana-Monroe assistant Alonzo Hampton.

ON THE HOT SEAT It would be premature to put either Grambling State’s Hue Jackson or Taylor on the hot seat, but there’s pressure inherent in both jobs. Traditional power Grambling went just 3-8 in Jackson’s debut season. Taylor has the pressure of maintaining Jackson State as a force in the league and beyond despite an overhauled roster.

SCHEDULE

Jackson State and FAMU meet early in one of the more intriguing SWAC matchups on Sept. 3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Jackson State won the same game 59-3 last season, but it’s almost certainly more evenly matched now.

AP PICKS

EAST: Florida A&M, Jackson State, Alabama State, Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Bethune-Cookman.

WEST: Southern, Alcorn State, Texas Southern, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M, Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Champion: Florida A&M.

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Cover Photo: Florida A&M quarterback Jeremy Moussa (8) stands back to pass during the first half of the Orange Blossom Classic NCAA college football game against Florida A&M, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The heir apparent to ex-Jackson State star Shedeur Sanders as the league’s top passer. Moussa passed for 2,732 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season. He’s the preseason first-team All-SWAC QB. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

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