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Alcorn State, Southern picked to win SWAC divisions

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The seasons change, the seasons move, but Alcorn State sitting atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s East Division appears to be eternal.

Alcorn State and Southern University are the favorites to repeat as division champions in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in a season that was moved to spring because of the pandemic.

The league announced its preseason picks during the virtual media day on Thursday.

Alcorn State is the favorite to win its seventh consecutive East Division title. The Braves won their fourth SWAC title in six seasons with a 39-24 win over Southern in 2019.

Alabama A&M was picked to finish second in the division, followed by Alabama State, Jackson State, and Mississippi Valley State.

Southern is seeking to win its third consecutive West Division title and capture its first SWAC title since 2013.

Grambling State, which claimed league titles in 2016 and 2017, was tabbed to finish second followed by Prairie View A&M, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Texas Southern.

The season kicks off in February, with each team facing a six-game league schedule. They’ll face four division opponents and two teams from the other division.

The SWAC title game is scheduled for Saturday, May 1.

Alcorn State head coach Fred McNair said switching seasons will be a challenge. Alcorn’s football team often uses the school’s basketball arena as an indoor practice facility in the fall, but cannot do that while basketball season is under way in the spring preseason period.

The Braves have also not practiced in nearly a year, so getting them into shape in a hurry is a priority.

“We haven’t participated in any organized camp activities since March 6, so we’re behind the 8-ball on that, as are all the other SWAC schools, I’m sure,” McNair said. “So it’s just being able to get these guys back healthy, and get them strong, and get them in some kind of conditioning to where they can compete to the maximum of their abilities during the course of this spring.”

Alcorn State also put seven players on the preseason All-SWAC team, including Offensive Player of the Year Felix Harper.

Harper, the Braves’ quarterback, was also the SWAC’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he threw for 2,954 yards and 33 touchdowns, while running for another six touchdowns. He ranked fourth in the FCS in passing touchdowns.

Joining Harper on the preseason All-SWAC team were senior defensive back Qwynnterrio Cole; sophomore running back Niko Duffey; senior offensive lineman Joseph Milburn; sophomore Will Ready; senior defensive lineman Chris Monroe; and senior defensive back Juwan Taylor.
All except Harper and Cole were selected to the second team.

Jackson State linebacker Keonte Hampton was selected as the SWAC’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The junior linebacker had 106 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and once forced fumble in 2019.

Jackson State running back Keshawn Harper and offensive lineman Cedric Dunbar both made the All-SWAC first team. Tight end Kyland Richey and defensive back C.J. Holmes made the second team.

Senior defensive lineman Jerry Garner was Mississippi Valley State’s only representative on the preseason All-SWAC team.