Grambling, Jackson St. picked at top
JSU selected in East despite not being eligible for championship
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches expect Jackson State to win its division, even if somebody else will take the Tigers' spot in the league championship game.
Coach Rick Comegy's team was picked to win the East at Tuesday's SWAC media day, less than two weeks after the league voted to ban both Jackson State and Southern from competing for the title because of low APR scores.
"We're going to go out there and play our style of football, and our style of football is winning football," said Comegy, whose program is celebrating its 100th year. "I know there's going to be a lot of teams that it's going to give them some motivation, but we're Jackson State and we've always had a reputation. I think we're the team to beat."
Grambling State was the pick of coaches and reporters to win the West in coach Doug Williams' first season back at his alma mater.
The NCAA banned both Jackson State and Southern from the postseason but considers the SWAC game an extension of the regular season.
Jackson State, which has won 16 SWAC titles, is led quarterback Casey Therriault, a Walter Payton Award finalist who is picked to repeat as SWAC offensive player of the year.
"We're still very motivated," defensive end Donavan Robinson said. "This team's motivated for each other. We're just not going to let one game dominate our season. We're still wanting to win."
Comegy said he encourages his players to focus on creating a memorable season.
"The only message we can give them is what's in front of us. This is their team," he said. "We can't worry about hardware right now. We've got to worry about where you want your team to be. If you're seniors, how do you want to go out? That's all they've got to worry about. Hardware breaks up. I've got trophies in my house that are broken up sitting on the floor. But I've got memories of the greatness of the guys that I played with, and that's what they're going to have."
Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones doesn't think SWAC teams can take anything for granted playing against either of the banned teams.
"As far as the regular season is concerned, I don't think it changes," Jones said. "No one knows exactly how that's going to play out. And so I can guarantee you Southern and Jackson State will field some pretty good football teams. And they are going to be very, very, very competitive. And motivated. You can take them lightly if you choose to, but it won't work well in your favor."
There was no such controversy in the West Division. Williams is back for his second stint as Grambling's coach. He replaced Hall of Famer Eddie Robinson in 1997 and led his alma mater to three consecutive SWAC titles from 2000 to 2002. The former Super Bowl MVP, who had been working as the general manager of UFL's Virginia franchise, will be the front-runner again.
"I don't care who came to Grambling, I think because it's Grambling they should be picked to win it," he said, laughing. "It's always good to be picked to win it but at the same time we also know you have a target on your back when that happens. When you go out every week to play, somebody's laying in the bushes for you. We understand that."
He will have to start a freshman quarterback, either his son D.J. Williams or Frank Rivers.