It's time to take a look at the MEAC and SWAC's most valuable players, disappointments and surprises from this year.
After Hampton won three consecutive MEAC championships, Delaware State emerged as the conference champions this season. The Hornets were undefeated in league competition at 9-0. Delaware State's only losses were to Division I-A Kent State from the Mid-American Conference and to Delaware in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Hornets were led by their big play wide receiver Shaheer McBride, who had 50 receptions for 586 yards and nine touchdowns. Defensively, Akeem Green was the Hornets' playmaking cornerback. Green finished the season with 48 solo tackles and three interceptions. McBride and Green were major reasons why Delaware State had such a big season.
Most Valuable Player: Morgan State running back Chad Simpson
Simpson was not only the best player in the MEAC, but one of the top rushers in the FCS. Simpson, a 5-10, 210-pound senior, had 276 carries for 1,402 yards and 14 TDs. He averaged 127.5 yards a game and was a threat to score any time he touched the football. Simpson should get some NFL looks. He's that good.
Coach of the Year: Norfolk State's Pete Adrian
Adrian led the Spartans to their best conference record since moving to Division I in 1997. Norfolk State compiled an 8-3 overall record and a 6-2 league mark. He guided the Spartans to their first-ever FCS national ranking, reaching No. 23 in the polls. Norfolk State also got its first-ever win over Florida A&M in school history and notched a victory over arch rival Hampton, the first since 2001, giving the Spartans their first win over a Division I ranked team.
Newcomer of the Year: Florida A&M running back Phillip Sylvester
Sylvester rushed for 858 total yards and averaged 85.8 yards a game. He led the conference in all-purpose yards with 164.3 yards per game, which was good enough to be ranked 18th in the FCS. Sylvester was most impressive in a game against Howard, where he rushed for 222 yards on 21 carries.
Biggest Surprise: Norfolk State
The Spartans weren't supposed to compete for the conference title. After all, they were picked to finish seventh in the standings. But after the big win over Hampton, most people found out that Norfolk State was for real. This really speaks to the outstanding job that Adrian did with this club.
Biggest Disappointment: South Carolina State
South Carolina State was predicted to win the MEAC championship. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start losing two of their first three games. Their two early losses were to Division I-A teams Air Force and South Carolina, which took a lot out of them, but they rebounded to beat Hampton in October. They also went down to the wire in a tough one-point loss to Delaware State. The Bulldogs never became a dominant team in the league.
Rod Broadway made a huge impact in his first season as head coach at Grambling State, where he led the Tigers to the SWAC Western Division title. A year ago, Broadway guided then-Division II North Carolina Central to the NCAA playoffs. He's a proven winner. Like Broadway, Rick Comegy had a spectacular coaching career on the Division II level. In just two seasons coming from Tuskegee to Jackson State, Comegy carried the Tigers to the SWAC Eastern Division crown. Both teams will play for the SWAC championship on Saturday afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham. Ala.
Most Valuable Player: Prairie View A&M's Zach East
East is a big-time linebacker who has a great chance to be playing on Sundays next season. East finished the season with 127 total tackles (67 solo). He also had 14.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, four forced fumbles and a block kick. He had double-digit stops in nine games this season. He had an 18-tackle game against Grambling State and 19-tackle performance against Jackson State. East played a big part in bringing Prairie View A&M its first winning season in more than three decades.
Coach of the Year: Prairie View A&M's Henry Frazier
Frazier did one of the great coaching jobs in college football. He led the Panthers to their first winning season in 31 years. He should be national Coach of the Year. Prairie View A&M had lost an NCAA 90 consecutive games during the 1990s. Frazier turned the program completely around this season and gave the Panther fans something positive to finally cheer about.
Newcomer of the Year: Arkansas-Pine Bluff wide receiver/return specialist Bruce Peters
Peters was the Golden Lions' most exciting player. He had 17 kickoff returns and averaged 20.5 yards a return with a long of 33 against Grambling State. He also tallied 24 punt returns, averaging 11.0 yards a return including a 6-yard return against Alcorn State. He finished the season with 349 kick return yards, 264 punt return yards and 728 all-purpose yards. As a wide receiver, he caught nine passes for 115 yards.
Biggest Disappointment: Arkansas-Pine Bluff
The Golden Lions were expected to be one of the frontrunners in the SWAC, but they never developed any consistently, especially on offense. QB Chris Wallace was regarded as one of the league's top offensive players coming into the season. However, Wallace really struggled, completing just 84 of 162 passes for 1,037 yards and only four TD passes and three interceptions. The Golden Lions (4-7 overall, 4-5 in the SWAC) finished in fourth place.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.