By Kyle Melnick
Team: Morgan State
Head coach: Lee Hull
2014-15 Record: 7-6 overall, 6-2 conference
Key Returners: RB Herb Walker Jr., WR Andrew King, DB Delonta Hall, LB Greg Gibson, QB Moses Skillon
Key games: Oct. 24 at North Carolina Central, Nov. 21 vs. Norfolk State
The Morgan State football team hadn't won a conference championship since 1979.
So when the Bears finished as co-champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season, they savored the moment.
"That was a great feeling, making history," wide receiver Andrew King said.
The Baltimore-based school shared the conference crown with four other schools. It marked the first time since 2009 Morgan State finished with a record better than .500.
Despite finishing fifth in the conference in the coaches' preseason poll, head coach Lee Hull's squad wants to win the MEAC outright this season.
"We want to play like a much more mature football team that has been together for a year [with Hull and offensive coordinator Fred Farrier]," Farrier said. "I don't necessarily think we go into a game saying, 'Hey, we want to score 35 points a game.' Our goals are really to be efficient, to not turn the ball over and be a tough, physical football team that can dominate time of possession."
The biggest factor in Morgan State's success last season was its explosive offense. The Bears led the MEAC with 4,924 offensive yards, and their 27.8 points per game ranked second.
The Bears hope to replicate that success with their key offensive weapons returning this season.
Junior running back Herb Walker Jr. returns for his junior year as a preseason Division I-AA All-American pick after leading the conference with 1,408 rushing yards last season. King, whose 4.2 receptions per game tied for the third-most in the conference, will return for his senior year. And quarterback Moses Skillon enters his senior season after throwing 11 touchdowns as a starter during the team's final seven games.
While the Bears bring back their vital playmakers on offense, they'll be without three starting offensive linemen. Hull will rely on less experienced players to replace all-conference center Clarence Swain, guard Randon Key and MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year Darren Pinnock after they graduated.
"Offensively, we'll do as well as [the offensive line] does," Hull said. "As soon as they can get up to speed, it will help us out, because we have all our speed guys back, so that's going to be the biggest focal point for us. They're going to be young, so obviously for the first couple games, we might struggle a little bit."
While the Bears hope to add protection on the offensive line, their defensive line will need to improve to win a conference crown.
Morgan State allowed the second-most rushing yards in the conference last season, only behind Savannah State, which didn't win a game all season.
The Bears' two leading tacklers -- linebacker Cody Acker and defensive back Paul Eatman Jr. -- graduated, meaning younger players will need to step up. But Hull said the defensive line has gotten stronger this offseason after size was its biggest problem last year. In addition, the Bears ranked as the second-best pass defense in the conference last season and return preseason All-MEAC defensive back Delonta Hall, which should ease the inexperienced players' transition.
On both sides of the ball, the Bears will need their inexperienced players to complement their returning playmakers. If they do that, the Bears might defy expectations and stand alone as conference champions this season.
"We got to figure out what our bread and butter is," Farrier said. "As anything, when you got younger guys, somebody's got to step up and get ready to play."