Head Coach: Fred Farrier (first season)
2015 Record: 4-4 (MEAC); 4-6 (overall)
Key Returners: RB Orlando Johnson, LB Damare Whitaker
Key Games: Sept. 3 vs. Holy Cross; Sept. 10 at Marshall; Oct. 22 vs. North Carolina Central
The Morgan State Bears will have a different look than the 2015 team that finished fourth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings. Lee Hull, the Bears' head coach during the last two seasons, left in February to take an assistant coaching position with the Indianapolis Colts. Fred Farrier, who served as the team's offensive coordinator, is now the interim head coach.
Farrier believes Morgan State, picked to finish seventh in the MEAC preseason poll, has the players to compete for a league title. However, the Bears are ineligible for postseason play this year due to a deficient score on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate report.
"The MEAC is a very competitive league, with some outstanding coaches," Farrier said. "But if we find a way to execute our game plan and minimize mistakes, we have a chance to win every league game."
Farrier's first task is to identify a starting quarterback. The graduation of Moses Skillon and Seth Higgins has left the Bears without a signal-caller who took any snaps during the 2015 campaign. Farrier and his staff will choose between four possible replacements. Sophomore Kahlil Trotman, who threw for three touchdowns during Morgan State's spring game, will compete for the starting spot with sophomore Randolph Norwood, freshman Deandre Harris and Chris Andrew, a graduate transfer from Wagner College.
"That is the biggest question mark for us," Farrier said. "Whoever gives us the best chance to get first downs and keep the defense off the field will get the job."
The Bears' new quarterback will be surrounded by nine returning starters. Senior running back Orlando Johnson, the top rusher with 583 yards and six touchdowns last fall, will be joined in the backfield by senior Lamont Brown III. But the biggest boost to the running game should come from the return of Herb Walker Jr., who was academically ineligible last season. The senior running back keyed Morgan State's run to the 2014 MEAC title and NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, setting the school single-season rushing record with 1,408 yards and establishing a single-game mark with a 271-yard performance.
"We'll have a good 1-2-3 backfield punch," Farrier said. "Herb is not the fastest guy, but he can make people miss. Orlando got a lot of reps during the spring. Lamont is more of a power runner and can contribute in pass protection."
The Bears will also rely on senior wide receivers Ricky Fisk (29 catches) and Thomas Martin, who caught 22 passes during the 2014 campaign.
The defense, which surrendered an average of 25.4 points per game, will be led by an experienced linebacking corps that includes junior Damare Whitaker (team-leading 66 tackles) and senior Greg Gibson (50 tackles). Senior cornerback Delonta Hall, sophomore safety Darius Johnson and junior defensive end Jai Franklin are expected to be significant contributors.
The Bears' season begins with a Sept. 3 game against visiting Holy Cross and includes matchups with Football Bowl Subdivision teams Marshall and Army. But a softer early-season conference slate could put the Bears in good position for later matchups with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central, who tied with North Carolina A&T for the regular-season title last year.
Issue 224: August 2016