2016 Record: 3-8 overall, 3-5 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Key Returners: RB Herb Walker Jr., DL Jai Franklin.
Key Games: Sept. 2 at Towson; Sept. 23 vs. North Carolina A&T; Oct. 28 vs. Florida A&M.
Outlook: Fred Farrier returns for his second season as head coach, but this time it will be under different circumstances.
After serving as interim coach last season, the school lifted the interim tag from his title in December, making Farrier the program's full-time head coach.
Farrier is looking for team-wide improvement this season, especially late in games. Last year, Morgan State was outscored, 92-26, in the fourth quarter, the conference's second-worst margin.
"We've got to find a way to continue to compete and put ourselves in situations where in those games we can execute some assignments, make a play and have an opportunity to win late in the game," Farrier said.
The Bears, picked to finish eighth (of 11 teams) in the MEAC preseason poll, return most of their starters but will have a new quarterback after last year's starter, Chris Andrews, used his final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer. Sophomore DeAndre Harris, who saw action in nine games for Morgan State in 2016, is expected to compete with transfer Elijah Staley for the starting job.
Although Farrier declared it an open competition, the coach said the 6-foot-7, 245-pound Staley was impressive during spring practice.
"It'll be interesting to see how he competes to become the starting quarterback at Morgan State," Farrier said of Staley, who spent two years at Mississippi State and one year at Tyler Junior College prior to transferring. "We think he's a really good, physical talent. Smart young man, outstanding person, and he had a really good spring with us and kind of injected himself into our team atmosphere and fits in very well with our players."
Hoping to improve on the MEAC's third-worst rushing attack in 2016, the Bears' offense will rely heavily on the offensive line, the team's most experienced unit, and running backs Eric Harrell and Walker.
Walker, a redshirt senior, broke the school's single-season rushing record and led the conference in rushing yards in 2014 with 1,408. However, the 5-foot-6, 190-pound back was ineligible in 2015 and missed seven games last season due to injury.
On defense, Franklin, a senior defensive lineman and MEAC preseason second-team selection, returns, as does last season's second-leading tackler, senior linebacker Damare' Whitaker, and junior safeties Carl Garnes and Darius Johnson. Farrier said the Bears' defense will be better than it was a year ago when it surrendered 33.6 points and 390.5 yards per game.
"I expect our defense to be much improved," he said, "and I'm excited to see that translate to on the field and what they will do to stop teams from scoring and give our offense short-field opportunities, get the ball back, all those types of things so that we can have a chance to score points and hopefully win football games."
Morgan State also hopes to fare better in nonconference games, starting with local rival Towson Sept. 2. The Bears then face Albany and Big 10 member Rutgers before starting conference play against North Carolina A&T Sept. 23.
Issue 236: August 2017