Kris Ferguson

The CIAA 2018 Recap

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The off season has already started for all except two teams in Division II, which means it’s time for a recap. Relatively speaking, the conference actually did better than last year across the board. It may not feel like it with individual teams, but I think so when looking across the national and regional landscape. Let’s talk about some of the good and not so good.

Good: First and foremost, Bowie State did the conference a solid by advancing out of the first round. It was the first time since 2014 that the conference escaped the first round. Last year saw the CIAA’s two teams and the South Atlantic’s one entrant swept out of the first round by a Gulf South Conference wave. This year, the two conferences returned that favor, kicking out three of the
four GSC entrants. Everything about that Bowie State-West Alabama game was just so electric.

Not so good: I understand the desire to get a guarantee and the difficulty of scheduling opponents close to home, but the number of FCS games aren’t helpful for D-II playoff purposes. That certainly hurt Chowan’s case for D-II playoff contention for sure. The Hawks went 6-2 against D-II opponents, meaning that they didn’t play enough games to qualify for playoff contention by their own doing. Ouch.

Good: The CIAA now mandates that all schools stream their games. That’s a big plus for those schools that already don’t have much media coverage. Production quality was inconsistent from school to school, but this was a giant step in the right direction overall.

Not so good: I didn’t get a chance to talk about the All-CIAA team, so I will address it now. There were some big misses for some individuals that I thought was worthy of recognition. So, here is the third annual all-snub team: Shaw Coach Adrian Jones (Coach of the Year), Livingstone DL Devonte Adams, Fayetteville State DE Keyshawn James, Livingstone QB Miles Hayes (All-Freshman team), Elizabeth City State’s LB Miacah Cooper and DL Shawn Bridges.

Good: The CIAA had three teams ranked in the Super Region II top 10 at the release of the last poll, Bowie State, Fayetteville State, and Virginia Union.

Not so good: VUU got a bit of a raw deal though when it comes to the playoffs, finishing behind seven seeded Wingate to finish the season. VUU’s schedule got weaker as the season progressed, taking on anchors ECSU and Johnson C. Smith. Still, a drop from 7 to out of the rankings while still winning was rather unprecedented.
Here are the team recaps

12: Elizabeth City State (1-7, 0-6)

My Preseason Rank: 9

Man, ECSU really took it on the chin this year. The Vikings really struggled on offense behind true freshman Kedrick Patterson. The running game was better this year, but the lost of all-everything QB Daquan Neal was just too much for the Vikings. ECSU will lose their defensive leader in LB Miacah Cooper, but do return Shawn Bridges

Key Stats: For all the ECSU defense went through, they still were a fairly respectable unit by conference standards. The defense netted 23 sacks; only the two conference championship participants netted more sacks per game. Net Punting – 23.76 yards per attempt - which was not just last in the conference, it was dead last in the country. On top of a struggling offense, special teams couldn’t flip the field position. That put the defense in some very awkward positions. Total Offense – 226.8 yards, which was fourth worst in the country, but only third in the CONFERENCE. I need a drink, and we are just barely getting started.

Highlight: Well, the season couldn’t have started out any better than over a win over Central State. Shawn Bridges’ put together a great game as a sack artist and tackler and nabbed D2football.com player of the week. ECSU’s running game was progressively better.

Lowlight: Well, there was no doubt that the Vikings hit rock bottom. The Vikings lost four games by over 40 points. Its likely that the lost to Lincoln was probably the hardest through, seeing that they clawed their way back from a 14 point deficit, only to have the special teams not come through in the clutch.

Grade: D-

11: Lincoln (PA) (1-9, 1-5)

My Preseason Rank: 12

Lincoln continues to struggle overall, but it did have some positives. The Lions won a game this year in what could be termed “the battle for the basement” against ECSU. The coaching staff ultimately turned the offense to QB Vincent Espinoza on a full-time basis more than halfway through the Johnson C. Smith game (week 5) and the senior leader was able to extract some offense. Not sure why the revolving door at quarterbacks, because it didn't seem to make sense at all. Deion Miller, Solomon Bassett, and Devon Cathcart were the standouts on the Lincoln defense; but overall the defense just didn’t have the ability to keep up with even modestly productive offenses.

Key Stats: Someone at Lincoln must read my blogs. The Lions did not repeat as the team that was dead last in the country in scoring despite being shut out in their first three games. They finished second to last, but that is progress in my book and demonstrated the team’s resiliency. Net Punting was third worst in the country at 24.81 yards. Lincoln also gave up fewer points per game than last year (46 vs 61), and that has to be viewed as relatively positive.

Highlight of the year: The win against ECSU saw Lincoln score 21 points in the first half before going cold. They really laid it on and it was exciting to watch the program take control of everyone’s attention, if only for a day.

Lowlight of the year: Those three shutouts to start the year. I mean, I wasn’t sure whether Lincoln would score more than 21 points in the season, but they did and more than once.

Grade: D-

10, 9, 8 – I couldn’t figure out who should be 10-8 because they kinda beat up each other in round robin play. Livingstone beat JCSU, Saint Augustine’s beat Livingstone, and JCSU beats Saint Augustine’s. Livingstone had a win over Lincoln (that ultimately didn’t count as in-conference) and so did JCSU. Saint Augustine’s beat ECSU. So, they all tie for eighth, or tenth, or however you want to characterize it. Presented in alphabetical order:

Johnson C Smith (2-4, 2-8)

My Preseason Rank: 10

JCSU is always good for a win that you weren’t expecting. Last year was the 1 point win over Shaw. This year, it’s the win over Saint Augustine’s. Never fails. The Golden Bulls no-fly zone was demolished this year, and the running game remained iced. The QB of the future is likely to be Antonio Wallace and he did show that he could make plays when given time. The Golden Bulls are losing a lot on defense (leader Marcel Toran, Zach Cannon, Basir Wright) and lose some experience in RB Jachin Watkins. The permeable offensive line remains concerning going into the offseason. There won’t be a coaching change after this season, as the administration is allowing Kermit Blount to finish out the 5th and last year of his contract next year.

Key Stats: 1.9. That’s all the rush yards per attempt that the Golden Bulls could muster this season. JCSU finished behind ECSU in total offense, or second worst in the conference ahead of Lincoln. The defense mustered a meager 11 sacks this year, while the offensive line surrendered 35 (including nine against playoff participant Wingate).

Highlight of the year: The 50 points scored against Lincoln was the first time the program crossed the 50 point barrier in a game since 2013.

Lowlight of the year: One has to wonder what kind of legacy Kermit Blount is going to have after this season. The Golden Bulls have slowly declined over his four year tenure. This year was a repeat of last year’s 2-8 record. He has only won 11 games at JCSU.

Grade: D-

Livingstone (1-5, 3-6)

My Preseason Rank: 11

Livingstone is another team that avoided the basement. The Blue Bears beat Lincoln, who beat ECSU. That’s how they avoided the dubious rank of 12. The Blue Bears improved on both sides of the ball. The defense gave up the fewest rushing yards of any teams in the conference, though that achievement is diminished a little bit when thinking about how much more pass oriented the CIAA has become. The offense was jolted to life by QB Miles Hayes, a true freshman. His favorite target became WR Anthony Faraimo, who was seventh in the conference in receiving yards per game. Livingstone lost to a NAIA team that had a losing record and beat up on first year NAIA program Allen. The program is going to lose two big WR targets in Everett Ransom and De’Andre Vickers to graduation.

Key Stat: That rushing yards allowed average? It was 115 yards a game. The strength of this team was the defensive line, a group that’s losing Armond Cox to graduation. The line should be bolstered by Davonta Adams' (9 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss) return next year.

Highlight of the year: Livingstone pitched two straight shutouts in Allen and Lincoln.

Lowlight of the year: Homecoming against Saint Augustine’s. The Blue Bears were down by 2, surrendered a safety and gave up a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff return, all within the last 2:30 of the game. Ouch. The Livingstone-SAU game has turned into a mini rivalry in the last three years.

Grade: D-

Saint Augustine’s (2-4, 2-7)

My Preseason Rank: 8

As predicted, Saint Augustine’s fell into a downward spiral. The spiral started when the offense lost starting QB DJ Johnson for several games. That hampered their ability to use star WR Lenwood Joyner. The strength of this team rested on RB Jeremiah Miller, who quietly rushed for the sixth-most yards in the conference. Freshman Joseph Harris provided the Falcons’ defense a star in the making.

Key Stat: Third downs. Saint Augustine’s had no problem with getting its opponents offense off the field. They defense only allowed a 32 percent conversion; however, the offense only converted 29 percent of third downs. Most games involving the falcons where like watching table tennis…back and forth, back and forth.

Highlight: The Falcons established a two game win streak midway through the season….

Lowlight…but then ended the season losing four straight. The most sobering loss was the one against Fayetteville State. The Falcons ended up losing by 3 after coming from a 24-7 deficit. It was the second year in a row that the Falcons lost to the Broncos by single digits.

Grade: D

7: Virginia State (3-3, 4-5)

My Preseason Rank: 4

Don’t be fooled by VSU’s record. The Trojans were 4-3 against D-II opponents. VSU played FCS Norfolk State and Robert Morris to open their title defense. The Cordelral Cook show didn’t really disappoint, as he is still one of the league’s top quarterbacks. He just didn’t have a potent enough supporting cast on offense, particularly in the run game. The defense had a bend but don’t break philosophy….but it wore down as the season rolled on. Kwabe Boateng is poised to be one of the leaders on defense after his freshman campaign saw him become of the conference’s top sack artists. The defense appears to be losing some key folks (Malik Sexton, Patrick Prosser, Dhevyn Anderson)

Key Stat: 33 and 24. That’s how many points the Trojans scored and how much they surrendered, respectively. This was a pretty good team. Just not good enough in the CIAA North that is in the middle of an offensive renaissance. Also, the Trojan running backs are going to have to step up going forward, as their second leading rusher only averaged 40 yards a game. The leading rusher? That would be Cordelral Cook at 83 yards a game.

Highlights: Cordelral Cook is a top 20 quarterback when measured against total offensive production by a quarterback…and he should be coming back next year. VSU demolished Shaw as part of a three game win streak. Shaw is a team who finished close to the top in the southern division. That’s how close this team is returning to the top.

Lowlights: The biggest observation was that VSU lost three games by a touchdown or less. The Robert Morris game was a game that VSU had won until blown coverage gave RMU the lead and its kicking game couldn’t even get off a chip shot. The Trojans also had a five point loss to Bowie State, and a seven point loss to Chowan. The kicking game woes continue.

Grade: C-

6: Winston-Salem State (4-2, 5-4)

My Preseason Rank: 3

WSSU was quite an enigma this year. The Rams were all over the place when it came to assessing their potential. That assessment was pretty evident after they nearly gave away the UNC-Pembroke game (never forget the Kerrion Moore Immaculate “Ram”caption). The offense remained a stick in the mud until they blew out the southern division champion Fayetteville State. The defense remained lights out, though they seemed to become somewhat undisciplined at times. The Rams will lose rushing machine RB Kerrion Moore, OL Justin Martinez, QB Rod Tinsley, and LB Pat Green to exhausted eligibility. Injuries to Tinsley and graduate transfer Emiere Scaife forced the start of third string and true freshman QB Dominique Graves. Graves lead the team to a 4-1 record.

Key Stat: The Rams were second in the country in turnover margin. The leading interception leader in the country resided in the Rams secondary (S Daryus Skinner).

Highlight: Well, the biggest statement of the year was the last game of the year against Fayetteville State. It was the first time since 2016 that the Rams scored more than 50 in a game. The game also allowed the Rams to continue their streak of non-losing D-II seasons. WSSU hasn’t had a losing season in Division II since 2004.

Lowlight: As if the last minute TD strike by Amir Hall didn’t sink the Rams’ playoff hopes enough, Shaw completely shut the door on the Rams. The Rams’ poor offensive showing was persona non grata in that game. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten about the sweep play in their own end zone against Catawba that resulted in a fumble and touchdown. I’m still not sure what happened there.

Grade: C

5: Shaw (4-2, 5-5)

My Preseason Rank 7

The Bears rode a consistent passing game to its best mark since 2013. Senior QB Keon Marsh made us wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been hurt in 2017. Marsh and the dynamic duo of WR Daniel Bender and Marquis Gorham made this team a tough out. The problem is that the coaching staff will have to figure out whether Marsh can get a medical redshirt; if not, they are faced with turning the reins to steady multi-year backup Vidal Woodruff or finding another option. The same effort existed on defense, led by CIAA Defensive Player of the Year Devon Hunt, Jaleel Scroggins, and Kevin Sherman.

Key Stat: About every major stat for Shaw was middle of the road, and that’s what you’d expect from a team that finishes .500. The team did convert 39 percent of its third downs, and that’s with a rushing game that gained a meager 2.9 yards a game on the ground.

Highlight: There is nothing better than being not one, but two heated rivals. Shaw took it to both WSSU and St. Augustine’s in two straight games to close out the season.

Lowlight: The Bears were one game out of the championship game, and that’s because they faltered against Fayetteville State yet again. That has to hurt.

Grade: B-

4: Chowan (4-2, 6-4)

My Preseason Rank 6

Raise your hand if you saw the offensive explosion that Chowan put on this year? Yeah, I didn’t think so. QB Bryce Witt matured in front of our very eyes, and so did the rest of the offense. The offensive line, lead by AFCA All-American Donald Boone protected Witt and gave him all kinds of time to pass the ball. RB Tyrell Freeman was a 1000 yard rusher, and WRs Torry Baker, Paul Gooden, and Imeek Watkins were used in all sorts of ways to get the ball down the field. The Hawks were first in the conference and sixth in the country in total offense.

Key Stat: Notice that none of the above discussion mentions nothing about the defense. That’s because the defense couldn’t stop water from a running faucet. The Hawks surrendered over 419 yards of total offense a game. The cumulative season’s margin of victory was six points, and that’s with the Hawks averaging almost 42 a game. No opponent scored less than 20 points. Granted, there were some injuries on defense, but it was a rough go of it on that side of the ball.

Highlight: Witt finished the season as a Harlon Hill nominated quarterback and third in the country in total offense. Chowan was the only team to beat Bowie State in conference play this year.

Lowlight: The Hawks had an opportunity to get to the Championship game, but the defense just got pounded by Tabyus Taylor and his VUU Panther company. But wait, there’s more! The bottom was really the loss to Fayetteville State in which the margin of victory was produced by a sack in the end zone for safety late in the fourth quarter. Say what you want, but FSU must have a hex on the Hawks.

Grade: B

3: Fayetteville State (5-1, 6-3)

My Preseason Rank 3

The Back to Back Southern Division champions reign supreme. The Broncos dispatched enough challengers to take the crown. FCS Bethune-Cookman transfer QB Collyn Anderson provided a steady hand in leading the offense, while RBs Stevie Green and Donshel Jetton paced the running game. The defense was a much improved unit, led by Citadel transfer DL Keyshawn James and SC State transfer Jalen Cousar. The Broncos needed more talent on defense and they got it. This team doesn’t lose much going into next year, either.

Key Stat: Special teams were bedrock for this team. The Broncos ran for five touchdowns in the return game, and Senior K David Lamb was a consistent weapon in the kick game.

Highlight: The Broncos hadn’t scored over 60 points in a game since 2010. The 2010 and 2018 Broncos beat the same team to do it –Johnson C. Smith.

Lowlight: There could be nothing more bitter than to be dismissed in two straight weeks. The first game was at the hands of WSSU, who ran the Broncos out of their own stadium. The second was against Bowie State at the championship game. It makes you wonder whether FSU is content just winning the division. Also, the streak of not winning against non-HBCU opponents continues with their loss against Wingate . Can I also mention one more thing? Fayetteville State has not won more than six games since 2008. The sober reality has been that it’s the second straight year that a 6-win FSU has won the southern division.

Grade: B-

2: Virginia Union (5-1, 8-2)

My Preseason Rank 2

Virginia Union came onto the season with a revamped coaching staff featuring longtime offensive coordinator Alvin Parker as head coach. The Panthers unleashed RB Tabyus Taylor on all of us and no one expected to see what we saw. Taylor, who was hurt most of last year, had nearly 2000 yards of total offense in 10 games. QB Darius Taylor was above average when comparing to the CIAA group, and distributed the ball to a seasoned WR corps of Olu Izegwire, Jaiden Revis, Lavatiae Kelly, and Jewison Dawkins. The OL was also anchored well, led by Shamdu Nalls. The defense continued its high play, led by high motor Tyrone Glanton, Taj Conway, former CIAA player of the year DB Sterling Hammond, and DB Quantaye Battle. Darius Taylor, Kelly, Nalls, and Glanton have exhausted their eligibility, leaving some holes to fill at key spots.

Key Stats: VUU was fourth in the country in 3rd down conversions. The Panthers converted on one of every two attempts. That’s about as effective as you can get on offense. The Panthers were also fourth in the country in scoring average at 45 points a game. VUU lead the country in one obscure statistic – blocked kicks. The Panthers blocked 14 in 10 games.

Highlights: Well, there were quite a few. The Panthers won their first overtime game since 1996 against Seton Hill to start the season. If you thought last year’s 81 point outburst by Saint Augustine’s was a big deal….well, Virginia Union dumped 90 on Lincoln.

Lowlight: Well, the two losses. Both were close losses, but the one to Bowie State hurt most. It kept VUU out of the championship game, and ultimately the playoffs.

Grade: A-

1: Bowie State (5-1, 10-3)

My Preseason Rank 1

The Bulldogs are finally champions. It took some luck, but they finally get that demon off their backs. You cant mention Bowie State without mentioning the tremendous career of Amir Hall. The senior quarterback shattered the CIAA’s all-time passing and scoring records. The Bulldogs accomplished their wins behind totally revised offensive line. The veteran defense was stellar. The defensive line in particular was difficult for any offensive line to block. The secondary, led by Roger Richardson and Tevin Singleton kept most of the CIAA’s passing games in check.

Key stats: The combination of Derrick Tate, Oluwaleke Ajenifuja, Da’ron Holmes and Joshua Pryor on the offensive line accounted for 27.5 sacks and 63.5 tackles for loss.

Highlight: There were several moments to thing about here. There’s winning a championship and winning the first ever playoff game against West Alabama. Hall is current a Harlon Hill finalist, with the announcement of the winner coming on Friday,
December 14.

Lowlight: Relatively speaking, the Valdosta State game was rough in the second half. The Bulldogs weren’t able to get much going offensively, and the Blazers kept pouring it on. But, the Bulldogs hung in there for one half against the National Championship game participant and actually let 10-0 at one point. That tells me that the CIAA’s best does have the ability to go up against the talent from other conferences. Bowie State simply ran into an issue with lack of depth over a likely fully funded program. Remember, BSU only has 12 scholarships to play with, and it showed up in that game. So, nothing to scoff at here.

Grade: A+

What I hope for next year:

Less FCS games: Next year should be another improving, competitive year, and I’d hope that teams that want to compete for the playoffs limit their FCS games to 1. So, I’ve done some homework for you. If you are a team aiming for the playoffs and are looking for a D2 school, then here is the link for other D2 schools that you could schedule: http://www.d2football.com/scheduleopenings/5/ . Right now, some of the most attractive opponents on the schedule that shouldn’t blow a hole in the travel budget are:

Week 1 in Region: None

Week 1 out of Region: Ferris State, Lake Erie College, Ohio Dominican

Week 2 in Region: West Georgia (probably would have to travel), North Greenville, West Alabama

Week 2 out of Region: Tiffin, Lake Erie College, Ferris State, Ohio Dominican

Week 3 in Region: Albany State, Miles, Carson Newman, West Alabama, Alderson-Broddus (only counts as in region for BSU, LUPA, VSU and VUU)

Week 3 out of Region: Ferris State, Ohio Dominican, Alderson Broddus (for the NC Schools)

As always, it was a pleasure to be your guide through this season. Many people probably thought I hid behind a computer all the time, but I made it to a number of games this years to watch Bowie State, Chowan, Virginia State, Virginia Union, Winston-Salem State, Lincoln and Livingstone. I hope I get the opportunity to see the other schools in person next year.

I have to go study for school now. Until next year.

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Updated 12-09-2018 at 08:58 PM by Kris Ferguson

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