Norfolk State — yep, Norfolk State — is sitting in the MEAC driver’s seat

Raise your hand if you thought, going into the 2011 campaign, that this week’s Norfolk State-Hampton game — known as the Battle of the Bay to locals — could set up as a season-changing event in the MEAC.

OK, everyone who works for either of those institutions, put your hands down, as well.

Yep, that’s what I thought. Nobody. No hands.

Still, here we are: Norfolk State, picked to finish fifth in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after going 6-5 a year ago, has nevertheless charged out to a 5-1 mark — and first place in the league at 3-0 — after Saturday’s 38-21 win at Delaware State. That one loss? At FBS opponent West Virginia, a perhaps-expected 55-12 drubbing back on Sept. 10.

The Spartans come into this contest riding the hot hand of senior quarterback Chris Walley, the conference’s reigning co-offensive player of the week after passing for a career-high 327 yards against Delaware State. He’s tops in the MEAC with nearly 1,400 passing yards already, and tops in the nation with a 75 percent completion percentage. There’s been a trickle down effect too, with Norfolk State’s Xavier Boyce leading the MEAC in receiving yards and catches. Then, as teams have focused on trying to stop Walley and Co., that’s tended to open up space for Takeem Hedgeman, who is now second in the league in rushing yards per game.

South Carolina State, remember, was picked to win a fourth straight conference title in preseason polling. That was before Norfolk State beat the Bulldogs, then ranked No. 22 in black college football, 17-14 back on on Oct. 1. Result: Coach Pete Adrian and Norfolk find themselves in the MEAC driver’s seat, with four games remaining — Hampton this week, a reeling Bethune-Cookman at home on Oct. 20, then Savannah State on Nov. 5 and Morgan State on Nov. 12.

“If they beat South Carolina State, Hampton and Bethune,” South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough (3-3; 3-1) told The (Orangeburg, S.C.) Times and Democrat, “then let me tell you something: They deserve to be conference champions. I’ll pat them on the back and say ‘Go get them’ and we’ll try again next time.”

First up for Norfolk State, though, is perhaps the toughest matchup left: A difficult and emotional regional rivalry game against Hampton (3-2, 1-1 MEAC). The Pirates counter with fellow senior David Legree, who just passed for more than 300 yards in a game for the first time in his career with the Pirates, helping his team to a 28-23 win over Princeton on Saturday.

Look just below Walley on the conference stats list. Yep, that’s Legree in second with 1,154 total passing yards so far in 2011. He’s complete 64 percent of his attempts. Walley has eight touchdowns, Legreee has seven. Legree is averaging 280 yards of total offense per game, Walley is average 266.

A season-changing MEAC game between Norfolk State and Hampton? Yep.

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Complete black college football polls: Is Jackson State getting overlooked?

Is Jackson State, undefeated but ineligible for the postseason in the wake of low APR scores, getting overlooked in the polls?

South Carolina State, coming off an impressive effort against an FBS foe but boasting just one win on the year, remains atop the Sheridan Broadcasting Network and Heritage Sports Radio Network’s black college football polls. The Bulldogs are also the only HBCU ranked in the Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25.

Meanwhile, Jackson State belatedly moved into the top spot in the Urban Sports News and Dr. Cavil’s polls, after its come-from behind 28-24 victory over rival Southern in SWAC play. The Tigers are now at No. 27 in the nation, according to the Sports Network.

“I think Jackson State has been given short shrift in other polls due to their post-season ban,” said John Posey, CEO of Urban Sports News. “They have ‘The Payton Manning of the SWAC,’ outstanding receivers, and a stout defense. They are undefeated which is why we have elevated them to number one. South Carolina State has two, ugly losses and Bethune lost to SC State.”

Here’s a complete look at black college football polling for Week 3 …

SHERIDAN BROADCASTING NETWORK BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL POLL
Team, (first-place votes), record, points, previous rank
1. South Carolina State (19) 1-2, 253, 1
2. Bethune-Cookman (7) 1-1, 224, 3
3. Jackson State (4) 3-0, 186, 5
4. Albany State 2-1, 145, 2
5. Alabama State 2-1, 137, 10
6. Winston-Salem State 3-0, 114, 8
7. Grambling 1-2, 85, 4
8. Hampton 2-1, 58, 6
9. Florida A&M 1-2, 42, 7
10. Norfolk State 2-1, 37, NR
Others receiving votes: Texas Southern 30, Delaware State 23, Morehouse 21, Bowie State 17, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 14.

HERITAGE SPORTS RADIO NETWORK BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL POLL
Team, (first-place votes), record, points, previous, rank
1. South Carolina State (9) 1-2, 190, 1
2. Jackson State (10), 3-0, 186, 3
3. Bethune-Cookman (2), 1-1, 185, 2
4. Hampton 2-1, 132, 4
5. Alabama State 2-1, 129, 7
6. Norfolk State, 2-1, 91, 10
7. Grambling State 1-2, 70, 5
8. Florida A&M 1-2, 67, 6
9. Delaware State 2-1, 41, 8
10. Texas Southern 1-1, 38, NR
Others receiving votes: Tennessee State 16, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 3, Alcorn State 2, North Carolina Central 1.

THE SPORTS NETWORK/FATHEAD.COM FCS TOP 25
Team, (first-place votes), record, points, previous rank
25. South Carolina State (1-2), 336, 25
Others receiving votes: Liberty 332, Jackson State 260, Central Arkansas 249, Old Dominion 240, Youngstown State 228, Towson 184, Maine 105, Indiana State 102, Sacramento State 101, Holy Cross 82, Weber State 52, Bethune-Cookman 50, Tennessee Tech 41, Alabama State 41, Eastern Kentucky 37, Yale 37, Hampton 37, Elon 31, South Dakota State 27, North Dakota 26, Portland State 26, Cal Poly 23, Brown 20, Rhode Island 19, Western Illinois 18, UC Davis 13, Central Connecticut Stae 13, Stony Brook 11, Penn 10, Villanova 9, Dartmouth 8, Idaho State 7, Campbell 7, Delaware State 6, UT Martin 6, Lafayette 4, Monmouth 3, Southeastern Louisiana 2, Jacksonville 2, Dayton 1, San Diego 1, North Carolina Central 1.

DR. CAVIL’S BLACK COLLEGE MAJOR DIVISION FOOTBALL TOP 10
Name, (record), first-place votes, total points, previous week, last and next opponent
1. Jackson State (3-0) (6), 106, 2 (Beat Southern 28-24, vs. Alabama State)
2. Alabama State (2-1) (3), 97 6 (Beat Grambling 31-17, at Jackson State)
3. South Carolina State (1-2) (3), 94 1 (Lost to Indiana/FBS 38-21, vs. Delaware State)
4. Hampton (2-1) 86, 3 (Lost to Old Dominion 45-42, at Bethune-Cookman)
5. Bethune-Cookman (1-1) 62, 4 (Did not play, vs. Hampton)
6. Norfolk State (2-1) 54, 9 (Beat Howard 23-9, vs. Charleston Southern)
7. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-1) 41, NR (Beat Prairie View A&M 36-29, vs. Clark Atlanta/DII)
8. Texas Southern (1-1) 28, NR (Beat Texas College 49-6, vs. Alcorn State)
9. Grambling (1-2) 17, 5 (Lost to Alabama State 31-1, vs. Alabama A&M)
10. Delaware State (2-1) 9, 10 (Lost to Delaware 45-0, at South Carolina State)
Dropped out: Florida A&M (1-2), Tennessee State (1-2)
Other receiving votes: Southern (1-2) 8, Prairie View A&M (1-2) 4, Florida A&M (1-2) 4, Tennessee State (1-2) 3, North Carolina Central (1-2) 1

URBAN SPORTS NEWS BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL POLL
Rank, team, record, USN comment
1. Jackson State, 3-0: Won tough “Battle on the Bluff” 28-24 over scrappy Southern team. Next up: Host Alabama State in SWAC East showdown.
2. South Carolina, 1-2: Lost to Indiana 38-21. Next up: Host upstart Delaware State.
3. Bethune-Cookman, 1-1: Off last week. Next up: MEAC showdown with Hampton.
4. Alabama State, 2-1: Spanked Grambling 31-17. First home win against Tigers since 1997. Next up: Visit Jackson State in battle for the East lead.
5. Hampton, 2-1: Lost 45-42 to Old Dominion. Contender or pretender? Next up: Visit Bethune in Daytona.
6. Albany State, 2-1: Lost 30-27 to Valdosta State. Next up: Visit Miles.
7. Texas Southern, 1-1: Crushed Texas College 49-6. Should be undefeated. Next up: Host Alcorn.
8. Winston-Salem State, 3-0: Trounced Chowan 55-24. Next up: Host Fayetteville State.
9. Morehouse, 2-1: Blasted Edward Waters 49-15. Next up: Visit Lane.
10. Bowie State, 3-0: Dismantled Livingstone 41-14. Next up: Travel to Virginia Union.
Dropped out: FAMU, Langston, Tennessee State
Moving up: Norfolk State, UAPB.
Others receiving consideration: Delaware State, FAMU, Grambling, Langston, Prairie View.

FCS NOW POLL, WEEK 3
Rank, team, (first-place votes)
12. South Carolina State
Others receiving votes: Liberty; Cal Poly; Eastern Kentucky; Indiana State; Bethune-Cookman; Old Dominion; Maine; Massachusetts; Youngstown State; Weber State; Alabama State; Jackson State; Hampton; South Dakota State; Central Arkansas; Sacramento State.

ANYGIVENSATURDAY.COM FCS POLL
Rank, team, total votes, first-place votes
23. South Carolina State 366, 0
Others recieving votes: 38. Jackson State 43, 0; 39. Delaware State 40, 0. 40. Bethune-Cookman 37, 0.

It’s been a wild ride, but Delaware State is going places under Kermit Blount

First-year head coach Kermit Blount is already turning heads, and setting records. First, Delaware State offed Big South Conference foe VMI 24-21, then bested lower-division Shaw — though that game was perhaps closer than it should have been.

Blount has now became the first Delaware State head coach to win his opening game since 1997, when John McKenzie’s squad topped Cheyney 50-18. Blount also ended a two-game losing streak for Delaware State in season openers, and halted VMI’s six-game win streak in opening dates. The Shaw victory, meanwhile, was the Hornets’ first night-game win at home since besting Florida A&M in 2008, a streak of four tries.

Delaware State — which only one three games last year, and just two in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play — is 2-0 for the first time since 2007.

Both games so far in 2011 have been thrillers, but the Hornets found a way to win. That’s a credit to Blount who, prior to arriving at Delaware State, spent 17 seasons at Winston-Salem State — where he won more games than any other coach at the school with a 91-87-3 record.

In the opener against the Virginia Military Institute, Nick Elko threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns, while preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year Justin Wilson had two scoring catches to lead Delaware State’s 346-yard offensive outburst. But it wasn’t over until Blount’s defense, which forced three turnovers, secured the win with a key fourth-down stop on VMI’s final fourth-quarter possession.

A week later, the Hornets faced a scrappy Shaw program that has captured three of the last four Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships. It took a game-winning Delaware State touchdown after a fumble in the last minute of the game to finish off Shaw, 31-27. Delaware State’s furious comeback included outscoring Shaw 22-3 over the final 15 minutes, capped by Elko’s 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darius Jackson with just 35 seconds left.

Jackson got a chance to step up when Wilson was sidelined with a high ankle sprain, making 11 catches for 127 yards. But he had to overcome other obstacles, too: He sat in Week 1 at VMI, after Blount suspended Jackson for violating unspecified team rules. Elko, meanwhile, went 25-of-46 passes for 238 yards, but also had three picks — two of which led to touchdowns by Shaw, a winless Division II team.

To repeat the old football cliche, though, it doesn’t get any easier: Delaware State now must ready itself for a Route 1 rivalry game against the University of Delaware. The 1-1 Blue Hens marched all the way to the NCAA’s FCS Championship Game last January, before falling in an excruciating 20-19 loss to Eastern Washington.

Wilson, Jones are bright spots for a rebuilding Delaware State program

Kermit Blount didn’t exactly walk into an ideal situation at Delaware State. The team is mired in a series of three straight losing seasons, and has been picked to finish eighth out of 11 programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason poll.

But there were moments of glinting promise at Delaware State (3-8 last season, 2-6 in the MEAC) for Blount, who compiled a record of 91-87-3 over 16 seasons at Winston-Salem State — starting with Justin Wilson, the league’s preseason offensive player of the year.

The junior wideout is coming off a brilliant campaign that saw him lead the MEAC in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches — the first time that’s happened in conference history during the same year. Wilson averaged 85.2 yards per game with 15.9 yards per catch, finishing at No. 16 among all FCS players for receiving yards and notching the third-best mark in team history for yards in a season.

Senior running back Jaashawn Jones, also a MEAC preseason first-teamer, rushed for 724 yards and a quartet of scores in 2010. Junior tight end Ryan Langdon also found a home on the league’s second team. Lineman Darrell Brown and linebacker Brandon Harvey, both seniors, are expected to anchor the defense.

“I’m just trying to aim the program in the right direction and get it back on track,” Blount told The (Delaware) News Journal. “And I don’t think we’re too far off of being on track. … Just put the discipline back to where it has to be and make it a program the kids want to be attracted to.”

Blount is one of five new coaches in the MEAC, including North Carolina A&T’s Rod Broadway, Howard’s Gary Harrell, Savannah State’s Steve Davenport and North Carolina Central’s Henry Frazier. Delaware State begins the new season on Sept. 3 at Virginia Military Institute.

Jenkins’ fast start at Bethune-Cookman points the way for MEAC’s five new faces

It will be a season of change in the MEAC, as nearly half of the 11 programs have new coaches. The conference even welcomes two new member institutions, in Savannah State and North Carolina Central.

“I think it adds some excitement to the league, it brings some energy to the league, because everybody is up in arms and want to see what those guys are going to do,” Bethune-Cookman head coach Brian Jenkins told The Sports Network. “Then, of course, and unfortunately, people are going to compare what they do to what we do.”

Sure. But more on that in a moment.

Steve Davenport took over at Savannah State from Alabama-Birmingham, where he had served as running backs coach since 2006. Howard hired Gary Harrell, who’d been Bowie State’s head coach since 2009. Winston-Salem lost Kermit Blount to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Delaware State. Two other coaches jumped ship from the Southwestern Athletic Conference: Henry Frazier, who claimed the 2009 Eddie Robinson FCS coach of the year award at Prairie View A&M, is now at North Carolina Central. Former Grambling coach Rod Broadway, who also had a stint at Central prior to working the SWAC from 2007-10, switched to North Carolina A&T.

Each is hoping for the kind of success that shot Jenkins, in his initial season at Bethune, toward national headlines in 2010: The Wildcats dashed out to a co-championship in the MEAC (sharing the title with Florida A&M and South Carolina State), earning a berth in the FCS playoffs along the way. Bethune hadn’t claimed a league crown since 2002.

Jenkins and Co. were then picked second in pre-season MEAC polling, behind South Carolina State — which has won or shared the last several MEAC football titles — but they actually earned more first-place votes than did SC State.

Not bad for a first-year guy, right? You can bet there are five other rookie coaches studying the Bethune blueprint right now.

Bethune-Cookman holds onto top spot national baseball poll, but Southern is climbing

MEAC power Bethune-Cookman, 14-13 coming into this week, held onto the top spot in BlackCollegeBaseball.com polling, but saw Southern (14-8) of the SWAC leapfrog from third to second.

Grambling (9-12), another Southwestern Athletic Conference program, shot from sixth all the way to No. 3. Jackson State and Prairie View A&M, also from the SWAC, round out the weekly Division I poll‘s Top 5.

Savannah State and fellow Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference program Norfolk State are at Nos. 6 and 7, respectively. Savannah is a MEAC provisional school. The SWAC’s Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn are are 8 and 9. The BlackCollegeBaseball.com poll is rounded out by No. 10 Delaware State of the MEAC.

Here are the 2011 Black College Baseball D-I poll voters: Ruffin Bell, BlackCollegeBaseball.com; George Bradley, Maryland Eastern Shore; Bo Carter, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association; Kenyatta Cavil, The Heritage Group; Chuck Curti, Blackcollegebaseball.com; Mike Gustafson, College Baseball Foundation; Carlton Hardy, Savannah State; Michael Stambaugh, Bethune Cookman; Paul Kislanko, SEBaseball.com; Kevin Manns, Southern; Tony McClean, Black Athlete Sports Network; Ryan McGinty, Prairie View; Matt Michalec, Norfolk State; Jeremy Mills, D1baseball.com; Boyd Nation, Boydsworld.com; Warren Nolan, WarrenNolan.com; Ruben Perez, SIAC; Barrett Rey, Alcorn State; Marqus Johnson, Texas Southern; Kendall Rogers, PerfectGame; Rick Rollins; Sean Ryan, Collegebaseballinsider.com; Chris Hooks, North Carolina Central; Eric Sorenson, College Baseball Today/ ESPN; Phil Stanton, College Baseball Insider; Donal Ware, From the Press Box to the Press Row; and Chris Webb, Buckeye State Baseball.

Complete MEAC men’s basketball tournament bracket

Here’s the schedule for the men’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament, beginning today and continuing through Saturday at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The winner will earn the MEAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA tounament.

MEN’S TOURNAMENT

Today’s games, all times Eastern
No. 7 Florida A&M vs. No. 10 Maryland-Eastern Shore, 6:30
No. 8 Delaware State vs. No. 9 South Carolina State, 9

Wednesday’s games
No. 6 Norfolk State vs. No. 11 Howard, 3
No. 1 Bethune-Cookman vs. Delaware State-S.C. State winner, 7
No. 2 Hampton vs. Florida A&M—Maryland-Eastern Shore winner, 9:30

Thursday’s games
No. 3 Coppin State vs. Norfolk State-Howard winner, 6
No. 4 Morgan State vs. No. 5 North Carolina A&T, 8

Friday’s semifinals
Quarterfinals winners, 6 and 8

Saturday’s championship
Semifinal winners, 2 (ESPN2)