It’s your turn, Alcorn State.
The Braves won their first conference championship in 20 years when they beat Southern 38-24 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game last December.
That outcome denied the Jaguars a second consecutive SWAC championship, which would have been a rare accomplishment. No SWAC champion has repeated since Grambling won the most recent of three consecutive titles in 2002.
The past six SWAC championships have been won by six different programs. Alcorn and Southern were preceded by Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2012), Grambling (2011), Texas Southern (2010) and Prairie View (2009). Grambling won in 2008.
So Alcorn will try to repeat, and the Braves were picked first in the East Division in the conference’s preseason poll.
“This league, I say it every year: There’s a lot of parity,” Braves coach Jay Hopson said. “I don’t just say that. People that know me know I speak what I feel. Two years ago, we were ranked last. I think the preseason rankings, they don’t really mean anything. You take it with a grain of salt. It’s a competitive league.”
Just how competitive?
The parity in the league isn’t demonstrated just by the lack of repeat champions in recent seasons, but also by the dramatic rise and fall of various programs.
Southern managed to return to the championship game last season, but the past three teams before them to try to repeat had a combined record of 7-26 as they pursued a second consecutive title.
“The hardest thing is to be consistent while you’re building a program,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “It’s difficult to compete for a championship year in and year out.”
The past 12 SWAC champions have failed to repeat, and in the past 12 seasons, nine of the 10 members have won at least one championship.
Mississippi Valley State is the only program that hasn’t won a title in the past 12 seasons. In fact, the Delta Devils have never won a SWAC football title.
Grambling’s three-year title run from 2000-02 represents the only repeat championships since the SWAC went to a divisional/championship game format in 1999.
This year’s preseason poll not only has Alcorn repeating as East Division champion, it also has a similar race to last year’s at the top of the West. The poll has Grambling first, just two points ahead of Southern.
Last season, the Jaguars edged the Tigers 52-45 in a showdown for the West Division title in the Bayou Classic. Southern held on when it stopped a quarterback sneak inside the 1-yard line on the game’s final play. That’s how close the race was.
So, perhaps, contrary to recent history, when this season ends, the standings will look a lot like they did at the end of last season.
A Boxtorow preseason coaches poll ranking HBCU teams has six SWAC teams among the 14 that received votes: Alcorn (first), Southern (fifth), Grambling (sixth), Jackson State (11th), Prairie View (13th) and Alabama A&M (14th).
But, of course, preseason polls have no predictive value in this league.
“If they’re not passing out any trophies or any raises,” Odums said, “it doesn’t mean anything.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.