Doug Williams wasn’t upset when voters made Grambling the preseason favorite in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
He might have been a little surprised.
“When they voted, they forgot that we had freshmen quarterbacks,” Williams said.
This weekend, Grambling faces Prairie View in Dallas - and the Tigers can hardly afford to leave the Cotton Bowl with another defeat.
They’ve already dropped back-to-back conference games against Alabama State and Alabama A&M, and another loss might blow them completely out of the Western Division race.
Then again, maybe not.
Prairie View coach Heishma Northern said he suspects that this season, a three-loss team might prevail in the West, which, in recent years, enjoyed a fairly wide competitive advantage over the Eastern Division.
What’s going on? Well, take a look at the West quarterbacks - all of whom are young, inexperienced or both.
The elder statesman of the group is Texas Southern junior Riko Smalls - a first-time starter who has stepped in for an injured Dantavious Parker. In last week’s 14-7 win over Alcorn State, Smalls threw for 160 yards.
Grambling has two freshmen, D.J. Williams and Frank Rivers.
Southern has sophomore Dray Joseph and freshman J.P. Douglas.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff has a redshirt freshman, Ben Anderson.
Prairie View has a freshman, Jerry Lovelocke.
In other words, these guys are not exactly headed for shuffleboard games and AARP meetings.
The teams have no choice but to go with their young quarterbacks, who, in some cases, resemble fighter pilots in training:
They’re fun to watch, but a little wild sometimes.
And you never know what might happen.
“A freshman quarterback is like a pretty woman,” Northern said. “They’re going to have you pulling your hair out sometimes, and hugging them and loving them to death sometimes.”
Last week, Northern was prone to do more of the latter with Lovelocke, who completed 19 of 23 passes in a 43-34 shootout win against Mississippi Valley State.
Still, asked to give his freshman quarterback a grade so far, Northern responded: “I’d probably give him about a C-plus, somewhere like that. He has forced the ball some.”
Elsewhere, Grambling’s D.J. Williams had a nice start in his college debut, throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 21-14 win against Alcorn State.
Since then, Grambling quarterbacks have been a little more pedestrian, completing 43 percent of their throws.
“Freshmen do play, and they grow up,” Doug Williams said. “You never know how soon they’re going to grow up.”
So far, in a young West race with young passers, Anderson and Arkansas-Pine Bluff have been the big winners.
Making his first college start in the season opener, Anderson threw three interceptions, and UAPB lost to Langston 19-12.
Since then, however, Anderson has thrown three touchdowns against two interceptions - and though the Lions failed to blow away Clark Atlanta last week, Anderson threw for 257 yards in a 9-7 win.
“Overall, he’s doing a good job for us,” Coleman said.
One other thing: UAPB currently sits atop the Western Division, unbeaten in conference play.