BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Coming off a 2-9 record, predictions are the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team won't do much better this season in the Western Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
UAPB was picked fifth out of six teams in the division, with only Texas Southern University picked behind the Golden Lions. Southern University, which recently hired Eric Dooley away from Prairie View A&M University as head coach, received 11 of 22 first-place votes and earned 111 voting points to come away from Thursday's SWAC Media Day as the favorite.
Alcorn State University earned five first-place votes and 110 voting points, followed by Prairie View (82 points, five first-place votes), Grambling State University (77 points, 1 first-place vote), UAPB (42 points) and Texas Southern (40 points).
But any pressure to disprove the naysayers isn't felt within the UAPB locker room.
"Last season, 2-9, what pressure?" UAPB fifth-year quarterback Skyler Perry said. "We're coming in last. We already know what we're walking into. There's really no pressure to explain."
The Golden Lions are going into 2022 with "nothing to lose," fifth-year left tackle Mark Evans II said.
Deion Sanders' defending SWAC champion Jackson State University Tigers received 12 first-place votes and 116 points, followed by NCAA Division I playoff qualifier Florida A&M University (108 points, 7 first-place votes), Alabama A&M University (87 points, 2 first-place votes), Alabama State University (60 points, 1 first-place vote), Bethune-Cookman University (56 points) and Mississippi Valley State University (35 points).
All-SWAC Golden Lions
Left tackle Mark Evans II earned another honor in his well-decorated college career.
The fifth-year senior from Houston was named preseason first-team All-SWAC offensive lineman, an honor very fitting for a three-time postseason All-SWAC and BOXTOROW HBCU All-American athlete. Evans has started every season of his career.
UAPB linebacker Monroe Beard III, a second-team All-SWAC performer last fall, also received a preseason first-team All-SWAC nod. Beard ranked 10th in the conference in tackles (78), sixth in solo tackles (44) and ninth in sacks (5).
Two UAPB players made preseason first team as specialists: punter Josh Sanchez and long snapper Thomas Reny. Sanchez, also a BOXTOROW All-American, averaged 40.2 yards per punt (sixth-best in the conference) and booted eight punts going 50 or more yards.
Thomas, a two-year letterman, is a punt and extra-point long snapper. He went the whole 2021 season without botching a snap.
True sophomore Athen Smith was placed on the preseason second team. Smith started 9 of 11 games as a freshman and had 3.5 sacks for a loss of 20 yards.
Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders was named preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and Isaiah Land of Florida A&M was tabbed preseason Defensive Player of the Year.