The SWAC Preseason football poll was released Thursday and it wasn’t much of a surprise the Texas Southern Tigers are picked to finish last in the West Division.
Finishing in the bottom half has become a familiar spot for the Tigers. But head coach Clarence McKinney seems more than ready to prove this season’s prediction wrong.
“No games are won on paper,” said McKinney, whose team plays its first four games on the road and seven of its first eight games away from home. “You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to play that 60 minutes in between those lines and do it on the field.
“I understand why we were picked as low as we are. We’ve just got to go out and show why we shouldn’t be picked that low. It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you finish.”
McKinney, who is entering his third full season at the helm, believes his team is on schedule despite the Tigers’ 4-15 overall, 3-15 SWAC record during his tenure.
“I feel like we are on the pace I expected to be on when I was hired,” McKinney said. “These guys on this team are guys me and my staff have gone out and recruited. We are a developmental program and my staff and I have developed our players. And we have done a good job of that. Now we just need to see the end result.”
McKinney certainly has the pieces in place for a dramatic turnaround after playing a number of young players during last year’s 3-8, 2-6 SWAC (5th place in the West) finish, headlined by rising sophomore quarterback Andrew Body.
While there were certainly some growing pains, Body was impressive as a true freshman last season, so much so that he has been selected to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team. Also making the Preseason All-SWAC Team for the Tigers are offensive lineman Drake Centers as TSU’s lone first-team members, along with second-team members tight end Jyrin Johnson and linebacker Tarik Jones.
“Andrew has a year of experience now, he knows the speed of the game, he knows what’s expected out of him from a coach’s standpoint,” McKinney said. “He has done a good job since January, or soon as our season ended, of moving on and getting guys to buy into what we are trying to do as far as improving things for this upcoming season.”
First-year Prairie View coach Bubba McDowell, meanwhile, isn’t facing the low expectations that McKinney has to overcome. McDowell is taking over a program that was on the rise under Eric Dooley, winning the SWAC West last season and making it to the conference championship game.
Dooley left in the offseason to take over at Southern where the Jaguars are picked to finish first in the West. McDowell’s Panthers are picked third in the division and garnered five first-place votes.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” said McDowell, a former Houston Oilers great. “Coach Dooley has been successful everywhere he has been and for him to come to PV and do what he did is awesome.
“He left me in a good spot with these young men who already know how to win. I have most of the coaching staff from last year coaching with me. As I tell the coaches, we are position to go back to the SWAC Championship. We fell short last year but we don’t need to fall short again with the guys that we have.”
McDowell said sophomore Trazon Conley is the starting quarterback heading into the season. The Panthers are also led by Preseason All-SWAC Second Team members running back Jaden Stewart, offensive lineman Arrington Taylor, defensive lineman Troy James and long snapper Desmond Calloway.
“It’s awesome,” McDowell said. “I’m so thankful and blessed to be in this position to help these young men. This is why I got into the coaching business.”