Deaunte Mason returns to lead the offense after being named Second Team All-SWAC in 2011. The senior threw for 1,996 yards and 11 touchdowns on 160-325 passes while throwing seven interceptions. He also finished second on the team in rushing yards (512) and scores (three) on 124 carries.
Deanunte Mason is shown in action as a junior.
Although Mason loses wide receiver Terrance Pride, one of his top receivers from last year, he has Montarious Smith and G'Alonzo Milton back. Though only a freshman last season, Smith led the team in receptions (49) and yards (669), but did not record a touchdown. Milton returns as a senior after leading the 2011 team with eight touchdown receptions on 29 catches for 380 yards.
This season's Bulldog offense, which is loaded with experience, will have the 2011 team-leading rusher, Kaderius Lacey, returning to the backfield. The senior will have all five starting linemen returning to open running paths this year after he rushed 285 times for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The Bulldogs' defense be without linebackers Willie Fuller, who led the 2011 team in tackles (78), and Corey Hart, who led last year's team in tackles for a loss (32) and sacks (17). Both were key contributors to a defense that allowed only 18.5 points per game last year.
Alabama A&M will still enter the new season with four starting linemen returning, led by Phillip Harvey. The sophomore played in 10 games last year, recording 25 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, six sacks and he recovered four fumbles.
The linebacker corps will rebuild around returning starter Vernon Marshall. The senior finished last season with 75 tackles, second best on the team, 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks and is expected to be a key factor to the team's success this season.
Coach Anthony Jones' team should feel confident heading into the season with 15 starters back. If Alabama A&M plays football to the level expected, its success from 2011 should carry over to 2012 and the Bulldogs will find themselves back in the SWAC Championship Game attempting to win their first conference title since 2009.
Key Players to Replace: Linebacker Willie Fuller made a team-leading 78 tackles in 2011 adding 13 tackles for a loss, five sacks and three recovered fumbles. Linebacker Corey Hart finished last season with a team-leading 32 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks while also recording 57 tackles and recovering three fumbles. Cornerback Rico Porch led the team in interceptions (4) a year ago while making 48 tackles and recovering three fumbles.
All-Star Candidates: Quarterback Deaunte Mason (160-325 passes, 1,996 yards, 11 TDs; 124 rushes, 512 yards, 3 TDs); running back Kaderius Lacey (285 carries, 1,143 yards, 8 TDs); wide receiver Montarius Smith (49 receptions, 669 yards); wide receiver G'Alonzo Milton (29 receptions, 380 yards, 8 TDs); linebacker Vernon Marshall (75 tackles, 11 TFL, 3 sacks); defensive end Phillip Harvey (25 tackles, 11 TFL, 6 sacks)
Series Results: First meeting
Sept. 1--Tuskegee vs. Alabama A&M (Birmingham)
Sept. 8-- Alabama A&M at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Sept. 15--Prairie View at Alabama A&M
Sept. 22-- Alabama A&M at Texas Southern
Sept. 29--Grambling State at Alabama A&M
Oct. 6-- Alabama A&M at Mississippi Valley State
Oct. 13--Alcorn State at Alabama A&M
Oct. 27--Alabama State vs. Alabama A&M (Birmingham)
Nov. 3--Southern at Alabama A&M
Nov. 10--Alabama A&M at Jackson State
Nov. 17--Alabama A&M at Auburn
Key Games for Alabama A&M
Tuskegee vs. Alabama A&M--This in-state rivalry was originally scheduled to be played in Mobile before the Golden Tigers decided to make this year's contest take place in Birmingham in hopes of attracting a larger crowd. Alabama A&M's 21-6 victory over Tuskegee in 2011 drew the Bulldogs' second largest home crowd ever (18,629). Alabama A&M's coach holds a 9-6 record at Legion Field with his most recent victory at the venue coming in last year's win over Alabama State in the Magic City Classic.
Grambling State at Alabama A&M--The Bulldogs will be looking for revenge after the Grambling State defeated them 16-15 in the SWAC Championship Game a year ago. Alabama A&M welcomes the Tigers to Louis Crews Stadium after winning the first meeting of this rivalry game 20-14 on the road in 2011.
Alabama State vs. Alabama A&M--This in-state rivalry returns to Legion Field for its annual meeting. After Alabama A&M beat the Hornets 20-19 in 2011, Alabama State will likely be looking to ruin the Bulldogs chances of returning to the SWAC Championship Game.
Worth Noting: Auburn has never played a team from the SWAC in football.
The Challenge For Auburn: The Tigers' first meeting against Alabama A&M comes between games against Georgia and Alabama. Facing the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) Bulldogs should provide Auburn's players the rest they will need between two physical conference matchups.