Howard, coming off its best season since 1975, again possesses the best passing concept in the run-oriented Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, even if the starting quarterback has graduated. But inexperience in the offensive line and the kicking game may hurt the Bison.
Junior Tracy Singleton and senior Robert Artisst are receivers who enable Howard to score points quickly, and sometimes in abundance. The Bison will need a solid passing attack because last year's leading ground gainer, Greg Banes, may not be academically eligible.
Singleton led the conference last season with 49 catches for 1,013 yards and five touchdowns, while becoming Howard's all-time leading pass receiver. He has added seven pounds and is much stronger and faster than a year ago.
Opposing teams cannot afford to double- or triple-team Singleton because of Artisst (17.5 yards per reception last season). With Charles Lawrence as a third receiver, Bison Coach Hoyd-Keith will use a number of passing formations this season, including the shotgun.
"We feel our receivers are the best in the conference," said Singleton.
The Bison led the conference last season in passing offense (199 yards per game) and will miss quarterback Ron Wilson, MEAC offensive player of the year.
But Keith, entering his third year, says senior Ray Gray's forte is passing. "Ron was a great quarterback," said Singleton, from McKinley Tech, "but Ray is more of a passer."
Brian Sloanne, all-Interhigh freshman quarterback from McKinley, decided to attend Howard at the last minute after Villanova cancelled its football program this spring. He will likely be the No. 2 quarterback.
What could offset the potentially strong passing game is the inexperience in the offensive loine, where only two lettermen return: senior guard John Bilberry and junior tackle Steve Alsbrooks. Bilberry was hobbled the first week of practice by an infected foot, but Keith said he should be ready for the season opener against Cheney State on Sept. 12 at Howard Stadium. Alsbrooks may not be academically eligible.
Banes, even though he gained 699 yards in 1980 -- fourth in the conference -- is another worry for Keith. But Bufus Outlaw, Jeff Owens and Anthony Evans are capable of emerging as good backs.
Keith's biggest problem will be finding a place-kicker and punter to replace Howard Ward, who did both last season. Keith admits he is worried about his kicking game and said he may go with freshman Perky Warner, and all-Met running back at Friendly High School last year.
The defense, led by an almost impenetrable secondary, should be solid. The Bison allowed only 93 yards by pass per game last season, best in the MEAC. Doug Jones, Chris Jackson, Jimmy Diggs and Alan Biggs make up the conference's best defensive backfield. But the defensive line must improve against the run.