The biggest question for Howard is whether it can develop a consistent running game, and not just because record-setting quarterback Ted White is gone.
Even with White, the Bison's inability to control the ball last season made it difficult for them to stay with the conference's top teams. They averaged 36 points against Hampton and Florida A&M, but lost to both. For the season, Howard passed for 3,300 yards and rushed for 1,646. In addition, even though the Bison won seven games, they possessed the ball for less time than its opponents.
This season, although new quarterback Bobby Townsend and a cast of big, young wide receivers look promising, Coach Steve Wilson wants to feature his more experienced players -- junior running backs David Johnson (467 yards rushing last season), Jermaine Hutchinson (361) and the offensive linemen.
"We feel that we're going to like Hutchinson and Johnson," Wilson said, "and we want to give them a chance to do what they do best."
They should get plenty of help from a starting offensive line that has four returnees, including three seniors, and averages 6 feet 4 and 312 pounds per man. Tackle Levar Young and guard Mpumi Masimini should be the best of the group, and since both play on the left side, look for a lot of action on that side of the field.
The defensive line has more questions, since tackle Doug Miller is the only experienced player returning, but the Bison have a number of young players who should contribute. The linebackers look good, with Rhoan Hill back in the middle after missing last year with injuries. But a sophomore-dominated secondary will rely on senior all-MEAC cornerback Omar Evans for leadership, and it will be tested often.
The special teams gave up four touchdowns on returns last season and must improve. Jason Walker showed flashes as a punter and place kicker last year, but injuries often sidelined him. In an attempt to avoid a recurrence, Wilson said the Bison will use Walker only as a punter while relying on Charles Card as the place kicker.
Howard will get no help from its schedule. Although Townsend and the defense might have liked the opportunity to build some early confidence against less-challenging opponents, many of what promise to be their toughest games will come before mid-October. Three of Howard's first five opponents were ranked among the Division I-AA preseason top 20, with No. 18 Jackson State and No. 9 Hampton the first two opponents. In addition, its first three MEAC opponents -- Hampton, Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M -- have been picked to finish as the conference's top three.
Players to Watch.
WR Elijah Thurmon (55 receptions for 886 yards, 9 TDs)
QB Bobby Townsend (first year as starter)
RB Jermaine Hutchinson (361 yards rushing)
RB David Johnson
G Mpumi Masimini
T Levar Young
CB Omar Evans (first-team all-MEAC)
LB Chris Boston (59 tackles)
Top Players Lost.
QB Ted White (220 of 388 for 3,296 yds., 31 TDs, 7 INTs)
WR Cedric Redden (9 TDs)
C Fred Ray, CB Chris Rogers, DL Marques Douglas (first-team all-MEAC)
Sept. 4 at Jackson State, 7:30 p.m., no TV
Jackson State was sixth in Division I-AA in total offense (471.3 yards per game) last season, but defense gave up 29.6 points per game.
Sept. 11 vs. Hampton at RFK Stadium, 4 p.m., no TV
Hampton is looking for third straight MEAC title. RB Montrell Coley averaged 94 yards per game last season.
Sept. 18 vs. Bethune-Cookman in Cincinnati, 2:30 p.m., no TV
B-CC QB Pa'tell Troutman rushed for 1,054 yards and 15 TDs as freshman last season.
Sept. 25 Texas Southern, 1 p.m., no TV
Five players to battle for QB job. Highly touted WR Walter Hays is academically ineligible.
Oct. 9 Florida A&M, Noon, HTS
WR Jacquay Nunnally made 93 catches last season, but FAMU's QB situation is unresolved. JaJuan Seider, who transferred from West Virginia, might start.
Oct. 16 Towson, 1 p.m., no TV
Towson has only two conference wins in two years in Patriot League. Gave up 30.5 points per game last season.
Oct. 23 at N.C. A&T, 12:30 p.m., no TV
Led by LB Ray Massey and S Darryl Klugh, the A&T defense should be MEAC's best.
Oct. 30 at Norfolk State, 1:30 p.m., no TV
Norfolk State RB Angelo Todd led MEAC in rushing last season (1,363 yards, 19 TDs).
Nov. 6 South Carolina St., Noon, HTS
Loss of three starters in the secondary will hurt South Carolina State, especially against pass-happy MEAC teams.
Nov. 13 Morgan State, 1 p.m., no TV
New Morgan State coach Stanley Mitchell will have tough job improving on 1-10 season.
Nov. 20 at Delaware State, Noon, no TV
Delaware State defense gave up 43.8 points per game last season. Nine starters return on offense.
COACH: Steve Wilson, 11th season with Howard, 68-44.
WEB SITE: www.howard.edu
GETTING TO THE GAMES: From Georgia Avenue, NW, turn on Fairmont Street, which leads to the stadium, located at 6th and Fairmont streets, NW. Howard does not have a stadium parking lot, so be prepared to find a space on the surrounding streets.