Jackson State ready to defend East Division title

First and goal - American FootballDAVID BRANDT,AP Sports Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In the unpredictable Southwestern Athletic Conference, Jackson State has been one of the few consistently successful programs.

Eighth-year coach Rick Comegy says he feels “really good about this year’s team” and sees no reason why that consistency would change.

The Tigers, who are coming off an Eastern Division title last season, return eight starters on offense and another seven on defense.

Returning starting quarterback Clayton Moore, who threw for 1,863 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, is battling freshman LaMontiez Ivy for the starting job. Running backs Tommy Gooden and Rakeem Sims are also back after combining to rush for nearly 1,400 yards last season.

Cornerback Qua Cox was named the SWAC’s preseason defensive player of the year after grabbing five interceptions last season.

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Here are five things to watch as the Tigers try to defend their SWAC Eastern Division title:

1. MOORE FROM THE QB: Senior quarterback Clayton Moore took over the starting job midway through last season and guided the Tigers to five straight wins late in the season. He threw 11 touchdown passes and also rushed for 11 touchdowns. He’s fighting talented freshman LaMontiez Ivy for the starting job.

2. COMEGY KEEPS WINNING: Rick Comegy enters his eighth year as Jackson State’s coach and has built a consistent winner. The Tigers are coming off a 2012 Eastern Division title and have had a winning record in six of his previous seven seasons.

3. A TOUGH START: Jackson State travels to face Tulane (which plays in the FBS) for the season opener before a showdown with Alabama State on Sept. 7. The Hornets and Tigers are both expected to contend for the SWAC’s Eastern Division title.

4. COX LEADS DEFENSE: Jackson State’s defense returns seven starters from last season, including senior defensive back Qua Cox. Cox was named the SWAC’s preseason defensive player of the year after leading the league with five interceptions last season.

5. OPTIONS AT RUNNING BACK: Jackson State returns both Tommy Gooden and Rakeem Sims, who combined to rush for nearly 1,400 yards last season.

Predicted finish: Second in the East.