- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

LORMAN, Miss. (AP) - It didn’t take long for coach Jay Hopson to turn Alcorn State around.

In just his second season last fall, Hopson led the Braves to a 9-3 record and a 48-33 victory over rival Jackson State in the season finale, giving the program plenty of momentum heading into 2014.

Hopson inherited a roster in disarray after the firing of Melvin Spears in 2012, but he quickly reloaded. Now he says the team’s depth is “getting much closer to where we want it to be.”

Hopson recently signed a three-year contract extension.

The Braves return one of the league’s best quarterbacks in junior John Gibbs Jr. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder threw for 2,567 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Alcorn State also had four defensive backs named to the All-SWAC preseason teams.

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Here are five things to watch for Alcorn State this season:

HOPSON LEADS THEM: Jay Hopson turned Alcorn State into one of the SWAC’s best teams last fall in just his second season, leading the Braves to a 9-3 record, including a 7-2 mark in the SWAC. He was recently rewarded with a three-year contract extension. Another good season is expected, with experienced starters returning at several spots.

GIBBS UNDER CENTER: John Gibbs Jr. was one of the SWAC’s best quarterbacks last season and the junior should continue to improve. He threw for 2,567 yards, 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions while also running for 455 yards and four touchdowns.

WINNING THE EAST: Alcorn State finished one game away from winning the Eastern Division last season and the expectations are for the Braves right in the mix again. A crucial game will likely be on Oct. 2 against Alabama State in Lorman.

STARS IN THE SECONDARY: Alcorn State’s secondary should be a strength this season, with four players selected to the All-SWAC preseason teams. C.J. Morgan and Devon Francois were both named to the first-team while Quinton Cantue and Anthony Williams Jr. selected for the second. Francois led the team with 90 tackles last season and also had two interceptions.

SAMPSON LEADS THE WAY: The Braves love to run behind left guard Isaac Sampson and it’s no secret why: The 6-foot-5, 367-pound junior is a load to block. He was named to the All-SWAC preseason first team