Like any football fan, Florida A&M coach Ken Riley loves fantastic finishes. He's just disappointed his team didn't produce one last season.
The Rattlers began 1992 with five victories in their first six games, with the only loss to top-ranked Miami. But FAMU finished 7-5 and lost its last three games, including a 35-21 defeat to rival Bethune-Cookman.
While late-season injuries, particularly on defense, were the biggest problem, Riley said there were other reasons the team lost momentum.
"As we won, the pressure increased," Riley said. "You've got to get up every week.
"Then when you start having success with a young football team, some of the players start beginning to (believe) what the media is saying, get the big head, and they forget what it took to get them where they are."
Riley also indicated FAMU's inability to play in the Division I-AA playoffs _ the Rattlers forfeit that chance because they play Bethune-Cookman the same day the playoffs begin _ takes away some of his team's incentive.
"The situation we're in now is unfair to the coaches and players," Riley said, "It's not fair to go 11-0 or have a great record and not be able to move on to compete against the best teams in the country."
A Riley-coached FAMU team never has won more than seven games. To surpass that mark, a young defense will have to mature and either Keith Brown or Plant City's Tracy Weldon will have to solidify the quarterback situation.
Weldon opened last season as the starter but completed only 40.6 percent of his passes. Brown played in six games, but Weldon is considered the starter.
"The good thing about the quarterback position is that everyone is coming back," Riley said. "This year we have people who have been under the gun. Hopefully, that's going to help us be a better football team. You can't beat that on-the-job training."
If Brown or Weldon falters, look for redshirt freshman Ernest Cooper to emerge. Cooper is considered the quarterback of the future.
The rest of the offense looks strong, with receiver Terry Mickens, the 1992 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year, leading a good corps of receivers that includes Pinellas Park's Anthony Bland.
At running back, former Tampa Catholic star Earl Reeves was the Rattlers' second-leading rusher, but Frankie Wilkins, Kwame Vidal and Sha-meil Simpkins will battle him for playing time.
Plant City's Marcus Durant will start at center and lead an offensive line that lost three starters. But a rotation system provided depth for the unit.
"If the quarterback and offensive line holds up, we should be able to pass the ball," Riley said.
Defensively, Riley said the Rattlers probably will change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme because of depth on the defensive line. Defensive end Ervin Collier (10 tackles for loss, six sacks) and nose tackle Marcus Lampkin (9.5 sacks) lead the unit.
Linebacker Bruce Daniels returns to lead that unit after a standout 1992 season. Ken Riley II and Keino Taylor are three-year starters at cornerback, but the Rattlers must replace all-conference safeties William Carroll and Darrell Smith.
Punting was a weak spot that Riley hopes Barry Markey can improve. Markey was one of the state's top-ranked prep punters last year at St. Petersburg High.
Overall, the Rattlers are expected to be good, but not the MEAC's best. Riley said he likes the underdog role.
"We feel we'll be very competitive," he said. "The media picked us to finish third (behind North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State), which is fine with me."
4 _ Tuskegee, 7 p.m.
11 _ at South Carolina State, 1:30 p.m.
18 _ Jackson State, 7 p.m.
25 _ Tennessee State in Atlanta, 2 p.m.
2 _ at Howard, 1 p.m.
9 _ at North Carolina A&T, 1:30 p.m.
23 _ Delaware State, 2 p.m.
30 _ at Morgan State, 1:30 p.m.
6 _ Southern University, 2 p.m.
13 _ at Grambling, 2:30 p.m.
27 _ vs. Bethune-Cookman in Tampa, 1:30 p.m.