Morgan State senior linebacker Cody Acker expects students on campus to know plenty about the Bears from their play, even before the team takes the field at Hughes Stadium for the first time this season.
"Home or away, football is football, the crowd behind you or not," said Acker, who led the team with 97 tackles last season, at the team's media day Sunday. "The team expectation is a [Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference] championship, you can't look at anything else."
The Bears, who will play Sept. 13 against Bowie State in their home opener, start the season with two road games against Eastern Michigan (Aug. 30) and Holy Cross (Sept. 6). After hosting Bowie State, Morgan State enters a seven-game stretch during which it plays just one game in Baltimore.
The New York Urban League Football Classic against Howard on Sept. 20 is technically a home game for the Bears, but it will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home to the New York Giants and New York Jets.
"We're going to be the road warriors," first-year coach Lee Hull said at media day. "My reaction [when seeing the schedule] was just 'Wow.'
"That's the way MEAC scheduled the games, though, so there was nothing I could do about it."
Morgan State will finish the season with two consecutive home games against conference opponents South Carolina State (Nov. 15) and Delaware State (Nov. 22). By that time, Hull said he expects his team to be competing for a conference title.
"If we're winning, hopefully those last two games we're playing for something, which is a MEAC championship," he said of the Bears, who were picked to finish ninth out of nine MEAC teams eligible for the postseason in a vote of the league's head football coaches and sports information directors.
During the long stretch between home games, Hull said the best way to keep interest on campus for the team is to win.
"We've got to play well on the road," he said. "We'll also do some pep rallies, do community service, so the student body and the administration doesn't forget who we are."
After four consecutive losing seasons, the Bears have implemented new game plans on offense and defense under the new coaching staff. Hull said he expects to use the remainder of the offseason to determine who will carry out the plans on the field.
"All of [the position battles] are wide open, and that's the good thing about being a new coach," he said. "I have no preconceived notions of who can do what. We're not going to name starters until the first game week."
One of the biggest position battles for Morgan State is at running back.
Redshirt sophomore Lamont Brown III is the front-runner after carrying the ball 145 times last season for 708 yards and five touchdowns, but fellow redshirt sophomore Herb Walker Jr. and senior Tracy Martin are also in the mix for touches.
"We've always had a good mix of backs who can run the ball," Brown said. "The four backs that played [last season], we could definitely move the ball. It's always a competition between us."
Six Bears were named to the Preseason All-MEAC teams this season.
Senior offensive lineman Darren Pinnock and redshirt sophomore punter Lawrence Forbes were first-team selections, while Acker, Brown and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Thomas Martin were named to the second team. And junior cornerback DeShaun Summers was named to the third team.
"That's a great accomplishment, of course, and it means something. But it's preseason, I want actual season production," Forbes said of being named to the preseason first team.
With talent on both sides of the ball, Hull said what matters most is having fun on the field, no matter who is getting playing time.
"If they're not having fun, they're not going to go out there and play hard for you," he said.