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HBCU GameTime: The one to watch — Bethune-Cookman vs. Alabama State

Howard University QB Greg McGhee in action. / Photo: Courtesy of Howard University Sports Info

HBCU GameTime w/ Donal Ware

The HBCU sports season is officially on, and as host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all the action on the games that showcase our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCU GameTime will provide a weekly rundown on what’s happening on the field, and occasionally other sports-related topics. Let’s play!

The HBCU and college football seasons began simultaneously last Saturday. Edward Waters defeated Point University 66-34, while the woes continue for Texas College — which went winless last year (and in 2009) and won just one in 2010 — as it fell 46-10 at home to Saint Francis.

Boxtorow National Game of the Week: Bethune-Cookman (0-0) vs. Alabama State (0-0)

This is the 8th MEAC/SWAC Challenge and this game could be the best match-up since South Carolina State/Grambling in 2009. The talent level on both teams is some of the best in HBCU football.

Offensively Alabama State returns second team, preseason All-SWAC quarterback Greg Jenkins who was solid last year, completing close to 60 percent of his passes for 1,475 yards with 11 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He shared time with Devin Dominguez last year and should be more relaxed, knowing that he is the clear cut starter. Despite the loss of All-American Nick Andrews, Jenkins will have very capable wide receivers in T.J. McWilliams, Landon Jones and Nehemiah Henry. The trio combined for 80 catches and 983 yards last season.

Perhaps the big news in the offseason for the Hornets was the signing of former Georgia Bulldogs running back Isaiah Crowell. Crowell was kicked off the Georgia football team earlier this year after some off-the-field issues. He brings his 850 yards rushing and freshman All-American honors from last season to an already solid offensive unit that includes a strong offensive line, led by Boxtorow preseason All-American Teron Jones.

Defensively, the Hornets are talented, led by free safety Kejuan Riley, a game changer who currently leads all Football Championship Subdivision players in career interceptions (17). His nine interceptions last year is one of the reasons why, despite the Hornets being fifth in the conference in total defense giving up close to 352 yards per game, they were second in the SWAC in points allowed per game (17.5) and tops in turnover margin (+17). A prime example; they gave up 397 yards of total offense to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent Eastern Michigan, yet gave up only 14 points in a loss (14-7).

Bethune-Cookman’s Isidore Jackson / Photo:Bethune-Cookman Sports Info

The Hornets defense will have to be great as the Wildcats have one of the best offenses in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) and last season they averaged 435 yards and 34 points per game, which led the MEAC. Head coach Brian Jenkins has not named his starting quarterback yet, but preseason All-MEAC running back Isidore Jackson (866 yards, 5.9 yards per rush in 2011), along with Rodney Scott (108 carries, 536 yards), provide a 1-2 punch out of the backfield. The duo combined to rush for over 1,400 yards last year and both are threats to catch the ball out of the backfield, each catching 14 passes.

Whoever the Wildcats start at quarterback, he’ll have a reliable receiver in Eddie Poole, who led the team with 41 receptions for 421 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Defensively, the Wildcats are looking for replacements for Boxtorow All-American defensive end Ryan Davis, defensive back Jean Fanor and linebackers Reggie Sandilands and Ryan Lewis. Tavarus Dantzler and Dawud Lane are penciled in to take over for Lewis and Sandilands and will be teamed with preseason All-American Jarkevis Fields.

The Wildcats pummeled Prairie View A&M last year in this game 63-14 to open the season. It will not be that type of game this year.

The MEAC has won five of the seven Challenges.

The game will be played on Sunday and will be televised by ESPN (Noon ET).

Other Games to Watch:


Tennessee State QB Michael German. / Photo: Tennessee State Sports Info

Florida A&M (0-0) vs. Tennessee State (0-0)

This is a rivalry renewed between two of the great and most storied HBCU football programs ever in the John Merritt Classic at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. This could be a high-scoring affair as both teams have high-powered offenses and defenses that need work. Tennessee State has been picked to finish fifth in the tough Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), but have added many FBS transfers including former Florida tight end A.C. Leonard, cornerbacks Chris Robinson (Kansas) and Ronnie Vinson (LSU). Quarterback Michael German returns for his sophomore campaign after garnering OVC Freshman of the Year honors last year. German completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,899 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He will have plenty of weapons to throw the ball to as three of the Tigers’ top four receivers return, led by Devin Wilson (48-586-2) and deep threat Travis James, who averaged 19.6 yards per reception last year. The Tigers also have an outstanding running back in Trabis Ward (193-978-11). FAMU head coach Joe Taylor, who has coached great quarterback over his career believes that Damian Fleming will be the best he’s ever coached when it’s all said and done. Fleming threw for 1,622 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and could have plenty of success against the Tigers defense. The Rattlers three top returning running backs rushed for over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns last year.

Miles (0-0) vs. North Alabama (0-0)

There are a lot of interesting twists inside of this game. Miles head coach Reginald Ruffin won three national championships as a player at North Alabama and returns to coach against his former coach Bobby Wallace, who returns this season for his second stint as head coach. In just his first season, Ruffin led Miles to the SIAC Championship Game victory over national power Albany State. The Golden Bears return 23 starters — 19 of them first-year players in 2011 — from last year’s team. Quarterback David Thomas (2,088 yards passing 14 touchdowns) and running back Jordan Lewis (966 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns) lead the offense. North Alabama is a perennial power but has just five starters returning from last year’s 8-2 team and is picked to finish fourth in the Gulf South Conference. A win for the Golden Bears would not only help ease a tough defeat at the hands of Johnson C. Smith in last year’s Pioneer Bowl to end the season, but would show that Miles is a legitimate Division II contender.

Howard (0-0) vs. Morehouse (0-0)

The book voucher scandal that rocked the Howard University athletic department in the spring has reared its ugly head once again and will now affect the football team. Up to 14 players will be ineligible for Saturday’s Nation’s Football Classic in Washington, DC at RFK Stadium. Head coach Gary Harrell says two of those players could be Boxtorow All-American and MEAC preseason Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Keith Pough and preseason first team All-MEAC and Boxtorow National Freshman of the Year quarterback Greg McGhee. Still the game is intriguing and will show where the Bison really is as a team, despite the loss of its two biggest stars. Preseason All-MEAC left tackle Cory Gwinner is also out, still recovering from April surgery on his right knee. Harrell said the situation is a “hindrance” but that the Bison should be fine. It is unclear what other Bison will not play in this game — or perhaps the first three games depending on the extent of the violation — and Howard and the NCAA declined to discuss the matter further, citing NCAA policy that forbids comment on an ongoing investigation. Defensively, as talented as Pough is, Harrell insists that he plays within defensive coordinator Rayford Petty’s scheme. Despite that, one of HBCU football’s biggest stars will be on the field in the form of Morehouse running back David Carter who rushed for 1,495 yards and 19 touchdowns last year and will look to take advantage of Pough’s absence. Carter rushed for 122 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown in Howard’s 30-27 come from behind victory in last year’s game. It was an important win for the Bison and Harrell in his first year as head coach, as they proceeded to lose their next two games before winning three of their next four to salvage the season. The Bison five wins last year were more wins than the program had in the previous four seasons. Despite an 8-2 record, last year’s loss was devastating for the Maroon Tigers and prevented them from an at-large berth in the NCAA Division II Playoffs.//