HBCU Football: A Pre-Preview
I’m excited to write HBCU Game Time, powered by BOX TO ROW for JET! As host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all sports, with an emphasis on our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with some entertainment sprinkled in from time to time.
We are less than 68 days away from the start of HBCU football season and I can’t wait! Below are some pre-season notes about the various conferences:
The conference is trying to rebound from the ugly incident last year that forced the cancellation of the CIAA championship game.
Winston-Salem State has to be the favorite in the Southern Division, despite the fact that Connell Maynor left as head coach to take the same position at Hampton. New coach Kienus Boulware knows the conference very well and had been defensive coordinator for the Rams the last four year. There will be a fierce battle at quarterback as the incumbent Rudy Johnson will try to hold off former Alabama and Virginia transfer Phillip Sims. Both could play.
Virginia State has to be the favorite in the Northern Division. The Trojans came out of nowhere last year, going undefeated in CIAA play. They will have to replace All-CIAA running back Jordan Anderson, who rushed for 1,120 yards and 20 touchdowns and quarterback Justin Thorpe who totaled 1,808 yards of total offense. VSU’s top two receivers – Gene Holloman and Javion Smallwood – return.
Elizabeth City State won’t have back-to-back sub par years, so look for them to bounce back and challenge the Trojans.
For the most over the last seven years, Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State have been tops in the MEAC.
That may not be the case this year. While both shared the conference championship in 2013, they have a lot of questions to answer. To that point, both have brutal schedules. B-CU takes on in-state FBS opponents FIU – who they defeated handily last year – and UCF, both on the road. Five of their last six games, all conference games, are away from home.
South Carolina State has three-straight extremely tough games including Clemson and Coastal Carolina in back-to-back weeks on the road, then at home against Furman.
This may leave the door open for a team like Norfolk State, who is the only team to win the MEAC championship outright in the last seven years. The Spartans also have one of the best players in the country, and perhaps the best player in HBCU football in linebacker Lynden Trail.
In somewhat of a surprise, Albany State won last year’s SIAC championship after losing four of its first five games. While the Golden Rams will be a favorite to win it again, Tuskegee has to be THE favorite.
Freshman running back Hoderick Lowe was named first team All-SIAC last year after rushing for 504 yards and eight touchdowns while splitting time with Michael Thornton. This season he will be the featured back.
It was the defense that set the Golden Tigers apart, led by linebacker Quavon Taylor, defensive back Michael Robinson, and first team All-SIAC defensive lineman Reginald Woods, who registered 9.5 sacks last year.
After a tumultuous 2013, which saw legendary coach Doug Williams fired and a player boycott that received national attention, Grambling State is the favorite to win the SWAC’s Western Division.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View and Texas Southern have been deemed ineligible to participate in postseason play by the NCAA because of Academic Progress Rate (APR) issues. (All of Southern’s teams are currently ineligible for post season play because of “unusable data” presented to the NCAA.)
In the Eastern Division, Mississippi Valley State, Alabama State are ineligible for post season play leaving Alabama A&M, Alcorn State, and Jackson State to duke it out.
A conference official was quoted by the Pine-Bluff Commercial as saying “As a result of the decision for basketball, all teams are eligible for postseason play in the SWAC.”
No official word has been released from the conference. Stay tuned.
Last year, the Tigers had their best season since 1999, going 9-4 and making it to the FCS playoffs and winning a playoff game against Butler.
The Tigers return a top-notch defense, led by BOXTOROW All-Americans safety Daniel Fitzpatrick, OVC Defensive Player of the Year defensive lineman Anthony Bass, and linebacker Nick Thrasher.
The Tigers will be pretty good on offense with two very capable quarterbacks, who once again may share time in Michael German and Ronald Butler.