HBCU Classic Sports

             June 2024

   Football Edition, Volume I

HBCU FOOTBALL INSIDER

2024 HBCU Draft: From One to None

By: Ty Prather, CEO, Founder, HBCU Classic Sports

Date: April 28, 2024

(courtesy: nccueagles.com)

HBCU National Champion, 2x MEAC Offensive Player of the Year was not selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.

     HBCU football pitches another shut out in the annual NFL Player Selection Draft. In over 250 picks, not one HBCU football player was deemed worthy of a selection. Comically, NFL teams drafted over five hundred players in two years, with only one coming from an HBCU. It is becoming a running joke.

     For the HBCU universe it is another punch in the gut, despite vast qualitative improvements in the overall football experience. For example, several programs have upgraded their athletic facilities, hosted NFL scouts throughout the season, sent players to the annual HBCU scouting combine and post-season all-star games. Moreover, the Cricket Celebration Bowl continues to produce excellent results. And HBCU game attendance leads the FCS nation. Yet, when using the NFL Draft as a barometer of success, the HBCU’s are left out in the cold.

     Why improvements in HBCU football programming are not resulting into NFL draft picks is puzzling? To the uninitiated, it would appear that the HBCU programs and players are inferior. And from a quantitative perspective that would be true in most cases, especially when compared to FBS programs. The schools are much bigger, have greater resources and can spend more on their students and athletic programs. Their athletic budgets are 100 times larger than HBCU athletic budgets.

     However, that has always been the case and does not explain the precipitous drop from one to none. The game is played on the field and not in the finance office. Despite glaring disparities in funding, only 3-4 years ago, HBCUs produced four draft picks and the forecast was bright and sunny. So, what happened?

     There are currently nine Black head coaches and ten Black general managers in the NFL, yet, somehow, that does not translate to draft success for HBCUs. Namely, because, well, it is complicated. It is not race-based discrimination on its face, most of the players in the NFL and NFL draft are Black players, but not from Black schools. The bias appears to be against small black schools. The same small Black schools that produced some of the greatest players in NFL history.

     The argument can be made that HBCUs do not get those type players anymore since school integration; compounded by NIL inequity or pay to play schemes. It is a persuasive argument, yet anyone with a brain bigger than a peanut knows HBCU Classics can play football with anyone. Maybe not collectively, but individually, absolutely. 

     Moreover, the “Prime Effect” disproved that theory to some degree, when Coach Deion Sanders signed the top ranked high school player in the nation, Travis Hunter, to Jackson State. He followed up a year later signing, Jordan Seaton, the top offensive lineman in the country to Colorado. Coincidentally, no Colorado Buffalos were drafted either.

2023 HBCU Football Preview

By: Ty Prather, CEO, Founder, HBCU Classic Sports, Inc.

     The 2023 HBCU football season is nigh, let us preview the top teams, players, and storylines of this upcoming season which begins with another MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Although a non-conference contest, both teams have a lot riding on the outcome.

     Jackson State needs to show themselves post-Coach Prime and SC State needs to redeem themselves after laying a golden egg in 2022. This season is exasperated by Coach Buddy Pough’s pending retirement – expect the Bulldogs to eat

  1. North Carolina Central Eagles (10-2), 2022 Black College National Champions 

Coach Trei Oliver– Record 20-15 (.571) – 2022 MEAC Coach of the Year 

2023 MEAC Pre-season All-Conference: QB, Davius Richard, CB, Khalil Baker, OL, Torricelli Simpkins, WR, Devin Smith, RB, Latrell Collier, LB, Jaki Brevard, PK, Adrian Olivo, RB, J’MAmari Taylor, WR, Quentin McCall, WR, Andrew Taylor, DL, Jaden Taylor, DB, Manny Smith, P, Juan Velarde

courtesy: nccueaglepride.com

     The NCCU Eagles will sneak up on no one this season, the reigning Black College National Champions are stocked with talent, led by All-Americans, QB, Davius Richard, CB, Khalil Baker and OL, Torricelli Simpkins. Head Coach Trei Oliver leap frogged the HBCU football coaching pack after winning a MEAC Championship and Black College National Championship in only his third season. 

     An underlying subplot for this season will be how well NCCU Eagle Pride fends off complacency. On paper, they are clearly the favorites in the MEAC but also well-equipped on the field, and off, to address this leadership challenge.  

     Schedule-wise, other than Pac-12 juggernaut, UCLA Bruins, the pathway is favorable towards another MEAC repeat. Regional rivals, NC A&T, SC State and Campbell, are toss ups, but only SC State is a conference foe. So, assuming the Eagles soar over other rebuilding programs in the MEAC, expect Eagle Pride to represent in the Celebration Bowl again.

2. Jackson State Tigers (12-1) 2022 SWAC Champions

Coach T.C. Taylor – Record 0-0 (.000)  

2022 SWAC Pre-season All-Conference: TE, DJ Stevens 

courtesy:gojsutigers.com

     Despite coming off a perfect regular season and SWAC Championship, it is hard not to think about who is not with Jackson State, rather than who is. Gone are Coach Deion Sanders, QB, Shedeur Sanders, DB, Shilo Sanders and WR/DB, Travis Hunter, et al. While opinions are mixed about their departures, Coach Sanders made history as one of only a few HBCU head coaches to elevate to an FBS/DI head coaching position, which should make us all proud. 

     All eyes will be on first-time head coach T.C. Taylor, who has huge shoes to fill. While not impossible, it is improbable, to best a 2022 perfect regular season record. However, if they can get past the SC State Bulldogs and the FAMU Rattlers anything is possible but a mid-season bout with DI, Sun Conference foe, Texas State Bobcats, will be a deterrent. Otherwise, traditional conference foes will be looking for some payback.  

     However, never count out a champion, the JSU Tigers experienced a lot of success over the past two seasons and that will bode well for their future. Also, recall that Coach Sanders missed a few games last season with his own injuries and Coach Taylor, amongst others, filled that void admirably.

3. Fayetteville Broncos, (12-2) – 2022 CIAA Champion, DII Playoffs 

Head Coach Richard Hayes, Jr. – Record 41-22 (.774) 

2022 CIAA Pre-season All-Conference: OL, Tyler Fleming, OL, Michael Todd, DL, Cameron Merrell, DB, Kentrell Caldwell

courtesy:fsubroncos.com

      The Fayetteville State Broncos are once again the favorite to win the CIAA, as they are, and have been, the predominant team in the CIAA South, for the past five years. Despite some realignment, with Chowan leaving, and Bluefield arriving, nothing has changed in the South, in fact, it has become weaker, leaving another clear path for the Broncos. While the imbalance of power in the CIAA is outstanding, that is not a problem for the FSU Broncos to fix.  

      Schedule-wise, the Broncos face two of their toughest opponents, UNC Pembroke and Lenoir Rhyne, both non-conference opponents, in the first two weeks of the season. While both non-conference contests, these games could come into play later in the NCAA DII playoff selection process, when considering strength of schedule, should the Broncos be in contention.

4. Benedict Tigers (11-1) – 2022 SIAC Champions, DII Playoffs

Coach Chennis Berry – Record 11-1 (.917) 2022 SIAC Coach of the Year 

2022 SIAC Pre-season All-Americans: DL, Loobert Denelus, RB, Noah Scotland, OL, Mitchell Romig, OL, Roger Smith, RB, Deondra Duehart, DE, Aaron Miller, LB, Dedrick Starkes, DB, Joshua Heyward, DL, Jayden Broughton.

courtesy:benedicttigers.com

     Coach Chennis Berry and the 2022 Benedict Tigers were one of the best stories in college football – bar none. This season, they must prove their Cinderella season was not a fluke. All-Conference QB, Eric Phoenix, will be hard to replace, but they return All-American, DL, Loobert Denelus and All-Conference RB, Noah Scotland, amongst others.  

     Coach Berry has done a wonderful job recruiting and turned a very average program into one that punches above its weight. DL, Loobert Denelus, is one of the finest linemen in the country and listed on about every watchlist imaginable. Moreover, nine Tigers were selected for the SIAC All-Conference preseason team, a testament to their depth. 

     Nevertheless, the SIAC is tough, and traditional foes will not rollover, the Tigers may be favored, but parity exists in the SIAC and the road to another championship will be bumpy.

  1. Tennessee State Tigers (4-7) 

Coach Eddie George – Record 9-13 (.409)  

2022 Big South-OVC Pre-season Watchlist: QB, Draylin Ellis, DL, Terrell Allen, LB, James Green, S, Josh Green, S, Bryce Phillips

courtesy:tsutigers.com

    The Tennessee State Tigers have not experienced much success in the Eddie George era, but this season feels different. Led by dynamite QB, Draylin Ellis, and wrecking ball, DL, Terrell Allen, this version of the TSU Tigers is better equipped to compete. The loss of All-OVC, LB, K’Vaughn Pope hurts, but the Tigers defense has depth, namely the Green brothers, James and Josh. 

     The newly formed Big South-OVC Conference is larger, but weaker on the field, which ultimately softens the Tigers schedule. Expectations are high for the first-time coach and the proud, rich tradition of Tennessee State football will only add more pressure to produce sooner, rather than later. 

For Tennessee State and Eddie George, the time is nigh.  

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HBCU Draft 2023 Recap

By: Tyrone Prather, Founder, CEO, HBCU Classic Sports, Inc. 

Date: May 2023 

       Another NFL draft has come and gone, and HBCU Classics are once again left scratching their collective heads. It is unbelievable that only one HBCU Classic was taken in the 2023 NFL Draft – CB, Isaiah Bolden, Jackson State. This is a huge step backwards for HBCU football. 

     Conventional thinking suggests that HBCU draftees should increase exponentially because of the increased exposure received at the HBCU Legacy Bowl and HBCU Combine. More NFL scouts and team personnel now have greater access to HBCU Classics than ever before in the history of college football, yet, for those of us, who are outcome determinative, the end results are dismally disappointing.  

     When analyzing what went wrong, it may be best to first examine what went right. At least seventeen (17) to date, HBCU Classics have signed undrafted free agent contracts with NFL teams. Surely more are to come as players get camp invites, i.e., tryouts. This is par for the course, for the past several years, between 20-30, HBCU football players were signed or given tryouts post-draft.  

     It is also especially important to note, only twelve (12) non-FBS, i.e., FCS, DII/III players, were drafted. Even FCS perennial powerhouse, North Dakota State, only had one draftee, so, it appears, the NFL draft cut line, this year, is at the FBS level. 

     While most will agree that the increased scrutiny of the HBCU Legacy Bowl, HBCU Combine and Prime Effect, were all positive contributions to the HBCU universe. The hard truth is that increased scrutiny is a double-edged sword. While all 32 teams were represented at the HBCU Combine, apparently, they were left underwhelmed. And unfortunately, many talented players were not deemed draftable.  

     I personally disagree with that assessment, but that is what happened and those are the conditions on the ground. Even though HBCU Classics picked up some momentum in last year’s draft, with four (4) players selected, this year, they gave those gains back. It has always been an uphill battle for HBCU players and the NFL draft, so while disappointing, this is not a major surprise.  

     Regarding this one on-going issue, it is incumbent to remember that there are far more players, than there are jobs in the NFL, and unfortunately, NFL teams know that they do not have to draft small school players, they can sign them on the cheap, as undrafted free agents.

       Grambling legend, Willie Brown went undrafted, yet became one of the best players in NFL history.                     (courtesy: nfl.com)

2022 HBCU Football Season in Review

By: Tyrone Prather, CEO, Founder, HBCU Classic Sports, Inc. 

December 25, 2022 

The 2022 HBCU College Football season is in the books. Congratulations to the North Carolina Central Eagles for winning the 2022 Cricket Celebration Bowl and 2022 Black College National Championship. Likewise, to the Benedict College Tigers for their perfect regular season and SIAC Championship.  

This season’s highlights include another season of stellar play from the Jackson State Tigers, perfect 12-0 regular season record and another SWAC Championship. In the CIAA, the Fayetteville State Broncos won the title, but the Virginia Union Panthers were the show. Led by little dynamo, RB, Jada Beyers, the Panthers pulled off one of the greatest upsets in CIAA history, knocking off No. 2 ranked, 2021 DII National Championship runner-up, Valdosta State, in Valdosta, Georgia.

 NCCU Eagles (10-2) hang on to defeat JSU Tigers (12-1) in Celebration Bowl thriller before 49,670 in Atlanta, Ga.   (courtesy:nccueaglepride.com)

North Carolina Central Eagles (10-2): 2022 Black College National Champions, 2022 MEAC Champions 

Coach Trei Oliver (20-15): 2022 MEAC Coach of the Year, 2022 Eddie Robinson Finalist 

QB, Davius Richard: 2022 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, HBCU All-American, Walter Payton Finalist 

DB, Khalil Baker: 2022 AP FCS All-American, MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, AFCA All-American 

OL, Corey Bullock: 2022 HBCU All-American, All-MEAC 

OL,  Robert Mitchell, Jr.: MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year, HBCU All-American, All-MEAC

In 2021, the NCCU Eagles were an average (6-5) team, finishing second in the MEAC. This season, however, proved itself to be vastly different – after an impressive 4-0 start, the Eagles stumbled mightily in an ugly 48-18 blowout loss to the Campbell Camels. Three weeks later, they literally threw a win away in the last minute to reigning 2021 Black College National Champions, the SC State Bulldogs. Their season appeared in jeopardy, two losses to two quality teams in three weeks put their title hopes in question, despite their 5-2 record at the time. But the SC State Bulldogs could never get right, and the Eagles ran the rest of the MEAC table.

Despite being 14-point underdogs in the Celebration Bowl, Eagle Pride limited the star-studded Jackson State Tigers to 68 total rushing yards, while rushing for 276 yards themselves. Dominated the time of possession minutes, 38:09 to 21:51, and yet, still needed overtime to secure the win.

Who is MEAC baby? The MEAC is 6-1 versus the SWAC in the Celebration bowl. NC Central is 1-1 avenging 2016.  (courtesy:wral.com)

Coach Deion Sanders and son, Shedeur Sanders, dominated the SWAC for two consecutive seasons.   (courtesy:gojsutigers.com) 

Jackson State Tigers (12-1): 2022 SWAC Champions 

Coach Deion Sanders (27-6): 2022 SWAC Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson Finalist 

QB, Shedeur Sanders: 2022 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, HBCU All-American 

LB, Aubrey Miller: 2022 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, AFCA All-American, Senior Bowl 

WR, Kevin Coleman, Jr.: 2022 SWAC Newcomer of the Year, HBCU All-American 

DB, Travis Hunter: 2022 All-SWAC, HBCU All-American 

The Jackson State Tigers (12-1) dominated the SWAC for the past two consecutive seasons. Following a phenomenal inaugural (11-2) season, Coach Sanders and the JSU Tigers found a way to improve, boasting a perfect season record of 12-0. SWAC opponents put up little resistance, getting blown out by 20+ points in almost every contest. Only Big South Conference, Campbell Camels and Ohio Valley Conference, Tennessee State Tigers put up much of a fight.  

Nevertheless, the Jackson State Tigers put on a show. Mirroring the personality of their head coach, the Tigers were entertaining – fast, athletic and highly skilled. Their recruitment of 5/4 stars was on full display, as they were visibly, athletically superior to their competition every weekend. However, despite dominating the SWAC with superior, skilled position players, their lack of strength up the middle bit them again in the Celebration Bowl, as the NCCU Eagles punished them on the ground and dominated the clock, similarly to the SC State Bulldogs last season. 

Much ado is being made of Coach Sanders parlaying his perfect regular season into a Pac-12 opportunity with the Colorado Buffaloes, but honestly, who did not see this coming? In coaching, if you win, you move up, if you lose, you are removed. Bottom line – Coach Sanders left Jackson State far better off than when he found them.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Coach Sanders is leaving Jackson State for greener pastures.  (courtesy:cubuffs.com)

Florida A&M (9-2) won its Ninth Consecutive Florida Classic before 55,257 in Orlando, FL.   (courtesy:famuathletics.com)

Florida A&M Rattlers (9-2): 2nd place SWAC 

Coach Willie Simmons (33-12): 2022 AFCA Region 3 Coach of the Year 

QB, Jeremy Moussa: 2022 All-SWAC, HBCU All-American 

WR, Xavier Smith: 2022 All-SWAC, AFCA All-American 

LB, Isaiah Land: 2022 All-SWAC, HBCU All-American, Senior Bowl 

LB, Isaiah Major: 2022 All-SWAC, HBCU All-American 

DB, Jovan Morgan: 2022 All-SWAC, HBCU All-American 

The Florida A&M Rattlers were denied an FCS Playoff berth despite their impressive (9-2) record. Adding insult to injury, one of those losses was to FBS, North Carolina Tar Heels, and the other to SWAC Champion, Jackson State Tigers. Both losses occurred early in the season, while dealing with player eligibility issues, which ultimately proved erroneous, for the most part.  

Initially, over 20 players were declared academically ineligible and did not make the trip to UNC, most others had their eligibility restored for the Jackson State game, especially Buck Buchanan Award Winner, Isaiah Land. However, the damage had been done, the program was in disarray, and they were blown out by the JSU Tigers, 59-3, in the Orange Blossom Classic. It was an ugly start and bad look for FAMU athletics. 

However, despite being (0-2) and treading water, Coach Willie Simmons was able to miraculously rally his troops through the darkness and into the light. Florida A&M proceeded to run the table, taking down defending Black College Champion, SC State, in Orangeburg, SC., and eventually going (9-0) to finish the season. It was a testament to leadership, turning lemons into lemonade and for that he was awarded AFCA Region 3 Coach of the Year. Sadly, the NCAA playoff selection committee did not recognize the job he did this season.

NC A&T Aggies part ways with Sam Washington (31-15) despite two Black College National Championship wins.     (courtesy:ncataggies.com)

North Carolina A&T Aggies (7-4): 2nd place Big South 

Coach Sam Washington (31-15) 

RB, Bhayshul Tuten: 2022 All Big South, HBCU All-American 

DB, Karon Prunty: 2022 All Big South, HBCU All-American 

LB, Tyquan King, 2022 All Big South, HBCU All-American 

OL, Dacquari Wilson,2022 All Big South, HBCU All-American 

The North Carolina A&T Aggies played one of the toughest schedules in FCS football, certainly in HBCU football. The first month of the season saw them go (1-3) versus FBS, Duke Blue Devils; perennial FCS champion, North Dakota State Bison; defending Black College National Champion, SC State Bulldogs; and eventual Black College National Champion, North Carolina Central Eagles. Realistically, (2-2) was about all that reasonably could be expected from that stretch of games since they defeated both HBCU’s in 2021. 

Despite going (0-3) to start the season, the Aggies put together an impressive (7-0) run, starting with 2021 Black College National Champion, SC State Bulldogs. However, a season ending loss to Gardner Webb, the eventual Big South Champion, may have been Coach Washington’s undoing.  

NC A&T has lofty aspirations and (7-4) for 2nd place, following an inaugural (5-6) in the Big South was not on the agenda. So, despite two Black College National Championships in five years, the Aggies were trending downward and hope to change their trajectory heading into the more competitive Colonial Athletic Association.

Benedict Tigers (12-1) win 2022 SIAC Football Championship and first DII playoff berth in school history.   (courtesy:benedicttigers.com)

Benedict Tigers (11-1): 2022 SIAC Champions, DII Playoffs, Round 1.

Coach Chennis Berry: 2022 SIAC Coach of the Year 

QB, Eric Phoenix: 2022 HBCU All-American, All-SIAC 

DL, Loobert Denelus: 2022 AFCA All-American, All-SIAC 

OL, Maurice Campbell: 2022 HBCU All-American, All-SIAC 

In all of sports, there is not a better story this year, than the 2022 Benedict Tigers perfect regular football season. Yes, the Jackson State Tigers went 12-0 too, but that was somewhat foreseeable, especially without any money games in 2022, and running the SWAC table (9-0) in 2021.  

Conversely, nobody, besides, maybe Coach Chennis Berry, saw this coming. After a promising (5-5) in 2021, the Tigers were competitive, but still needed to exorcise some demons, namely Savannah State, Fort Valley State and Albany State. And that they did, beginning with an ESPN nationally televised home win over Savannah State; followed up by a stunning beat down of Fort Valley State in Fort Valley; and culminating with a checkmate in Albany – the Benedict Tigers were for real.

Yet, they were not finished. Cinderella had another date, the SIAC Championship in Columbia, SC, where they pummeled the once mighty Tuskegee Golden Tigers, 58-21, for their first SIAC Football Championship and NCAA DII playoff berth in school history. Alas, the clock would strike midnight and the fairy tale season would end as the Wingate Bulldogs vanquished the Tigers, 23-6, in the second round of the playoffs. Normally, this is where I would restate how HBCU’s need to be more competitive out of conference, but not this time, Benedict exceeded all expectations and deserved all their flowers.

Virginia Union Panthers (9-2): 2nd place CIAA, DII playoffs 

Coach Dr. Alvin Parker (56-12): CIAA Coach of the Year 

RB, Jada Beyers: AFCA All-American, HBCU All-American, All-CIAA 

OL, Darian Bryant: HBCU All-American, All-CIAA 

OL, Justin Meade: All-CIAA 

ATH, Brady Meyers: All-CIAA 

While the Fayetteville State Broncos (9-3) won the 2022 CIAA Football Championship, they were not the best team in the CIAA, that honor goes to the Virginia Union Panthers (9-2) despite not winning the CIAA Championship nor even the CIAA North. Let me explain, the VUU Panthers were rolling, going (8-0) including the huge upset over perennial powerhouse Valdosta State Trailblazers, when they themselves were upset late in the season by the Chowan Hawks (7-4). That one conference loss cost them the CIAA North Division title and a trip to the CIAA Championship but not the Division II playoffs.  

While Fayetteville State (9-3) won the CIAA Championship, and a non-automatic playoff bid, Virginia Union (9-2) was chosen to host in the first round. Chowan (7-4) was not selected at all. Clearly, the strength of Virginia Union’s quality wins carried more weight with the selection committee. No matter, both Virginia Union and Fayetteville State were quickly dismissed in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. Fayetteville State was humiliated, 51-0, by Delta State. Virginia Union was put down, 32-7, by Wingate. 

This is where I will interject – HBCU’s must become more competitive out of conference.  

In sum, overall, the 2022 HBCU Football season was entertaining and competitive. We saw two teams turn in perfect regular seasons at both the FCS and DII levels, Jackson State and Benedict. We saw perseverance and resilience from the FAMU Rattlers and NCCU Eagles, culminating in a championship for the latter. Likewise, we saw strength and competitive balance from Southern, Fort Valley State, Tuskegee, Albany State, Bowie State and Chowan. Conversely, powerhouses, SC State, Bowie State and Miles, were dethroned. 

Lastly, good luck to Coach Prime and Jackson State. Coach Sanders injected an unprecedented level of energy, enthusiasm, and excellence into Jackson State and HBCU football overall. It is now incumbent upon Jackson State to maintain and elevate the foundation he has laid for them. We look forward to seeing him elevate the Colorado Buffaloes and showing the FBS powers what he can do with his HBCU pedigree.

2022 HBCU Football Preview

By: Ty Prather, CEO, Founder, HBCU Classic Sports

             The 2022 HBCU football season is quickly upon us, let us preview the top teams, players, and storylines of this upcoming season.  

  1. South Carolina State Bulldogs (7-5), 2021 Black College National Champions 

Coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough – Record 143-80, (.641) – 2021 MEAC Coach of the Year 

2022 MEAC Pre-season All-Conference: QB, Corey Fields; RB, Kendrell Flowers; WR, Shaquan Davis; LB, Jeblonski Green; LB, B.J. Davis; TE, Yancy Washington; OL, Nick Taiste; DL, Patrick Godbolt; WR, Richard Bailey; TE, Deprince Haynes; OL, Camron Haynes  

courtesy: scsubulldogs.com

             The ”Don Dada” of current HBCU Football Coaches is poised to surpass 150 career wins. Always fast, always strong, the 2022 Bulldogs are the class of, not only the MEAC, but HBCU football – period. Despite losing, FCS All-American, Rams 4th Rd. pick, Decobie Durant, the Bulldogs are still loaded, both offensively and defensively. WR, Shaquan Davis and LBs, BJ Davis and Jeblonski Green are three of the finest players in college football, bar none. 

            This season’s schedule is typically top heavy, including the two economically necessary money games, Central Florida, South Carolina. Otherwise, the SCSU Bulldogs face traditionally tough rivals in FAMU, Bethune, NC A&T, and NC Central. Mirroring last season’s title run; the Bulldogs may be forced to run the MEAC table again.

  1. Jackson State Tigers (11-2), 2021 SWAC Champions

Coach Deion Sanders – Record 15-5 (.750) – 2021 FCS Coach of the Year 

2022 SWAC Pre-season All-Conference: QB, Shedeur Sanders; WR, Malachi Wideman; LB Aubrey Miller; DB, Shiloh Sanders; OL, Tony Gray; RS, Isaiah Bolden; DL, Devonta Davis; DB, Cam’ron Silman-Craig

courtesy: Sports Illustrated

          Coach Deion “Prime Time” Sanders, the self- ordained messiah of Black College football has almost single-handedly raised the profile of Jackson State football, if not, HBCU football altogether. The media frenzy surrounding JSU sports is heretofore unprecedented. (see above) Bolstered by his son, phenom QB, Shedeur Sanders, et al. the JSU Tiger’s won the 2021 SWAC Championship in his first full season. If that was not impressive enough, Coach Prime shook the college football paradigm down to its roots, by signing the top high school prospect in the nation, two-way, DB/WR, Travis Hunter.  

          This season, the bar is high, will the hunter become the hunted? While not burdened with the onerous money games, the Tigers face historically tough rivals, FAMU, Tennessee State and Grambling, in the first month. The only other non-conference test is Campbell Fighting Camels, featuring Big South Defensive Player of the Year, Brevin Allen, who will certainly test the Tiger’s reconstructed offensive line.

  1. Bowie State Bulldogs, (12-2) – 2021 CIAA Champion, DII Playoff Semifinals

Interim Head Coach Kyle Jackson – Record 0-0 (.000) 

2022 CIAA Pre-season All-Conference: OL, Quinton Bobo; OL, Mark Murphy; DL, Joshua Pryor; PR, Darious Bowman 

courtesy: bsubulldogs.com

           “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” wrote William Shakespeare in King Henry the Fourth, Part II, apropos in this context, considering the Bowie State Bulldogs are CIAA royalty – having owned the conference for the past three seasons. However, despite their illustrious past, this season seems different, after losing HBCU Top 50 All-time coach, Damon Wilson to Morgan State, several high-profile players defected, namely, DII All-Americans – DL, Jonathan Ross and DB, Demetri Morsell. Compounding the uncertainty, first time Head Coach Kyle Jackson, seasoned but unproven, takes the helm.  

           Despite the high degree of movement in the program, the Bulldogs have championship DNA and are expected to adapt. Their schedule is favorable, after two tough, opening non-conference contests, New Haven, Saginaw State, the Bulldogs face the much-improved Shaw Bears, and CIAA North rivals, Virginia Union, and Virginia State. They do not see CIAA South Champion, Fayetteville State, until the CIAA Championship.

  1. Albany State Golden Rams (10-2) – 2021 SIAC Champions, DII Playoff

Coach Gabe Giardina – Record 44-30 (.595) 2021 SIAC Coach of the Year 

2022 SIAC Pre-season All-Americans: QB, Dionte Bonneau; OL, KaTray Pringle; OL, Tyree Taylor; DL, Malik Barnes; LB, Stephan Pierre; OL, Jajuan Jordan; OL, Josh Simon; WR, Joe’Vantae Shorter; RB, Kamran Ward; DL, Anthony Harvey; DL, Josh Hill

courtesy: asugoldenrams.com

              Coach Gabe Giardina has returned the Albany State Golden Rams to SIAC prominence. In each of the past three seasons, Albany State reached the SIAC championship game, finally defeating Miles College in 2021. This season appears no different, the Golden Rams are stacked and favorites to win the SIAC again.

             The big question for the Golden Rams is can they win outside the SIAC? First round, DII playoff losses indicate room for improvement. Boasting an enrollment of nearly 6,000 undergraduates in SW Georgia, Albany State is directly in the crosshairs of surrounding FCS conferences. Their week 2 contest versus FAMU could be foretelling. 

courtesy: ncataggies.com

5. North Carolina A&T Aggies (5-6) – 2018, 2019, Black College National Champions

Coach Sam Washington, 24-11 (.686) 2018, 2019, MEAC Coach of the Year

2022 HBCU Pre-season All-Americans: DE, Jermaine McDaniel; DB, Karon Prunty;  LB, Jacob Roberts; DL, RickyLee III; WR, Jamison Warren; PK, Andrew Brown; RB, Bhayshul Tuten, TE, Nicholas Dobson; RB, Charlie Dixon.

     The NC A&T Aggies are rebounding from a disappointing (5-6) inaugural season in the Big South Conference.  All eyes are on Coach Sam Washington, two-time, Black College National Champion, to right the ship.

     Boasting an enrollment over 13,000 students, five MEAC crowns in six seasons and four Celebration Bowl victories, the Aggies, theoretically, outgrew the MEAC. Moreover, despite their poor debut in the Big South, the Aggies double-downed and joined the even more competitive Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

     Only time will tell the validity of their theory, but all indicators are pointing upward. After their historic run to close out the winningest decade in school history. They lost star players to the NFL: OL, Brandon Parker, and DB, Mac McClain; were benched by COVID for the 2020 season; and needed to reload.

     The 2022 Aggies are loaded with healthy, veteran players on both sides of the ball. They will need them all, as the first month of the season is about as tough as any in FCS football. Wise scheduling means they are all non-conference games, but nevertheless, one heck of a litmus test. Anything better than (2-2) should place them inside the FCS Top 20. Naturally, expectations are high, with the Aggies predicted to win the Big South in their second season, which bodes well for their next move.