LUT WILLIAMS, BCSP Editor
It’s finally here!
The much-anticipated 2022 black college football season gets underway this weekend with three games.
These pre-Labor Day games are called Week Zero as only a special few debut this week. The real kickoff is next week when a whopping 39 games involving black college teams jump off. But there are a couple of things to be decided this week.
MEAC/SWAC Challenge No. 17
It’s good that the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference acronym MEAC is first in the name for the season-opening Challenge as that conference has dominated play since it began in 2005.
The MEAC representatives have an 11-5 edge over the Southwestern Athletic Conference entries in the 16 years the game has been played (see THE STAT CORNER). That includes last year’s 23-14 win by the MEAC’s North Carolina Central over the SWAC’s Alcorn State.
That’s without mentioning that the MEAC also has a 5-1 edge over the SWAC in the season-ending Celebration Bowl that pits the two league’s champions.
So it could be said the MEAC owns the beginning and end of matchups with the SWAC over the last 20 years. To get a real gauge on how the conferences have done against each other, we’d have to include the games played in between these season-opening and season-ending contests.
We’ll save that for another time.
The showdown in Atlanta this week
This Saturday its the MEAC’s Howard Bison versus the SWAC’s Hornets of Alabama State at Atlanta’s Center Parc Stadium at 7 p.m. carried live on ESPN.
It’s a matchup of up-and-comers in both conferences and should tell us a lot about how both teams may fare in their respective leagues.
Bison head coach Larry Scott was in his first year in 2021. Despite his team finishing 3-8 overall, 1-4 in the new six-team MEAC last year, he and the Bison showed a lot.
Howard lost two of its conference games by single digits – 15-12 to eventual MEAC champion South Carolina State on the road in Orangeburg, S.C. and 30-23 on the road at Delaware State.
The Bison came up a couple of touchdowns short hosting Norfolk State (a 45-31) loss. Their biggest loss was at home to eventual conference runners-up North Carolina Central, 45- 27. The Bison led that game 14-7 in the first quarter, put up 461 yards of total offense but surrendered 293 rushing yards and 530 total years to the Eagles in the loss.
What they showed in those games was a competitiveness and discipline which bodes well as they head into the 2022 season.
Scott has senior quarterback Quentin Williams back at the controls of the Bison offense. Williams threw for over 2,300 yards and for 16 TDs with 7 interceptions last season. Antoine Murray, a preseason first team all- MEAC selection is expected to be his favorite target.
Additionally, the Bison have two offensive linemen – junior Darrius Fox and senior Anim Dunkwah – as preseason all-MEAC first teamers and two running backs – senior Ian Wheeler and junior Jared Hunter – as second teamers.
The biggest jump will have to be made in the defense led by first team selections Darren Brokenbur on the line and Kenny Gallop in the secondary.
Perhaps no head coach in the SWAC wants to beat an MEAC opponent more than new Alabama State head coach Eddie Robinson Jr.
It kind of galls Robinson, who played 11 years in the NFL after a stellar career at Alabama State, that his beloved SWAC has apparently fallen so far behind the MEAC in their head-to-head competition. And he rarely misses an opportunity to make noise about it.
Robinson hearkens back to a time, like when he finished his career at ASU in 1991 with a 36-13 win over the MEAC’s N. C. A&T in the season-ending Heritage Bowl, when the SWAC was the dominant conference. He gets a chance to right the SWAC ship in his debut game leading his alma mater.
The Hornets, who haven’t won a SWAC football title since 2004, are coming off a 5-6 overall record in 2021 and a 3-5 record in SWAC play.
Most of the preseason noise has been about Auburn transfer quarterback Dematrius Davis, a former 4-star recruit, who may be ASU’s biggest ever transfer addition. But he’s not the only one. Robinson added Arkansas lineman Ray Curry, UConn tight end Jayce Medlock and Colorado wideout La’Vontae Shenault among others.
They’ve been added to a roster that includes standouts Irshaad Davis at defensive back and offensive lineman Robert Alston.
Robinson, along with new Grambling State head coach Hue Jackson, are the latest NFL products to join Jackson State head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders in the SWAC coaching ranks. Whether the Hornets can make a big jump under Robinson like JSU has done under Sanders is the big question that everyone is asking. There will be some indication of that after Saturday’s game.
The rest of the schedule
The other two games on this week’s schedule involve Florida schools.
Florida A&M, the co-favorite with Jackson State in the SWAC, has a special date in Chapel Hill vs. ACC member UNC (8 p.m. on the ACC Network). The game is dubbed the HBCU Celebration Game and will honor HBCU coaching legends Bill Hayes, Rod Broadway and Rudy Hubbard. Additionally, FAMU’s famed Marching 100 band will perform at halftime and join with UNC’s Marching Tar Heels pre-game and halftime performances.
Willie Simmons’ Rattlers will be huge underdogs but the game should give an indication of how much FAMU has improved and is ready to again challenge Sanders and JSU as they did a year ago in a 7-6 opening game loss. FAMU meets JSU next Sunday (Sept. 4) at the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami.
The other game Saturday is dubbed the Big Cat Classic and matches Florida Memorial against Edward Waters in Miami Gardens, Fla.