Florida A&M/Prairie View play for SWAC title

LUT WILLIAMS BCSP Editor

The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) takes center stage this week as East Division champ Florida A&M (10-1, 8-0 SWAC E) hosts West Division champ Prairie View A&M (6-5, 6-2 SWAC W) in the 25th league championship game (4 p.m. on ESPN2). The game is the next-to- last black college football game of the 2023 season.

The winner will advance to play Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champ Howard (6-5) in the season-ending Dec. 16 Cricket Celebration Bowl at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Game missing 2022 drama

This year’s game has none of the drama or off-field intrigue that accompanied last year’s championship game between undefeated (11- 0)East Division champ Jackson State with head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders and West Division champ Southern (7-4) led by Eric Dooley.

The 43-24 win by Sanders’ team was almost overshadowed by the much-ballyhooed coach’s postgame decision to bolt from JSU to take over the head coaching position at Colorado. Sanders, in fact, blew off the title game’s postgame press conference to take his team back to campus at JSU to announce he was leaving.

The coaches

Florida A&M sixth-year head coach Willie Simmons and Prairie View A&M head man Bubba McDowell, in his second season leading the Panthers, are very familiar with each other.

Prior to moving to FAMU in 2017, Simmons led Prairie View for three seasons (2015-17). McDowell, a former seven-year NFL veteran and defensive standout, was a defensive assistant on Simmons’ staff. McDowell became the Panthers’ head coach in 2022 after Dooley left to take over at Southern. McDowell had served as Dooley’s defensive coordinator.

This will be FAMU’s first time in the SWAC title game after leaving the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference in 2021 to join the SWAC. In the previous two seasons, Simmons’ troops suffered their only losses in SWAC play to Sanders’ undefeated Jackson State teams. FAMU earned an FCS playoff berth in 2021.

Prairie View finished at 6-5 under McDowell last season, tied for first with Southern at 5-3 in SWAC play. Southern won the West title by virtue of its 45-13 win over PV in head-to-head competition.

The Match Up – Florida A&M vs. Prairie View A&M

This year’s hype is tempered by Florida A&M’s 45-7 shellacking vs. Prairie View at the Rattlers’ homecoming game this season on Oct. 28 in Tallahassee. In that game, FAMU scored in the last half-minute of the first half to lead 21-7 at the break. The Rattlers then shut out the Panthers in the second half, 24-0. The win clinched the SWAC East title for FAMU.

FAMU quarterback Jeremy Moussa was 17 for 25 for 272 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers. Rattlers’ defenders held Prairie View quarterback Trazon Connley to nine completions in 24 attempts with three picks. FAMU also had three sacks and nine tackles for loss while holding the Panthers to just over 200 yards while piling up 453 yards of offense.

Will it be different this time around?

After the FAMU loss, Prairie View won its final three games vs.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (38-14), Southern (27-21) and Alabama State (21-14) to hold off Alcorn State and win the West Division title. Alcorn also had a 6-2 SWAC record but lost to Prairie View 23-20 in their head- to-head meeting on Sept. 23.

In the FAMU game, Prairie View played without rushing leader Ahmad Antoine and top receiving threats Shemar Savage and Brian Jenkins Jr. All three are expected to play in the title game.

McDowell, in his interview on Monday’s SWAC Championship Game teleconference, said he didn’t recognize his team in the second half of the FAMU game.

“In the first half it was them (his team), in the second half, I don’t know who that was. I told them at the end of the game, you guys were like two different teams. We can’t be that second-half team that we were when we played against the Rattlers last time. We’ve pointed out all the mistakes and bad play that we had.”

The difference for Florida A&M is simple.

“We’re still playing,” Simmons said on the teleconference. “That’s the difference. This is the longest we’ve played since we’ve been here. In 2021, we lost in the first round of the (FCS) playoffs.

“And so, the biggest difference is that in the first week after Thanksgiving we’re still in preparation. Everybody else has turned in their shoulder pads, turned in their uniforms.

“We’re still rolling.

“And so it’s a blessing to be in this position and I want to make sure our team understands that blessing, that we internalize it and allows us to go out and practice the way we should because we do get this great opportunity.”