NEW HAVEN (BASN) — We sit just a few days away from the start of Saturday morning tailgates, pomp and circumstance, and everybody’s favorite activity — the fifth quarter.
The spectacle of Black College Football — and all the happenings associated with it — is back. Beginning today, we’ll take a peek at the upcoming season by previewing what to look for in all four major conferences.
Today, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) is our focus.
For the second straight year, the league crown was shared by multiple teams. North Carolina A&T, Bethune-Cookman, and N.C. Central all finished with a 7-1 league mark. However, it was Rod Broadway’s Aggies (10-2 overall) that won the league’s tiebreaker. A&T represented the MEAC in the inaugural Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.
Their 41-34 victory over SWAC champion Alcorn State gave A&T its fourth HBCU National Championship in school history. MEAC coaches have tabbed the Aggies as the team to beat for the third straight year.
The Wildcats (9-2) are listed second and the Eagles (8-3) are tabbed third.
HAND HIM THE HEISMAN?
Way back in September of 1994, then Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Hand Him The Heisman” emblazoned on it. Will we be saying the same thing about A&T’s outstanding running back Tarik Cohen before the year is over? The MEAC’s Offensive Player of the Year the last two seasons is already the Aggies’ all-time leading rusher. His 1,543 yards last year are also an A&T single-season record and his 295 yards in the Celebration Bowl were the fifth-best in FCS postseason history. While players like Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey are getting all the hype, don’t sleep on this dynamic talent.
Since coming to N.C. Central two years ago, Jerry Mack has compiled an impressive 15-8 mark. The Eagles have also won a share of the MEAC crown including a pair of season-ending wins against their regional rivals from A&T. The question will be can NCCU finally break through and win the league outright. Offensively, fifth-year senior QB Malcolm Bell (2,090 yards of total offense), the MEAC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Dorrel McClain (958 rushing yards), and a strong offensive line will have a big say. However, the defense has lost three of last year’s four top tacklers. The Eagles’ road to Atlanta will be contingent on the strength of this group.
Several players who are replacing some school standouts will be in the spotlight heading into the 2016 season. At Morgan State, Wagner transfer Chris Andrews is slated to replace the departed Moses Skillon under center. Another key quarterback battle will play out at Delaware State: Sophomore Kobe Lain is the incumbent and junior college transfer Daniel Epperson will push him for playing time. At Norfolk State, head coach Latrell Scott will be looking to replace a pair of defensive stalwarts in LB Deon King and DB D’Metrius Williams. Look for NSU to lean on junior DT Chris Lee and senior CB Sandy Chapman to take a more active role.
SAY HELLO TO…
Savannah State’s Erik Raeburn and Morgan State’s Fred Farrior are the MEAC’s newest head coaches for 2016. To say it will be a bit of a struggle for them is an understatement. Not only are both schools ineligible for the league crown (due to APR issues), but they’re both facing rebuilding plans. For Raeburn, he inherits a program that’s had only one season with more than two wins since becoming an FCS program in 2000. Farrior will have standout RB Herb Walker (a school-record 1,408 rushing yards in 2014) returning after missing all of 2015 due to ineligibility issues. A schedule that doesn’t include either A&T or South Carolina State could make the road a bit better. However, it appears that the Bears will have a tough time to recreate last year’s four-win campaign.
TINY BITES, TINY STEPS
FAMU’s Alex Wood can identify with what Raeburn and Farrior are going through. In his first season as the Rattlers’ head coach, he endured a 1-10 campaign. It was the first 10-loss season in school history and the fourth straight losing year that FAMU has endured. Needless to say, but Wood declared that all starting positions were open at the start of spring practice. While the roster is full of fifth-year seniors, Wood has also gone heavy with several junior college transfers. A brutal opening schedule — which includes Miami, Tuskegee, and South Carolina State — will not help. However, there’s a good chance that this Rattler squad will improve even though it may not show up in the win-loss column soon enough for the diehards in Tallahassee.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.