By Alvin Hollins
College Sports Journal
TALLAHASSEE, FL. — Yes, HBCU sports fans it is still early in the 2013 football season but some early trends seem to be developing among the 22 Division FCS programs which portend a mixed bag of a season ahead.
Thus far, 37 games have been played by programs from the premier Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) athletic leagues — the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) — and the returns are mixed at best.
To be fair, 12 of those losses came in the so-called guarantee games against Division I FBS (or I-A) competition, but it is the non-conference games against FCS (or I-AA) and Division Two that are of most concern.
For the MEAC, which holds an automatic NCAA postseason bid, the hope was that the league would make a splash in non-conference play to strengthen its chances of garnering an at-large bid in the expanded Division I FCS playoffs this November.
• Thus far, the league is a collective 6-13, aided by a 3-0 record against Division Two competition, and two out-of-conference wins on the opening weekend by defending champion Bethune-Cookman over Tennessee State (Ohio Valley), and Florida A&M over Mississippi Valley (SWAC).
• North Carolina A&T turned in the most welcome result of the year so far on Saturday, knocking off future FBS program Appalachian State, 24-21, after bolting to a 24-6 lead on the road.
• The biggest scare came at Durham, N.C., as North Carolina Central had a rally to force overtime enroute to a 23-20 win over Division Two St. Augustine’s.
• The MEAC actually showed up a bit better in the guarantee games, as Howard University dropped a 10-point decision to Eastern Michigan (34-24), while Morgan State was a tough out for the Black Knights of Army, 28-12 on the opening weekend.
Meanwhile, the SWAC, which does not participate in the playoffs due to its December conference championship game is seeking to regain some of the competitive luster lost the past few years due to NCAA academic penalties and the precipitous decline of some of the league’s perennial strongmen.
• The SWAC is 4-14, bolstered by three (3) wins coming in conference play.
• The league is 0-5 in the guarantee games, as all but one – Jackson State’s 34-7 loss at Tulane in Week One – was remotely close.
• The SWAC’s 1-2 record against Division Two clubs, with both losses coming at home on Saturday (Tuskegee 23, Alabama A&M 7; Delta State 24, Mississippi Valley 14) has to be concerning.
• In addition, the league is winless in four (4) games against non-conference FCS clubs from the Southland Conference (0-3) and the MEAC (0-1).
Again, with the two league going in different directions with regards to postseason play, these early returns may not even be a blip on the radar of most fans, especially for the SWAC.
But for the playoff focused MEAC which had just one team ranked in the FCS Top 25 coming into the weekend, they can only hope that A&T’s huge win at AppState will help offset their 2-6 out-of-conference mark against FCS competition.
Conference play for both leagues should be really interesting.
WHAT’S ON TAP THIS WEEK
In the MEAC, nine games will be on tap, all against out-of-conference opposition… None will be bigger though, than North Carolina A&T’s home opener against Southern Conference foe Elon…. Florida A&M hosts Southern Conference foe Samford; North Carolina Central is at UNC Charlotte; Alabama A&M visits South Carolina State; Delaware State is at Towson; Bethune-Cookman is at Florida International; Tennessee Tech visits Hampton, while Morgan State visits Liberty, and Fort Valley State is at Savannah State.
In the SWAC, three conference games head the docket, with Mississippi Valley at Alcorn; Prairie View at Southern, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff hosting Alabama State… The non-conference schedule features Alabama A&M at South Carolina State, Lincoln (Mo.) at Grambling, Jackson State at Tennessee State, and Texas Southern at Sam Houston State.
PARTING SHOTS: North Carolina A&T’s win over AppState Saturday sent folks scrambling to their schedules to discover that the Aggies will not meet Bethune-Cookman this season (or next) due to the split schedule format… That could make for an interesting conference race as the league’s tiebreaking procedures might possibly come into play… Delaware State could make a case for having one of the strongest non-conference lineups…. Last weekend, the Hornets opened the season at Delaware; this Saturday, they will face Towson, and has two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State also on the schedule… But Bethune-Cookman could chime in on that conversation as they have Tennessee State, FIU and Florida State in their September schedule…. But no one will haul away as much loot for a money game as FAMU, which will net $900K for their Sept. 21 tour date against Ohio State.