And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
– “My Way” by Frank Sinatra
This classic from Old Blue Eyes is an easy go-to reference as we come to the end of the 2021 HBCU Football regular season, with the exception of three remaining SWAC games next week.
Grambling fired their head coach this past Monday while Jackson State is preparing to make a return to the sidelines.
Champions have yet to be officially crowned but we do know that the state of North Carolina will not be represented in the Celebration Bowl for the first time ever.
Five teams still have title aspirations, there’s a chance the MEAC can have co-champions (again), one divisional title in the SWAC has been awarded, and an old champ refuses to die.
Last week, I went 7-4 with my picks making my overall record this season is 74-42.
This week, Grambling State, Mississippi Valley State, and Southern are on byes while Prairie View A&M and Tennessee State will be facing nationally ranked FBS opponents from the SEC.
Wanna see who I picked this week? Well, let’s go.
Gardner-Webb (3-7, 1-5 Big South) vs. North Carolina A&T (5-5, 3-3 Big South)
Saturday, November 20, 1:00 PM EST (ESPN3)
The Aggies are looking to finish a season above-.500 for the ninth consecutive season as their first year in the Big South ends. 2-0 All-Time against the Bulldogs, A&T has outscored Gardner-Webb 90-9 in those contests. Doubting that the Aggies will hold GWU to single digits, look for their defense to play a roll in this matchup. The Blue Death Defense has scored in the past four games. Aggies 24, Bulldogs 21
North Alabama (2-8, 1-4) vs. Hampton (5-5, 3-3 Big South)
Saturday, November 20, 1:00 PM EST (ESPN+)
Hampton is looking to avoid finishing sub.-500 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2013-2014. Will Pirates QB Jett Duffey try to exploit the Big South’s worst pass defense against conference opponents, even though he’s averaging one touchdown pass in those contests? Hampton 21, Golden Lions 17
South Carolina State (5-5, 4-0 MEAC) vs. Norfolk State (6-4, 2-2 MEAC)
Saturday, November 20, 2:00 PM EST (ESPN3/ESPNU, Sunday, 7:30 AM EST)
Both teams are coming off tough losses, but none tougher than Norfolk’s. The Spartan’s 28-26 loss to Delaware State has eliminated them from title contention.
When asked about his team’s recent play, NSU head coach Dawson Odums responded, “when you don’t play your best for sixty minutes, you always give a team an opportunity to come back and that’s what happened.”
NSU averaged 42.6 points per game during their recent six-game win streak but has struggled to score points in the 2nd half in their last two contests, getting outscored 49-15. It won’t get easier this week, SCSU has given up less than seven points per game in the second half against MEAC opponents this season.
Quarterback play will be important in this matchup. As Juwan Carter goes, so goes the Spartans. Whenever he passes for less than 220 yards in a game, Norfolk State is 1-4 which includes last week’s loss to Delaware State (125). Bulldog starting QB Corey Fields, Jr, status is questionable for Saturday after getting knocked out off last Saturday’s game against A&T. Spartans 28, Bulldogs 24
Delaware State (5-5, 2-2) vs. North Carolina Central (5-5, 3-1)
Saturday, November 20, 1:00 PM EST (ESPN+)
There have been co-champions in the MEAC five of the last ten seasons and we’re on the verge of it happening again this year. A win here, coupled with a SCSU loss to Norfolk State, and the Eagles will claim their fourth title in seven years.
NCCU head coach Trei Oliver points out, “It’s always good to be in the conversation when you’re talking about championships. Obviously, we need a whole lot of help, but our focus this week will be strictly on Delaware State. So, we’re going to control what we can control, prepare for those guys and then 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, see what’s going on.”
Well, the Eagles’ priority will be on a team they have never lost to in Durham during this millennium. This is the same Delaware State team that held the best scoring offense in the MEAC scoreless in the second half last week. If the Hornets — the second-best scoring offense in the MEAC — can figure out how to put up points on the best scoring defense in the conference, they’ll earn their sixth win this season. A feat this team hasn’t achieved since 2012. Eagles 24, Hornets 21
Georgetown (2-7) vs. Morgan State (1-9)
Saturday, November 20, 12:00 PM EST (ESPN+)
A pillow fight between two OOC opponents. Two of the worst offensive teams in the nation, both programs are averaging less than 20 points per game this season. Hoyas 20, Bears 14
Virginia Lynchburg (2-8) vs. Howard (2-8)
Saturday, November 20, 1:00 PM EST (ESPN+)
2018. Remember this year. It’s the last time UVL won two straight games. It’s also the last (and only) time the Dragons have won three games in a season. If they want to repeat that feat and keep Howard from winning more than two games in a season – an accomplishment they haven’t pulled off since, you’ve guessed it, 2018 — they’ll have to stop the usual suspects on the Bison offense, QB Quinton Williams and RB Ian Wheeler. Sadly, UVL has yet to beat a DI opponent…ever. Bison 35, Dragons 10
Alcorn State (6-4, 5-2 SWAC) vs. #17/#19 Jackson State (9-1, 7-0 SWAC)
Saturday, November 20, 2:00 PM EST (ESPN+)
2013. That’s the last year the Tigers defeated Southern, and the last time Jackson State won the East Division title. Nine. The amount of wins the Tigers have this season, an accomplishment JSU hasn’t achieved since 2011. The Tigers have reached many of their goals this season but if you expect them to rest on their laurels and ride out the last game of the season, you’ll be sadly mistaken.
“Every time we take the field, we aim to win, and we aim to be dominant,” says JSU head coach Deion Sanders.
But before Coach Sanders & Co. can even think about a yet-to-be-determined opponent in the SWAC Championship game, they’ll face in-state rival Alcorn State this Saturday. Not only are bragging rights within the state of Mississippi on the line, but an Alcorn win also coupled with a Prairie View loss next week will lead to a rematch between these two programs in December’s title game.
When asked about the gravity of Saturday’s game, Alcorn head coach Fred McNair noted “[our players] know what’s at stake here, and they know how intense this ball game [is] gonna be.”
3-1 all-time against JSU, Coach McNair knows that this iteration of the Tigers is different than what he’s faced in past seasons. “[Jackson State has] done a lot of things well offensively and defensively.”
While the focus has been on JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders and linebacker James Houston, don’t ignore the Tiger receiving tandem of Keith Corbin III and Malachi Wideman. Corbin III (31 receptions, 440 receiving yards, touchdown) and Wideman (24 receptions, 382 receiving yards, nine touchdowns) have been key targets for Sanders over the past four games. Tigers 28, Braves 27
#25/#23 Florida A&M (8-2, 6-1) vs. Bethune-Cookman (2-8, 2-5)
Saturday, November 20, 3:30 PM EST (ESPN3)
Statistically, everything favors the Rattlers in this matchup. FAMU is nationally ranked. They have a better record. They’re the best scoring defense in the nation. The Rattlers are currently the eighth-best scoring defense in the nation. FAMU defensive end Isaiah Land leads the nation in sacks (17.0). Respectfully, my response to all those accolades as it pertains to matchup is “meh.” You know the adage, “throw records out in a rivalry game.” The Wildcats have won nine consecutive Florida Classics, some of which were must-win situations for FAMU. Guess what? If the Rattlers want to continue to be considered as an At-Large selection for the playoffs, they must win this one. And the Wildcats won’t mind being spoilers…again. Rattlers 35, Wildcats 28
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-8, 1-6) vs. Alabama A&M (6-3, 4-3)
Saturday, November 20, 2:00 PM EST (AAMU Sports Network)
What was the SWAC Title game during the spring is now just two teams looking to finish their season on a high note. Will the second-worst pass defense in the SWAC be able to slow down the best quarterback in the conference? AAMU QB Aqeel Glass has thrown for over 400 yards in four games this season, including a Division I Era program record for the Bulldogs last week where he threw for 462 yards and five touchdowns. Bulldogs 35, Golden Lions 24
Texas Southern (2-7, 2-5) vs. Alabama State (3-6, 2-5)
Saturday, November 20, 3:00 PM EST (ESPN+)
The Tigers have defeated Bama State just once in the last ten years. With the Hornets currently riding a four-game losing streak, this matchup could be favorable for TSU. It’s easy to focus on Tiger freshman quarterback Andrew Body (2,362 total yards, 14 touchdowns), but running back Ladarius Owens has rushed for 377 yards on 35 carries in his last two starts. He should play a pivotal role against a defense that has allowed 149.25 yards on the ground per game during their current slide. Tigers 30, Hornets 21