All games are important, right? Well, that’s what rabid fans and coaches believe, to a degree.
There are certain games, for whatever reason, that we all circle and consider “must watch” when the schedules are released. Now that the 2019 season is underway and the pundits have bloviated over the past few months about how good (or bad) a team could be, there are several matchups that happen to stand out more than others.
With that said, I have created what I consider to be the 25 best games to watch in HBCU Football on the FCS level for the 2019 season.
So, I’ve decided to create four different categories and rank the qualifying matchups within their respective grouping. Some of you are wondering “why four categories?” My response, “why not!?” My sagacious mind wouldn’t allow me to consider, for example, a game involving Hampton to be less important than one that involves Grambling because the Pirates — who are a year removed from the MEAC — can no longer qualify to participate in the Celebration Bowl in December. Plus, it’s MY list, I can do what I want.
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FCS vs. FBS
Howard over UNLV. North Carolina A&T defeats East Carolina. Over the past few seasons, the gap between these two levels of football seems to be narrowing. Will there be another “upset” and could a Power 5 opponent fall victim to an HBCU in 2019?
2. Alcorn State at Southern Miss (August 31)
The Golden Eagles were a “middle-of-the-road” C-USA team last year at 6-5. The Braves, huge favorites to win the SWAC again this season, will bring in a team that was ranked in the top 15 offensively and defensively in FCS. You know the phrase, “any given Saturday”.
1. North Carolina A&T at Duke (September 7)
The Aggies have wins over FBS opponents in each of their past three seasons. The Blue Devils are entering this season without QB Daniel Jones and will face Alabama (yes, THAT Alabama) the week before. Can A&T take advantage?
Since the advent of the Celebration Bowl, the MEAC and SWAC champions won’t participate in the FCS Playoffs. That still doesn’t mean these games don’t have meaning. Often seen as measuring sticks, a win against a non-conference opponent – especially a strong one – can be used as bragging rights in the proverbial game of “what if”. And even though the MEAC no longer receives an automatic bid into the playoffs, a representative from the conference can still get an at-large selection with a good enough overall record and quality OOC wins, so these matchups will be taken into consideration.
5. Wofford at South Carolina State (August 31)
Coach Buddy Pough is 0-4 all-time against Wofford, where these games have been – dare I say – “dog fights”? The last two times Pough faced the Terriers in Orangeburg, they’ve lost by an average of less than two points per contest.
4. Southern at McNeese State (August 31)
Coach Dawson Odums is looking to go into Lake Charles and even up this series, with their only matchup against the Cowboys ending in a 34-17 loss in 2004.
3. Alcorn State at McNeese State (September 14)
McNeese State is 3-0 all-time against the Braves but the Cowboys only won by six the last time they played in 2017 with a touchdown with 26 seconds remaining in the game.
2. North Carolina A&T at Charleston Southern (September 14)
This is the first-ever meeting between Charleston Southern and North Carolina A&T. This will be interesting to see how the Buccaneers, looking to rebound from a 5-6 record last year, will look against the Aggies, who are 10-2 against non-conference opponents over the last three seasons.
1. North Carolina A&T at Elon (August 31)
Both teams start the season ranked in the FCS STATS and FCS Coaches Top 25. The Phoenix, FCS Playoff participants over the last two seasons, are returning more than 14 starters but they haven’t been able to beat the Aggies since 2006, going 0-3 in their last three matchups.
OH! Throw the records out the window with these! A few of these rivalries have a long-standing history within HBCU Sports. They don’t affect your conference record and the fans don’t care. It’s all about bragging rights when these fan bases get together.
4. Jackson State at Tennessee State (September 14 in Memphis, TN)
The Southern Heritage Classic between Jackson State and Tennessee State was canceled last season due to lightning and the Tigers from Tennessee are currently riding a six-game win streak in this series. Coach John Hendrick looks to have Jackson State on the rebound in 2019 with Florida QB transfer Jalon Jones while Coach Rod Reed will have to move on without projected starting QB Demry Croft, who has been suspended from the team.
3. Jackson State vs Bethune Cookman (September 1 in Atlanta, GA)
Could this be the HBCU version of “Atlanta to Atlanta”? This year’s MEAC/SWAC Challenge pits two teams against one another that haven’t played each other since 1989. With both teams looking to be competitive in their respective conferences, this could be a potential preview to the Celebration Bowl in December.
2. Southern at Florida A&M (September 21)
One of the longest standing non-conference rivalries in Black College Football history. This matchup drew an average of 40,000 in their two games during the early 2010s. This would’ve been the dream matchup for the Celebration Bowl, with both teams being strong favorites in the MEAC and SWAC but the Rattlers are facing a post-season ban this year.
1. Howard vs Hampton (September 14 in Chicago, IL)
The Battle of the Real HU. This will be the first non-conference game between these two rivals since 1994. Jaguar and Rattler Nation are asking “why is this game ranked above ours?” The QB matchup that is Caylin Newton vs the Florida State transfer Deondre Francois.
These are the ones that count! Winning these and becoming champion of your respective conference will mean playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium this December. North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State are expected to meet for a third time in Atlanta but there are several teams that look to stand in their way. If you’re wondering, these rankings are based on preseason rankings, importance of game to their respective conference championships and strength of series throughout their last five matchups.
14. Alabama A&M at Southern (November 2)
The improving Bulldogs aren’t sneaking up on anyone this season after posting their first winning record in six years and finishing 2018 tied for seconnd in the East. If Coach Connell Maynor slays the beast that is Alcorn State, this matchup against Coach Odums and the Jaguars just might be the preview to the SWAC Title Game. The Bulldogs, however, have been having a tough time with the Jags, losing six consecutive games to Southern.
13. Jackson State at Alabama A&M (November 9)
Both Coach Maynor and Coach Hendrick are both looking to have their programs become the first East Division champion — not named Alcorn State — to win a SWAC title since Jackson State did it in 2007. Oddly enough, Alabama A&M won it all the year prior. This matchup could be a fun QB Battle, with Jalen Jones and Bulldogs QB Aqeel Glass. 1-4 in their last five against Alabama A&M, that lone Tigers win happened in Huntsville.
12. Southern at Alcorn State (October 26)
Coach Odums must be tired of being good. Yes, Southern is eyeing a seventh straight winning season under his guidance but the Jags haven’t won a SWAC title since 2013. The Jags came close last season, falling short to eventual SWAC Champion 37-28 in the title game. After dropping 8 of the last 9 games to Alcorn, including two last season, Southern’s defense will have to find a way to slow down Johnson & Company.
11. Prairie View at Alcorn State (September 21)
PVAMU coach Eric Dooley is looking to have a stronger showing in what could be a preview of the SWAC Championship game. Entering last season’s matchup, these were the two best offenses in the conference but the All-SWAC combo of Johnson and RB De’Shawn Waller combined for 475 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the Braves 27-13 win over Prairie View. Coach Fred McNair and the Braves are currently riding a two-game win streak over the Panthers, but these two teams have split their last eight games.
10. Grambling State vs Prairie View A&M (September 28 in Dallas, TX)
The Panthers started last season 2-0 in conference play, sparking speculation of a potential title run. One of those wins, a 22-16 win over Grambling where QB Jalen Morton tossed three touchdowns and RB Dawonya Tucker has a combined 161 yards of offense at The State Fair Classic. If Prairie View wants to be a threat in the West Division, coach Dooley is going to have to hold off Grambling back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2012-2013.
9. Bethune Cookman at Howard (September 28)
If MEAC fans are looking for a team outside of the Tarheel State to represent them in Atlanta this December, they just might come out of this game. Bison QB Caylin Newton has yet to lose to the Wildcats, including last season’s 41-35 shootout where he compiled 341 total yards of offense and threw for two touchdowns. Dual-threat QB Akevious Williams will look to orchestrate Bethune’s first win in DC since 2013.
8. Bethune Cookman vs Florida A&M (November 23 in Orlando, FL)
The Pick Six Heard ‘round The World. Literally. Aggie fans in Durham erupted with excitement as Wildcat safety Tydarius Peters ran back a 90-yard interception, his second interception of the quarter, to seal the fate of Florida A&M’s dream of winning the MEAC title in last season’s Florida Classic. This year, the Rattlers will look to return the feeling of a dream deferred but, in order to do so, they will have to snap this current eight-game losing streak against the Wildcats.
7. North Carolina A&T at Florida A&M (October 19)
Even though the Aggies walked away with both the MEAC and Black College Football titles last year due to a late-season collapse by Florida A&M, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that they have not forgotten about that 22-21 loss to the Rattlers in Greensboro last September, courtesy of Yahia Aly’s 26-yard game-winning field goal. If they have, Rattler Nation will remind them when they arrive in Tallahassee. I wonder if they will be concerned that the Rattlers haven’t beaten the Aggies at home in eight years? Doubt it.
6. Alabama A&M at Alcorn State (November 16)
Within a three-week span, the Bulldogs will have face Southern, Jackson State and Alcorn State, with the latter quite possibly being the toughest of the bunch. And, in order to win the SWAC’s East Division, they will have to topple the five-time divisional champions. This won’t be an easy feat, as Alcorn is currently riding a five-game win streak against the Bulldogs, including a 35-26-win last season where Noah Johnson gained a combined 314 yards of total offense and threw for two touchdowns. A&M’s last win over Alcorn, however, came in Lorman in 2013.
5. Howard at North Carolina A&T (October 26)
Both teams have designs on making a run at the MEAC crown. The Aggies are looking to win at least a share of the conference crown for the fifth time in six years. Bison QB Caylin Newton will play his first-ever game against the Aggies and their Blue Death Defense in Greensboro. If Howard plans on ruining The Greatest Homecoming on Earth, they will have to beat A&T in Aggieland for the first time since 2006.
4. Grambling State vs Southern (November 30, in New Orleans, LA)
One of the best rivalries in all of sports, last year’s The Bayou Classic was the first time that the Jaguars have beaten the Tigers since 2014. In their 38-28 win over Grambling, Jags RB Devon Benn rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown while Southern QB Ladarius Skelton tossed for three more. In what has become the de facto SWAC West Division title game in recent years, coach Broderick Fobbs will be looking for more production out of their offense who, outside of QB Geremy Hickbottom, tallied a combined 59 yards.
3. Alcorn State at Jackson State (November 23)
The winner of the bitter in-state rivalry will more than likely be the East Division representative in the SWAC title game in 2019. Last year, Alcorn held down Jackson State 24-3 on their way to win their 5th straight East Division title. RB De’Shawn Waller ran for 124 yards in The Soul Bowl, making the Braves 7-3 in their last 10 games against JSU. Coach John Hendricks is going to have to find some sort of offense in this game if they are looking to win the division.
2. Bethune Cookman at North Carolina A&T (November 16)
Coach Terry Sims has yet to beat North Carolina A&T. Doesn’t matter if they are coached by Rod Broadway or current Aggies head coach Sam Washington. Last season, the Aggies went down to Daytona and defeated the Wildcats 35-10 behind RB Jah-Maine Martin's 118 rushing yards and a touchdown. If Bethune wants to win the MEAC, they know they must beat A&T but, this time, they’ll have to do it in a place they haven’t won since 2009 … BB&T Stadium.
1. Prairie View A&M at Southern (October 12)
The Panthers will also face their own gauntlet of sorts, playing Alcorn State, Grambling and Southern in consecutive games. With Grambling coming off a down year last season, the Jags are looking to repeat as West Division Champs for the first time since 2013-2014 while Prairie View is chasing it’s first divisional title since 2009. Coach Dooley must find a way to slow down Southern QB Ladarius Skelton, who put up a combined 370 yards of offense (202 yards rushing) and four touchdowns in the Jags’ 38-0 over the Panthers. To make it even tougher, PV must go to Baton Rouge, where they haven’t won since 2015.