With SWAC and MEAC games on the horizon, some of the most intriguing narratives in FCS football will come from historically Black colleges and universities.
You probably have your Saturday routine set at this point. You have your go-to meal, your adult beverage, your two (or three) screens, and a gameplan to navigate a weekly college football schedule that consistently features more than 12 consecutive hours of games.
If that plan doesn’t include some HBCU action, however, you might want to reconsider.
With a slate full of rivalries, coach feuds, and just plain competitive football, here are the top HBCU games to put on your radar as conference play takes flight.
Jackson State at Alabama A&M
Saturday, Oct. 9, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN+)
HBCU college titans will collide once again when Jackson State faces off against the reigning SWAC champions, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs. Due to the SWAC choosing to play its 2020 football season in the spring, this will be the second time Jackson State and Alabama A&M will square off in 2021. Both teams came out with their guns blazing when they played in April, resulting in a 53-42 shootout win for the Bulldogs.
After the game, Alabama A&M head coach Connell Maynor was asked if he would offer any advice to Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders. His reply:
“[Deion has] got assistant coaches; he’s got NFL coaches. He talks about how good his staff is and how good they are. So I’m sure that he can lean on those guys for advice… I’d have told him to recruit some more 5-stars. He’s talking about all them 4- and 5-stars he recruits. You’re not the only one recruiting 5-stars- and 4-stars; we do, too. Let’s go. We got guys coming back next year, too. Everybody waiting for next year.”
As Sanders responded, “I understand those guys. In its totality, they’re trying to make a name for themselves. And you got to take a shot at me to do that. I don’t come from the place where you step on another person to make yourself look taller. I don’t come from that place.”
Coach Prime didn’t do exactly what Maynor suggested, but he did outperform schools with 10 times his athletic budget and 25 times his recruiting budget. Maynor was able to bring in three 4-star transfers to Alabama A&M, according to 247Sports. Sanders brought five 4-stars and seven 3-stars.
But Maynor has the Bulldog offense clicking on all cylinders, averaging 36 points through two games. One could say the same about Jackson State’s defense, which has only allowed 29 total points through three games. Since Sanders stepped foot on Jackson State’s campus, he has created a buzz around the football program that hasn’t been there since 2013.
But in order for the team to truly become the powerhouse that he envisions, the Tigers just have to win — and the Bulldogs have no plans to relinquish their mantle as SWAC champions.
Florida A&M at Alabama A&M
Saturday, Oct. 16, 2 p.m. (ESPN+)
Florida A&M notably switched conferences, jumping from the MEAC to the SWAC, citing travel expenses as one of the reasons for leaving.
FAMU is currently in the middle of a five-year NCAA probation due to a “lack of institutional control for failing to monitor its athletics program between the 2010-11 and 2016-17 seasons.” The Rattlers also chose to suspend themselves from postseason play for the 2019 season. Ironically, had FAMU not imposed the ban, they would have won the MEAC conference championship.
The Rattlers did not play a 2020 football season, so this will be the first season they have played as members of the SWAC.
The would-be MEAC champions will face the reigning SWAC champion Alabama A&M on Oct. 16. The Bulldogs are currently on a seven-game winning streak that dates back to last year when they went undefeated.
Monmouth at North Carolina A&T
Saturday, Oct. 30, 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Like FAMU, North Carolina A&T also switched conferences, shocking the HBCU world in departing the MEAC for the Big South. The Aggies had dominated the MEAC for nearly a decade, winning three conference championships and a share of two more since 2010.
(NC A&T wasn’t the first school to leave the MEAC for the Big South, however; Hampton University made the move in 2017.)
In terms of which conference packs more power, the Big South is currently ranked 15th out of 25 on realtimerpi.com‘s power rankings, whereas the MEAC is at 24.
Monmouth may be in New Jersey and not a historically black university, but they’re on our list given their status as the Big South’s resident powerhouse despite enjoying limited field time since 2019. That’s due to the conference delaying its 2020 football season to spring 2021, and even then, the Hawks only played three games. In the three contests, however, Monmouth dominated, winning by a combined margin of 72 points.
With both A&T and Monmouth former conference champions, worlds will collide on Oct. 30 when the Hawks face off against the Aggies in Greensboro.
South Carolina State at North Carolina Central
Saturday, Oct. 30, 2 p.m. (ESPN+)
The MEAC will likely look to recruit schools into the conference in the months to come due to four schools leaving in the past four years. Currently, conference membership stands at just six in football.
Two of those six schools are the South Carolina State Bulldogs and the North Carolina Central Eagles. With most of the MEAC’s power schools withdrawing from the conference, the championship is wide open for the taking.
South Carolina State had a promising 2019 but did not play in 2020. Its only FCS losses were against the would-be MEAC champion Rattlers and the actual MEAC champion Aggies. Even this season, though SCSU has not won a game yet, it came within one point of beating Alabama A&M.
NC Central shocked the HBCU world earlier this year, defeating Alcorn State in the season opener. It has since followed that victory with a win over Winston-Salem State. The power structure in the MEAC will solidify as the season goes on, but both schools appear to have promising futures.
Jackson State at Southern
Saturday, Nov. 13, 6 p.m. (ESPN3)
Earlier this year, Southern was the only team that truly put a beatdown on Jackson State, defeating Sanders’ squad 34-14.
Six months will have passed since the two teams have played and much has changed in that time. Jackson State is looking to emerge as a premier FCS powerhouse and so far, it is off to a good start. The Tigers beat both FAMU and Tennessee State, coached by Eddie George. Jackson State also nearly upset Louisiana-Monroe last weekend, but ultimately fell 12-7.
Southern sits at 1-2, losing to Troy and McNeese State. Neither school has begun conference play, as of this writing, but when it does begin, Sanders will have the Tigers dead set on avenging their loss from last season.