Non-conference games are all but out of the way and the focus now shifts to conference play. Some early blows have been struck and some early patterns have emerged but there’s plenty to be decided. Here’s how the conference races stack up headed into games this week.
MEAC is on and popping!
There are five teams (sound familiar) undefeated in MEAC play in the early going. Among them are four (B-CU, SCSU, NC A&T, MSU) of the unprecedented five (including NCCU) that tied for the 2014 conference title. The conference had its first 2015 match-up of 2014 titleholders Saturday in Durham as North Carolina Central hosted Bethune-Cookman.
The outcome, a last-minute come-from-behind 28-26 win for B-CU, was perhaps the opening salvo of a race that could go down to the wire just like last year. Round 2 of 2014 co-champions is Thursday (7:30 p.m.) in Daytona Beach, Florida when BCSP No. 2 B-CU (4-1, 2-0 MEAC) hosts BCSP No. 7 South Carolina State (2-2, 1-0) in a game to be carried live on ESPNU.
Last year, in a whacky defensive struggle (neither team had 200 yards of total offense) in Orangeburg (S. C.), B-CU scored on a 3-yard fumble return to tie the game at 14 with :50 seconds left. B-CU, then under Brian Jenkins, tried an onside kick that SCSU recovered. On the first play after the recovery, SCSU quarterback Adrian Kollock hit wideout Austin Smith on a stunning 49-yard scoring strike with :33 seconds left enabling the Bulldogs to pull out a quite improbable 20-14 win.
Expect more of the same Thursday. SCSU and B-CU are two of the stingiest defenses in the league. SCSU is first in total (284.5 ypg.) and scoring defense (16.2 ppg.). B-CU is third in scoring defense (27.8 ppg.) and fifth in total defense (393.6 ypg.). B-CU is also first in total offense (398.8 ypg.). Senior QB Quentin Williams leads B-CU. Freshman Caleb York is the SCSU QB though veteran Adrian Kollock is expected to play.
The new B-CU head coach is Terry Sims, an assistant last year under Jenkins. He got his first taste of MEAC last-minute heroics (as a head coach) Saturday when freshman Elliot Miller’s block of an 18-yard NCCU field goal attempt with less than a minute left enabled the Wildcats to escape Durham with a win. His Wildcats, in fact, will be facing three co-champs in a row. After SC State, the ‘Cats face North Carolina A&T, on the road next week (Oct. 17).
The MEAC race is indeed on and popping. The newest entrant to the race may be Norfolk State under new head coach Latrell Scott. Scott, fresh off leading Virginia State to last year’s CIAA title, has the Spartans (2-3) at 2-0 in league play after wins over Hampton and Howard. They will host BCSP No. 6 N. C. A&T (3-1, 1-0) Saturday (2 p.m.) at Dick Price Stadium in Norfolk.
The Spartans opened the season with three losses to FBS opponents (Rutgers, Old Dominion and Marshall) and have staged some late-game heroics of their own in wins over Hampton and Howard. After trailing Hampton 14-7 at the half, they shut out the Pirates while scoring 17 third-quarter points in a 24-14 win. Then Saturday at Howard’s homecoming, they scored a touchdown with :41 seconds left to pull out a 15-12 win. Florida Atlantic transfer QB Greg Hankerson has been the catalyst for the Spartans.
A&T has been relying on dynamic tailback Tarik Cohen who leads the conference in rushing (94.5 ypg.) and scoring with six TDs, sterling special teams play and a dominating defense. In other MEAC games, Savannah State (1-3, 1-1), off its first conference win in 32 games, is at (4 p.m.) current co-leader Morgan State (2-2, 2-0), Hampton (2-3, 1-2) has homecoming (2 p.m.) vs. winless Delaware State (0-4, 0-1) and Florida A&M, also winless (0-5, 0-2) hosts (4 p.m.) N. C. Central (1-3, 0-1).
SWAC leaders cruising!
BCSP No.1 Alcorn State (4-1, 3-0), who leads the SWAC East Division by two-and-a-half games, is off this week while West Division leaders Grambling State and Southern are in action. GSU (3-2, 3-0) hosts (3 p.m.) Alabama A&M (1-3, 1-1) while Southern (2-2, 2-0) returns to action (6 p.m.) at Alabama State (2-3, 2-2). Prairie View A&M (2-2, 2-1) hosts winless Mississippi Valley State for homecoming in the only other SWAC contest (2 p.m.).
Northern powershift in CIAA
There appears to be a significant powershift to the CIAA North as the conference enters intradivisional play this week. North teams have gone 11-3 vs. teams from the South with Bowie State at 2-0 and Virginia Union and Chowan at 3-0 (including designated non-conference wins over St. Augustine’s and Fayetteville State respectively). The top battle this week is the North Division showdown with Chowan at Bowie State’s homecoming (4 p.m.), Both are 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
Chowan, who knocked off perennial South Division power Winston-Salem State Saturday (27-24) and also has a big win over Delaware State of the MEAC, is led by juco transfer QB Randall Dixon (181.0 passing ypg., 10 TDs) and Old Dominion transfer RB Tyree Lee who is rushing for 108 yards per game with seven TDs. Lee went out of the WSSU game with an injury. His status for Saturday’s game is unknown.
Bowie State’s primary weapon has been quarterback Matthew Goggans who has thrown for 1,560 yards (312.0 ypg.) and 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions in five games. Goggans had four 300-yard passing games before throwing for just 177 in Saturday’s win over Johnson C. Smith. His primary targets have been wide receiver Nyme Manns (32 rec., 467 yds., 5 TDs) and tight end Jordan Garrison (19 rec., 334 yds., 5 TDs).
Also in the North, Virginia Union (4-1, 2-0) is at homecoming at Lincoln (3-2, 1-1) and Virginia State (3-2, 1-1) is at Elizabeth City State (3-1, 1-1). South match-ups include Shaw (0-5, 0-2) at division leader Fayetteville State (2-3, 2-0), Livingstone (1-2, 0-2) at St. Aug’s (0-5, 0-2) and Johnson C. Smith (1-4, 0-2) at Winston-Salem State (1-4, 1-1).
The SIAC is still primarily in inter-divisional play. Morehouse (3-1) and Tuskegee (3-1) meet in Columbia, Ga. in the 80th renewal of their Classic. Stillman (1-3, 0-2) is at Clark Atlanta (0-3, 0-1), Kentucky State (1-3, 1-0) has its homecoming against Fort Valley State (3-2, 3-0) and Benedict (0-4, 0-1) faces Lane (1-2, 0-1) at the Augusta (Ga.) Classic. Central State (2-2, 0-0) has its homecoming vs. Miles (0-4, 0-1) in a West Division game.