The road to the final No. 1 ranking in the Black College Sports Page Top Ten was quite a journey for head coach Broderick Fobbs and the Grambling State Tigers.
Coming off a 9-3 2015 season and a runner-up finish to champion Alcorn State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Fobbs’ G-Men were ranked sixth in the preseason 2016 BCSP Top Ten behind No. 1 North Carolina Central out of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference and No. 2 Prairie View A&M and No. 4 Alcorn State out of the SWAC.
The big question for Grambling was who would succeed quarterback Jonathan Williams, the 2015 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year who threw for over 3,000 yards and 37 touchdowns while earning BCSP first ‘Baad Team’ status. Well, that question was answered in the form of Ole Miss transfer Devante Kincade.
The junior served notice by leading Grambling to a 21-3 halftime lead over Pac-12 member Arizona to open the season. An injury to his ankle just before halftime is likely the only thing that prevented a huge upset as the Tigers, without Kincade in the second half, fell to the Wildcats 31-21. It would be the only blemish on the Tigers’ 11-1 record.
Kincade went on to lead the G-Men to 11 straight victories throwing for over 3,000 yards with 31 TDs and just four interceptions. The offense he directed averaged over 500 yards and 44 points per game and the Tigers were blessed with a defense that was as stingy as the offense was prolific. They routed SWAC teams by an average of 32 points.
Their closest games were the final two – come-from-behind wins over Alcorn State (27-20) in the SWAC Championship Game and a close 10-9 win Saturday over MEAC champion North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl.
Those 11 wins against just one loss and SWAC and Celebration Bowl titles makes Grambling a clear choice as the 2016 BCSP national champion and final No. 1 team in the BCSP Top Ten.
But not by much.
Jerry Mack’s North Carolina Central Eagles lived up to their BCSP preseason No. 1 billing. After sharing MEAC titles in 2014 and 2015 – Mack’s first two years on the job – they ran the table in the MEAC (8-0) this year including getting a title-clinching win over rival North Carolina A&T on the last day of the regular season (for the third year in a row) to win the title outright. They entered Saturday’s Celebration Bowl as a decided underdog against Grambling and fought the Tigers right down to the final whistle of the 10-9 decision.
If Grambling is an undisputed No. 1, then NC Central is equally undisputed at No. 2.
After two early FBS losses, N. C. Central fell out of first place and North Carolina A&T moved into the top spot. Riding a record-breaking season from running back Tarik Cohen, the Aggies (9-3) stayed there, winning seven straight games until its loss to NCCU on the final day of the regular season. A big four-overtime win over BCS member Kent State on the second week of the season solidified their top ranking.
Their 9-2 overall record was good enough however to earn the first FCS playoff berth for the MEAC in the Celebration Bowl era. Unfortunately, the Aggies had to face NCCU and playoff opponent Richmond with its third-string quarterback and were not able to pull out victories. The Aggies finish at No. 3.
Once again, the SWAC West Division title came down to Grambling and Southern’s Bayou Classic showdown in New Orleans in late November Grambling prevailed 52-30 to claim the division title. Southern (8-3), whose only other losses were to BCS members Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane, has the designation as the second best team in the SWAC and final BCSP No. 4.
Just behind Grambling State and Southern in the SWAC West, was Prairie View A&M (7-4) whose only two conference losses were to the Tigers and Jaguars. The Panthers are the third SWAC team in the top five of the BCSP ranking. Tennessee State (7-4) begins the second five, at No. 6, after finishing fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Repeat CIAA champion Winston-Salem State (9-3) is the first NCAA Div. II team in the final rankings at No. 7. The Rams proved once again that they are the class of the South Division and the league as they downed high-scoring North Division champ Bowie State in the CIAA Championship Game. WSSU battled gamely before falling at LIU-Post in the first round of the D2 playoffs.
Two other CIAA teams occupy the Nos. 8 and 9 spots. High-scoring Bowie State (8-3) survived a tough North Division race before falling to WSSU in the league’s title game. Virginia State (9-2) took that race and took Bowie State down to the wire (a 38-37 loss) before settling for second. An extra date win against Tuskegee cemented the Trojans at No. 9.
Tuskegee (9-3) couldn’t win the SIAC West race after losing at homecoming to Kentucky State (10-9) and couldn’t take down Virginia State in an extra game to gain playoff status. But the Golden Tigers were good enough to get another Div. II playoff berth and win, this one over Newberry before falling in the second round to North Greenville.
The Golden Kittens finish out our final Top Ten.