If there was any doubt about the 2015 “Baad Team” Black College Offensive Player of the Year, it was erased Saturday in Atlanta. It was there that North Carolina A&T 5-6, 170-pound running back Tarik Cohen ran thru, around and past Alcorn State defenders for 295 yards on just 22 carries, including scoring runs of 74, 83 and 73 yards, in the Aggies’ thrilling 41-34 win over the Braves in the first annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl (See Celebration Bowl recap).
Cohen finishes the year with 1,543 rushing yards, an average of 138.3 yards per game and5.8 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns. It’s the third straight 1,000-yard rushing season for the junior who is now less than a 1,000 yards from becoming the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher with one year left to play. Cohen’s the runaway winner for the top individual offensive award. The rest will be announced next week. The win also cemented for 10-2 A&T and head coach Rod Broadway the final No. 1 spot in the Black College Sports Page Top Ten and the designation as the 2015 BCSP national champion.
And for as much as Cohen led them to the title, the defense of coordinator Sam Washington has to get just as much of the credit. They shut down an Alcorn State offense that averaged 473 yards per game including 309 rushing yards per game to 260 total yards and just 104 on the ground Saturday. It was indicative of that unit’s performance all year that had just one slip-up vs. rival North Carolina Central in the final regular season game. It’s the third national title for Broadway who also finished with the final No. 1 team in 2006 while at North Carolina Central and at 2008 while at Grambling State.
But the Celebration Bowl pitting SWAC and MEAC champions was and is not a guaranteed national champion game in my book even though in the 22 years of the Black College Sports Page, this was perhaps the year with the greatest separation between the top teams from the FCS conferences, the SWAC and MEAC, and those in the SIAC and CIAA from the NCAA Div. II ranks.
You get all the way down to No. 9 Tuskegee before you encounter a Div. II program in this year’s Top Ten. And the 10-3 Golden Tigers couldn’t even win the SIAC West Division title hat crown went to 7-5 Miles who went on to win the SIAC title over Albany State before losing to a 6-5 Alabama State team out of the SWAC. What Willie Slater’s Tuskegee troops did do however is get two Div. II playoff wins and make it to the national quarterfinals. Ditto in the CIAA.
Bowie State was an impressive 9-1 while winning the conference’s North Division crown but couldn’t beat 5-5 South Division champ Winston-Salem State in that league’s title game. The Bulldogs, who hold down the 10th and final spot, also came up short in a first round D2 playoff game. Last year’s final BCSP No. 1 Alcorn State, started the season at No. 1 and almost ended there. Jay Hopson’s Braves fought thru close losses to Prairie View A&M and Grambling State in the regular season to regain the top spot with a win over Grambling in the SWAC Championship Game. But Saturday’s loss to A&T leaves the 9-4 Braves in second.
When all is said and down, A&T’s chief rival for the top spot may very well have been Jerry Mack’s 8-3 Eagles of North Carolina Central, the only black college team to subdue the Aggies this year. A blocked 18-yard field goal with :32 seconds left in a heartbreaking 28-26 home loss to Bethune-Cookman in early October is all that kept the Eagles and their second-year head coach from playing in the inaugural bowl game in Atlanta. The Eagles finish at No. 3
Former assistant Terry Sims took over at Bethune-Cookman from Brian Jenkins and the Wildcats kept on rolling, winning a share of its fourth consecutive MEAC title and fifth in the last six years. They handed co-champ N. C. Central its only loss and posted an exciting 56- 53 win over Grambling early in the season. Tims and the ‘Cats deserve a top five spot at No. 4
Rounding out the top five is second-year head coach Roderick Fobbs and the 9-3 Grambling State Tigers. Fobbs continued the miraculous turnaround he’s engineered for the G-Men as they won the SWAC West Division title and earned a spot in the league’s title game in Houston vs. Alcorn State, a team they defeated in the regular season.
Right on the tail of Grambling at No. 6 is another turnaround story engineered by former Alcorn State offensive coordinator Willie Simmons , now the head man at Prairie View A&M . The Panthers finished 8-2, beat and leapfrogged Southern in the SWAC West and beat eventual league champion Alcorn State behind a prolific offense.
Buddy Pough’s 8-3 South Carolina State Bulldogs were a step, or should I say, a field goal away from making the MEAC a four-way tie. The ‘Dawgs had three point losses to both A&T and Bethune-Cookman as they made another run for the title. Southern (6-5) had SWAC hiccups against Alcorn State, Prariie View and Grambling to finish eighth.