I dare anyone to handicap the 2016 black college football season. After down-to-the-wire races in all four HBCU conferences in 2015 it’s nearly impossible to pick a clear favorite in the upcoming campaign. MEAC co-champion North Carolina A&T finished last year as the consensus end-of year No. 1, but not by much. The 10-2 Aggies survived a 41-34 shootout vs. SWAC champion Alcorn State (9-4) in the inaugural Celebration Bowl last season to nail down the final BCSP top spot.
Before facing the SWAC champs, A&T had to share the MEAC title with Bethune-Cookman (9-2) and North Carolina Central (8-3) after each finished 7-1 in league play. NCCU, in fact, beat their arch-rival Aggies on the last day of the regular season for the second year in a row to claim a share of the title for the second straight season. The Eagles also came within a last-second chip shot field goal of beating B-CU.
The argument could easily have been made that NCCU, by virtue of its late season win over the Aggies, deserved to play in the inaugural bowl game. But alas the conference turned to the Sagarin rankings to ferret out their bowl game representative and the Aggies prevailed. Expect A&T, B-CU and NCCU to battle for honors again in the MEAC but don’t count our another three – South Carolina State, Norfolk State and Hampton.
Things were almost as close in the SWAC. East Division champ Alcorn State (9-4) lost to both West Division members Grambling State (9-3) and Prairie View A&M (8-2) in the regular season before handling the G-Men in the SWAC title game. Those three, along with Southern are prohibitive favorites to make the 2016 SWAC race quite interesting.
The SIAC saw Miles (7-4) knock off Albany State to take the league title but it was West Division rival Tuskegee (10-3) that won two NCAA Div. II playoff games and advanced to the national quarterfinals. Those three again appear to be the class of the SIAC. The CIAA was almost as interesting as Bowie State (9-3) emerged from a battle with Virginia Union and Virginia State for the North Division crown only to see perennial power Winston-Salem State (6-5) steal the thunder and walk away with the title.
The BCSP is picking North Carolina Central as the preseason No. 1 and SWAC upstart Prairie View A&M right behind them. NCCU returns seven starters on offense, led by senior quarterback Malcolm Bell and six on defense. The Eagles also get key players like wide receivers Quentin Atkinson and Khalil Stinson and all-American defensive back Mike Jones back from injuries that cost them to miss most of last season. The Eagles are likely to be tougher to beat and tougher overall in 2016. There hasn’t been this much excitement surrounding Prairie View football since former quarterback K. J. Black led the Panthers to their first title in 45 years in 2009.
One of the reasons for the excitement is the September debut of the new 15,000-seat Panther Stadium but there’s just as much related to the 2016 team led by quarterback Trey Green. He returns at the helm of the top offense in black college football (488.3 ypg.) that also was the top scoring team in the FCS (44.9 points per game). There’s not much that separates the teams in our preseason Top Ten. Great players, great coaches and great competition should make for an exciting 2016 season.