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Tuskegee, North Carolina A&T in preseason football rankings

With just 66 days before the college football season opens across the country, preseason polls are beginning to be released by several national publications. Tuskegee, fresh off a quarterfinal appearance in the 2015 NCAA Division II playoffs, its second straight playoff appearance, has made an appearance in two publications that have been released in the last month.

The Golden Tigers, 10-3 a season ago, are ranked 13th in The Sporting News Football Annual preseason NCAA Div. II poll. They are the second-highest rated team from region, behind West Georgia who is ranked third in the preseason poll and the only HBCU team in the Preseason Top 25. The Golden Tigers are ranked one spot ahead of North Alabama – who they defeated in the second round of the playoffs – and two spots ahead of the first round opponent from a season ago, Catawba.

North Carolina A&T, who finished in a three-way tie with North Carolina Central and Bethune-Cookman for the 2015 MEAC title and defeated SWAC champion Alcorn State in the inaugural Celebration Bowl, is the only HBCU team in the preseason FCS poll. The Aggies are ranked 22nd nationally. The Sporting News also released its preseason Div. II and FCS All-American teams. Johnson C. Smith junior defensive back Carlo Thomas, who led the nation in interceptions, and Tuskegee junior safety Jonah McCutcheon earned first team Div. II honors.

Three HBCU players were named to the FCS squad. Texas Southern wide receiver Derrick Griffin was selected as a tight end. Alabama State linebacker Kourtney Berry, last year’s SWAC defensive player of the year is one of the linebackers. North Carolina A&T specialist Khris Gardin, who broke the FCS season punt return record for yards, is the returner.

A&T is also selected as the favorite to take the 2016 MEAC title. N.C. Central, Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State are expected to be the Aggies chief challengers. Morgan State and Savannah State will have new head coaches patrolling the sidelines this year. A&T star running back senior Tarik Cohen, who ran for 1,543 yards a year ago and is within a little less than 650 yards from becoming the league’s all-time leading rusher, is picked as the league’s top NFL prospect.

Alcorn State in the East Division and Grambling State in the West Division, the two teams that met in last year’s SWAC championship game, are picked to repeat this season. Alabama State in the East and Prairie View A&M in the West are picked second respectively. Griffin, an outstanding athlete who won SWAC basketball player of the year, is considered the league’s top pro prospect in football.

Alcorn State is transitioning from Jay Hopson to Fred McNair as head coach. Tony Hughes at Jackson State and Michael Haywood at Texas Southern are other new men at the helm. Meanwhile, Tuskegee also makes an appearance in Lindy’s Sports Preseason Top 25. The Golden Tigers are ranked 10th by Lindy’s to open the season, five spots behind fellow region opponent West Georgia (fifth). They are ranked just ahead of North Alabama and Valdosta State in the poll.

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