The Delta Variant strain of the COVID-19 virus has claimed its first victim of the 2021 HBCU football season.
The game will not be rescheduled.
The news is a sobering reminder that as both players and fans are anxious get on with a ‘regular’ season, there is still a need for caution. The pandemic is far from over.
The news is also somewhat of a cautionary tale as we head into Week One of the 2021 HBCU football season.
The show goes on?
A full slate of 32 HBCU football games are on tap in Week One with now half (16) games slated to be shown on TV or streamed over the internet.
The match ups stretch from Thursday through Sunday and include a host of key games that will be for some teams early indicators of the trajectory of their seasons.
Top of the list
JSU head coach Deion (Coach Prime) Sanders and his team have been the center of attention during the offseason, making headlines for everything from his haul of Div. I transfers to walking out of SWAC Media Day (he didn’t) to his freshman son Shadeur Sanders starting at quarterback.
All of that attention will be put to the test by Willie Simmons’ Rattlers, who the last time they took the field in 2019 had a better record than that year’s BCSP national champion, North Carolina A&T, and defeated the Aggies in a head-to-head duel.
That was then, this is now.
Both JSU, who finished 4-8 overall and 3-4 in the SWAC in 2019, and FAMU, who finished 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the MEAC, have changed.
‘Prime’ changes at JSU
Sanders took over at JSU last September and has revamped everything from the Tigers’ look, their facilities, their roster and their expectations. After finishing just 3-3 in games played under Sanders in the spring, the Tigers appear poised to change a narrative that has seen them go seven years without an East Division or SWAC title.
Sanders vowed in the spring “you’d better get me now” before he brought in a host of new recruits that he said would change prospects at JSU.
Rattlers’ strike, and strike again
The changes at FAMU are just as dramatic.
The Rattlers left the MEAC after almost 40 years to become the 11th member of the SWAC. They were predictably placed in the league’s East Division putting them on a collision course with, among others, JSU and the 2021 spring champion, Alabama A&M.
FAMU did not play in the spring meaning what they will bring to the table could be just as surprising as what JSU brings.
The bottom line is there are a lot of unknowns for both teams that will be known Sunday after this early SWAC East Division showdown.
I can’t wait.
Another Sunday opener full of intrigue is the Black College Hall of Fame Classic in Canton, Ohio’s Tom Benson Stadium pitting historic black college football powers Grambling State and Tennessee State at 4 p.m. ET (NFL Network).
Legendary coaches Eddie Robinson of Grambling (1941-1997) and “Big John” Merritt of Tennessee State (1963-1983) are two of the greatest names and led two of the greatest programs in HBCU football history. Grambling has four and Tennessee State two players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Grambling has 12 and Tennessee State seven in the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
New faces at GSU and TSU
Following up on that history has fallen to the able hands of eighth-year head coach Broderick Fobbs at Grambling and former Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans all-pro running back Eddie George, the new head coach at TSU.
Fobbs is 51-25 in seven seasons with two SWAC Championships (2016 and 2017) but his teams have been just 8-10 in SWAC play over the past three campaigns including an 0-4 record in the abbreviated spring season.
George is taking over a TSU program that has not contended for an Ohio Valley Conference title in eight years. He has brought in former NFL head coach Hue Jackson as his offensive co-ordinator and former NFL all-pro Clyde Simmons as his defensive line coach to help him in his first foray into the coacing ranks.
Both teams have a lot of question marks that will begin to be answered Sunday. Though it’s early, whether the arrow is pointing up or down for these two programs could be hanging in the balance.
All eyes on
Former MEAC power North Carolina A&T and head coach Sam Washington make their first appearance Saturday as a Big South Conference member with a non-conference opener at Furman of the Southern Conference (2 p.m. ET on ESPN+).
Furman was 3-4 in the spring but finished 8-5 overall, 6-2 for second in the SoCon in 2019, with a trip to the first round of the FCS playoffs (a 42-6 loss to Austin Peay).
NC A&T sat out the spring season but comes in ranked 24th/25th in FCS national polls. It will be interesting to see how redshirt junior quarterback Jalen Fowler handles his first starting assignment.
Another MEAC/SWAC match up is set for Saturday (6 p.m. CT) as SWAC spring champion Alabama A&M hosts MEAC preseason favorite South Carolina State in the Louis Crews Classic in Huntsville, Ala.
HBCU football: FCS vs. NCAA Div. II
A trio of interesting FCS vs. Div. II match ups Saturday has Delaware State hosting CIAA favorite Bowie State (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+), defending SIAC champ Miles at Alabama State (5 p.m. CT, ESPN+) and Virginia Union travelling to Hampton (6 p.m. ET, ESPN+).Bowie State is ranked 17th in the D2 Top 25, 18th in the AFCA Top 25.
SIAC preseason favorite Savannah State and CIAA second pick Virginia State open Saturday against nationally-ranked NCAA Div. II opponents. SSU is on the road (7 p.m. ET, Flo Football) at Valdosta State, picked sixth in the D2football top 25 and tied for sixth with Lenoir Rhyne in the AFCA poll. VSU hosts Lenoir Rhyne in Ettrick, Va. (6 p.m. ET).
HBCU FOOTBALL GAMES THIS WEEK
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2D
Wingate vs. Shaw in Wingate, NC 6 pm ET
Lincoln (MO) vs. Washburn in Jefferson City, MO 6 pm CT
Mississippi College vs. Albany State in Clinton, MS 6 pm CT
West Texas A&M vs. Texas College in Canyon, TX 7 pm CT
Mars Hill vs. Chowan in Mars Hill, NC 7 pm ET
TV GAMES / WEBCASTS
Murray State vs. Miss. Valley St. in Murray, KY – ESPN+ 7 pm CT
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
Bluefield State vs. Lawrence Tech in Bluefield, WV 12n ET
Saint Augustine’s vs Tusculum in Raleigh, NC 1 pm ET
Shippensburg vs. W. Virginia State in Shippensburg, PA 1 pm ET
OK Panhandle State vs Langston in Goodwell, OK 3 pm CT
West Alabama vs. Morehouse in Livingston, AL 6 pm CT
Lincoln (PA) vs. Lock Haven in Lincoln University, PA 6 pm ET
Livingstone vs. Clark Atlanta in Salisbury, NC 6 pm ET
Virginia State vs. Lenoir-Rhyne in Ettrick, VA 6 pm ET
W-Salem State vs. UNC Pembroke in W-Salem, NC Cncld.
– Down East Viking Classic
Elizabeth City State vs. Fayetteville State in Rocky Mt., NC 4 pm ET
– Louis Crews Classic
Alabama A&M vs SC State in Huntsville, AL 6 pm CT
– Labor Day Classic
Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Lane in Pine Bluff, AR 6 pm CT
TV GAMES / WEBCASTS
Furman vs. NC A&T in Greenville, SC – Nexstar, ESPN+ 2 pm ET
Richmond vs. Howard in Richmond, VA – Flo Football 2 pm ET
Morgan State vs. Towson in Baltimore, MD – ESPN3 4 pm ET
DelState vs Bowie State in Dover, DE – ESPN3 or ESPN+ 4 pm ET
Alabama St. vs. Miles in M’gomery, AL – ESPN3 or ESPN+ 5 pm CT
Troy vs. Southern in Troy, AL – ESPN3 6 pm CT
Benedict vs. Allen in Columbia, SC – ESPN+ 6 pm ET
Hampton vs. Virginia Union in Hampton, VA – ESPN+ 6 pm ET
Toledo vs Norfolk State in Toledo, OH – ESPN3 7 pm ET
Valdosta St. vs. Savannah St. in Valdosta, GA – Flo Football 7 pm ET
– Labor Day Classic
Texas Southern vs Prairie View A&M in Houston, TX – ESPN3 7 pm CT
UTEP vs. Bethune-Cookman in El Paso, TX – ESPN3 8 pm CT
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 5
TV GAMES / WEBCASTS
– Orange Blossom Classic – ESPN2
Florida A&M vs. Jackson State in Miami Gardens, FL 3 pm ET
– Black College Hall of Fame Classic – NFL Network
Grambling State vs. Tennessee State in Canton, OH 4 pm ET
– Red Tails Classic – ESPNU
Fort Valley State vs Tuskegee in Montgomery, AL 6 pm CT