The HBCU Football Rundown gets hotter as the season progresses. That is how it should be as we hit Week 6, the halfway point of the 2021 season.
It’s hard to decide which of last week’s results was more shocking – Grambling State knocking SWAC 2021 spring champion Alabama A&M from the unbeaten ranks, 37-28, or undefeated Chowan administering an embarrassing 73-7 whipping on former CIAA power Winston-Salem State?
Regardless, neither Grambling nor Chowan gets to rest on its laurels as each has games with potential championship implications in their conferences this week. But they’re not alone.
The heat is on as the SWAC East and CIAA North and South Divisions have critical early October No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdowns that could all but determine those titles!
HBCU FOOTBALL: CIAA
Perhaps Chowan (5-0, 2-0 CIAA N) should have saved some of those 73 points (vs. WSSU) for two-time defending division and conference champion Bowie State. The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-0 N) travel to Murfreesboro, N. C. Saturday (1 p.m. on the CIAA Network) looking to slow or halt the Indians as the league begins its five-week closeout of intra-division games.
Chowan has challenged Bowie State in the CIAA North before, particularly in 2018. CU handed BSU a 42-23 loss that year when now senior quarterback Bryce Witt was a sophomore. Witt threw for 252 yards and two TDs without an interception in that win.
In 2019, BSU administered a 64-17 whipping on the Indians as Witt was held to 136 passing yards and threw three picks without a touchdown. Both teams sat out the 2020 fall and 2021 spring seasons as did the rest of the CIAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The big question is how the teams will match up Saturday.
CIAA North showdown, breakdown
Witt has been on a roll and is the league’s standout offensive player so far this season. Through five games, he has passed for 1,573 yards (314.6 ypg. 9th in Div. II) and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He has completed 68.4% of his passes (115 of 168) and has rushed for a team-best eight touchdowns.
Chowan also has one of the CIAA’s top rushers in Tyrek McNeil (3rd, 335 yards, 7.4 ypc.) and two of the top receivers in junior Laurence King (1st, 40 rec., 571 yds., 7 TDs) and senior Imeek Watkins (6th, 31 rec., 342 yds., 6 TDs).
BSU will counter with QB Ja’rome Johnson, the 2019 CIAA offensive player of the year and 2021 preseason OPOY. Johnson has completed 59.7% of his passes (74 of 124) for 1,092 yards and 13 TDs with just five picks. Calil Wilkins (321 yds., 2 TDs), coming off his first 100-yard game of the season vs. J. C. Smith, leads the BSU rushers while Darious Bowman (16 rec., 191 yds., 2 TDs) is the top receiving threat. The BSU offense is no slouch averaging 33.2 points per game.
Unstoppable force vs. Immovable object
The real battle however will be between the Chowan offense that is averaging 51.4 points per game, best in the nation, and the Bowie State defense that is surrendering just 14.2 ppg., 10th in Div. II. Defensive back Demetri Morsell, the league’s 2019 defensive player of the year and the 2021 preseason DPOY, and lineman Joshua Pryor lead the BSU defense. The BSU defense will be a real challenge for Witt and the Chowan offense. Something’s got to give here.
In the latest AFCA NCAA Div. II poll, Bowie State is tied for 16th while Chowan moved into the poll for the first time ever at 24th.
Another game to keep an eye on in the CIAA North is Elizabeth City State (2-3, 2-0 N) travelling to Petersburg, Va. Saturday evening (7 p.m. ET) to face Virginia State (1-3, 1-1 N). Anthony Jones’ ECSU Vikings have followed up three losses to open the season with back-to-back wins in conference play over Winston-Salem State and Livingstone. Jones and the Vikes will be looking to join the quartet of recent N. Div. contenders that has included BSU, Chowan, VSU and Virginia Union. Reggie Barlow’s VSU Trojans will be trying to keep them out.
In the other N. Div. match up, winless Lincoln Pa. (0-5, 0-2 N) is at the Virginia Union (2-3, 1-1 N) homecoming (1 p.m. ET).
CIAA South showdown, breakdown
The battle in the CIAA South Division in Raleigh, N. C. Saturday (1 p.m. ET) between two-time defending division champ Fayetteville State and Shaw is no less compelling.
The other four teams in the CIAA South – Livingstone, J. C. Smith, St. Augustine’s and Winston-Salem State – are winless meaning Adrian Jones’ Bears of Shaw (3-2, 2-0 S) appear to be the only real challenger to Richard Hayes’ FSU Broncos (3-1, 2-0 S).
FSU averages 35.5 points per game to Shaw’s 30.5 ppg. Shaw’s defense is in step with BSU’s giving up just 14.2 ppg. FSU is right behind at 17.3 ppg. Both have prolific QBs in FSU’s Khari Lane (813 passing yds., 8 TDs, 3 ints) and Shaw’s Christian Peters (773 passing yds., 7 TDs, 4 ints.). The Shaw ground attack is led by CIAA rushing leader Sidney Gibbs (425 yds., 5.0 ypc., 4 TDs) while FSU rushers are led by Dhonshell Jetton’s 252 yards (4.2 ypc., 2 TDs).
Based on what others in the CIAA South have done – or not done – so far this season, this showdown could be for the division championship and a spot in the Nov. 13 CIAA title game.
HBCU FOOTBALL: SWAC
Grambling State got its first SWAC win Saturday behind the play of freshman quarterback Noah Bodden (16 of 34, 191 yds., 3 TDs). An opportunistic defense picked off Alabama A&M’s SWAC Player of the Year, QB Aqeel Glass, four times and returned a Glass fumble for a TD.
This Saturday, the G-Men (2-2, 1-0 SWAC W) invade Lorman, Mississippi to face Alcorn State (2-2, 1-0 W) at the Braves’ homecoming (2 p.m. CT) in a key SWAC West Division match up.
Alcorn State, who was idle this past weekend, is coming off a big come-from-behind 39-38 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff two weeks ago. Alcorn QB Felix Harper threw for 368 yards and three TDs vs. UAPB. The Braves also got their running game going as Niko Duffey rushed for 144 yards and two scores.
Both are chasing SWAC West Division leader Prairie View A&M (4-1, 3-0 W) who is idle this week.
Southern (2-2, 1-0 W) meets Texas Southern (1-3, 0-1 W) in Arlington, Texas (4 p.m. CT) in another key SWAC West Division tilt. Defending W. Div. champ Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-3, 0-2 W) will be seeking its first conference win at Alabama State’s (2-2, 2-1 E) homecoming (2 p.m. CT).
SWAC East showdown, breakdown
Perhaps the spiciest battle in this week’s tantalizing rundown could certainly be Alabama A&M’s homecoming Saturday (2 p.m. CT on ESPN+) matching Connell Maynor’s Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 E) and Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders’ Tigers of Jackson State (3-1, 1-0 E).
All eyes will be on Huntsville, Alabama to see if JSU – who already owns a 7-6 season-opening win over top division contender Florida A&M – can take a key step in snatching the E. Div. title from the Bulldogs. A&M defeated JSU 52-43 en route to winning the E. Div. and SWAC titles in the spring in Sanders’ first campaign.
A&M QB Aqeel Glass, who threw for 440 yards and six TDs in the win over JSU in April, will be trying to rebound from a five-turnover outing vs. Grambling Saturday in the Bulldogs’ first loss. JSU freshman QB Shedeur Sanders, Coach Prime’s son, has completed a league-best 71.6% (101 of 141) of his passes for 1,093 yards (273.3 ypg.) and seven touchdowns with just one interception. He is just behind Glass (1,511 passing yds., 377.8 ypg., 14 TDs, six ints.) in SWAC passing stats.
This will be another top defense (JSU’s, 12.8 ppg., 246.3 ypg.) vs. top offense (A&M’s 36.3 ppg., 490.8 ypg.).
This will also be the Sanders’s chance to prove that their squad is the team to beat in the division and conference. This should be a good one!
HBCU FOOTBALL: OTHERS
The first MEAC game of the season has winless Morgan State (0-4) at Howard (1-4) Friday evening (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU).
N. C. A&T (vs. North Alabama, 1 p.m. ESPN+) and Hampton (homecoming vs. Kennesaw State, 2 p.m. ESPN3) have Big South Conference matchups Saturday. Twelve homecomings are on tap.
Former MEAC rivals S. C. State (1-3) and Florida A&M (2-2) are in a non-conference tussle in Tallahassee (6 p.m. ET on Facebook Live).
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8
Morgan State vs. Howard in Washington, DC (ESPNU) 8 pm ET
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9
Fayetteville State vs. Shaw in Raleigh, NC 1 pm ET
West Virginia State vs W. Va. Wesleyan in Buckhannon, WV 1:30 pm ET
Warner vs. Florida Memorial in Miami, FL 1:30 pm ET
Central State vs. Fort Valley State in Fort Valley, GA 2 pm ET
Southern vs. Texas Southern in Arlington, TX 4 pm ET
Erskine vs. Savannah State in Savannah, GA 6 pm ET
Elizabeth City State vs. Virginia State in Petersburg, VA 7 pm ET
Ottawa vs. Texas College in Tyler, TX 7:30 pm CT
St. Augustine’s vs. Livingstone in Salisbury, NC 1 pm ET
Lincoln (Pa.) vs. Virginia Union in Richmond, VA (CIAA Network) 1 pm ET
Edward Waters vs. Albany State in Albany, GA 2 pm ET
Grambling State vs. Alcorn State in Lorman, MS (ESPN+) 2 pm ET
Ark.-Pine Bluff vs. Alabama State in Montgomery, AL (Bounce) 2 pm ET
Jackson State vs. Alabama A&M in Huntsville, AL (ESPN+) 2 pm ET
Allen vs. Clark Atlanta in Atlanta, GA 2 pm ET
Kennesaw State vs. Hampton in Hampton, VA (ESPN3) 2 pm ET
Missouri Southern vs. Lincoln (Mo.) in Jefferson City, MO 2 pm CT
Miss. Valley St. vs. Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, FL (CatEye Network) 3 pm ET
Lane vs Kentucky State in Frankfort, KY 3 pm ET
Benedict vs. Miles in Fairfield, AL 4 pm CT
STREAMED/ TV GAMES
Winston-Salem State vs. J. C. Smith in Charlotte, NC (CIAA Network) 1 pm ET
Bowie State vs. Chowan in Murfreesboro, NC (CIAA Network) 1 pm ET
North Alabama vs. NC A&T in Greensboro, NC (ESPN+) 1 pm ET
Va. Lynchburg vs. Delaware State in Dover, DEL (ESPN+) 2 pm ET
Tennessee Tech vs. NC Central in Durham, NC (ESPN+) 2 pm ETT
SC State vs Florida A&M in Tallahassee, FL (Facebook Live) 6 pm ET
Tuskegee vs. Morehouse in Birmingham, AL (ESPN+) 8 pm ET