The NCAA preseason rankings are out and Jackson State is the lone HBCU football program on that top 25 list.
The defending SWAC Champions return several key pieces from last season’s team which went 11-2 and swept through the SWAC unbeaten. JSU, also the top team in the HBCU Gameday Staff FCS Preseason poll, brings back quarterback Shedeur Sanders and a bevy of playmakers on offense. Its defense lost James Houston who is now in NFL camp with the Detroit Lions, but it brings back linebacker Aubrey Miller and a talented secondary that just added the top defensive back in the 2022 class — Travis Hunter.
There’s no surprise that Jackson State is in the top 25 as it is predicted to win the SWAC. But here are three other HBCU programs that could find their way into the top 25 at some point during this season.
This one is pretty obvious. Florida A&M went 9-2 during the 2021 regular season, with a close loss to Jackson State and a defeat to FBS South Florida being its only two blemishes on the regular season. It made the playoffs, getting an at-large bid out of the SWAC, something that many thought may never happen.
FAMU’s defense once again figures to be strong, despite the loss of a big playmaker in Markquese Bell who is now looking to solidify a spot on the Dallas Cowboys roster. It helps to have Isaiah Land, the reigning Buck Buchanan Award winner, back in Tallahassee. If its offense can get up to speed, a similar run to last year could be in the cards. FAMU, second in our FCS poll, is in the “receiving votes” category of the coaches’ poll, so this isn’t much of a stretch.
South Carolina State
The Celebration Bowl win over Jackson State by South Carolina State turned heads around HBCU football last December. But, it wasn’t enough to catapult Buddy Pough’s gang into the top 25.
It enters the 2022 season as the favorite to repeat as MEAC Champion once again after climbing the mountain in 2021. Traditionally, that has been good enough to get into the FCS top 25. But with the new six-team league, it will have to do better against FCS non-conference competition. It has two such games this season — both of them against HBCUs. SC State will play former MEAC rivals Bethune-Cookman (Sept. 10) and North Carolina A&T (Sept. 24) before getting into MEAC play.
North Carolina A&T
North Carolina A&T spent much of the second half of the 2010s in the top 25 as it ascended to the top of the MEAC and HBCU football mountains, winning four of the first five Celebration Bowls. Last season’s 5-6 finish was a disappointing one for the crew from EAST GREENSBORO, but they are once again predicted to be conference champs in their last season in the Big South.
A&T has its work cut out for it in non-conference play, facing the top three programs in its former conference (North Carolina Central, South Carolina State and Norfolk State) in addition to taking on Duke and defending national champion North Dakota State. If it can get back to its winning ways, it should be able to find its way back to the top 25 by time that homecoming chill hits the air.