Florida A&M’s Orange Blossom Classic matchup with Deion Sanders and Jackson State has gotten the HBCU football season off to a riveting start the past two seasons. Jackson State squeaked out a 7-6 win in 2021, with Shedeur Sanders scoring the only touchdown of the game on a one-yard quarterback sneak. Led by head coach Deion Sanders, the team would get its second win in the Orange Blossom Classic 59-3 dominating a FAMU team in disarray with player eligibility issues leading all the way up to kickoff.
Shilo Sanders was roaming the defensive backfield. His hard-hitting was felt on both the defensive side of the ball as well as special teams. That all changed after the 2022 Celebration Bowl as Coach Prime was hired as head football coach at Colorado. Shortly thereafter, Black College Player of the Year Shedeur Sanders followed suit, entering the transfer portal and making a commitment to the Buffaloes. After graduating from Jackson State in the spring, Shilo joined his family in Boulder, CO.
T.C. Taylor was chosen to take the head coaching position at Jackson State. An accomplished assistant coach in his own right, he was endorsed by Sanders and welcomed as he was already a part of the Tiger nation.
For FAMU, this will be their first tie coming in the OBC with a sure lineup. It juggled quarterbacks in 2021. Starting with Rasean McKay, but substituting Junior Muratovic in the game as both were ineffective for the most part. FAMU had been laid off from competition almost two years due to the pandemic, while JSU had a spring season in 2021 to iron out the kinks.
FAMU’s starting quarterback was not an issue last season. Vanderbilt transfer Jeremy Moussa won the starting job and performed well against the University of North Carolina in FAMU’s first game. With 26 players not certified by the NCAA, FAMU went into the game with an uncertain lineup and it showed. Nothing went right for the Rattlers…not offensively, defensively or on special teams. It was uncharacteristic of the team that had gone 9-2 the previous season. Fortunately, they righted the ship after the JSU game and went on a nine-game winning streak.
The 2023 Orange Blossom Classic will turn the tides in the game. This time FAMU comes in with a veteran lineup. With new VP/Director of Athletics Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, FAMU’s certification was done in June. There will not be an issue with eligibility as the NCAA has already certified the roster. Only a handful of transfers need to do the final steps to become eligible after coming to FAMU from the transfer portal.
Jackson State will have a new head coach, new quarterback and be without Travis Hunter who was just named AP Preseason All-American for Colorado. JSU will play the South Carolina State on Saturday in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta. This will be the first barometer of T.C. Taylor’s rebuild of Jackson State football. It will also give JSU a dress rehearsal before jumping into their biggest SWAC East game of the season. The Orange Blossom Classic could determine if the mantle stays in Jackson or travels east to Tallahassee in 2023.