2023 Football

North Carolina A&T HC knows how to pull off an FBS upset

New NC A&T head coach has history to prove it as his FCS Aggies tackle FBS UAB Thursday night.

North Carolina A&T head coach Vincent Brown and UAB head coach Trent Dilfer, never faced each other when both were players in the league.

Brown, a 1987 Mississippi Valley State graduate, ended his eight-year NFL career as a outstanding linebacker for New England in 1994. It came the same year that Dilfer, a quarterback from Fresno State, entered the league as a first round draft choice of Tampa Bay. Their teams never met on the field.

“I’ve never crossed paths with him,” Brown said Monday of his contact with Trent Dilfer.

That will all change Thursday night when Brown’s NC A&T Aggies out of the FCS meet Dilfer’s FBS UAB Blazers in Birmingham (8 p.m. EST on ESPN+) in the season-opener for both teams.

Trent Dilfer, UAB

New beginning for North Carolina A&T and UAB


The game represents new beginnings for Brown and Dilfer. Both are in their first year as collegiate head coaches. Additionally, North Carolina A&T will be starting its first year in a new conference, the tough FCS Coastal Athletics Association (CAA).

Brown took over at A&T in January after 17 years as a much-respected defensive assistant and coordinator on the FBS and FCS levels. He most recently was defensive coordinator for William & Mary’s 2022 CAA co-champions.

After playing 14 seasons in the NFL, Trent Dilfer worked as an ESPN NFL analyst and quarterback instructor. From 2019 to 2022, he was head coach at Lipscomb (HS) Academy leading that program to a state championship in Tennessee. He was hired by UAB last November.

Both were Pro Bowl players during their NFL careers, Brown in 1991 and Dilfer in 1997.

Vincent Brown’s unique history

As regards FCS vs. FBS match ups, Brown has a unique history.

He was the defensive coordinator at Howard when the Bison pulled off what is considered the greatest FCS upset of an FBS program. Howard went into UNLV as a 45-point underdog and upset the Runnin’ Rebels, 43-40 to open the 2017 season. Cam Newton’s little brother, Caylin, was the quarterback for Howard and star of the game. A&T enters this game as a 20.5 underdog to UAB.

What Brown remembers most about that game is something else. Those things are going to be necessary, he said, for the Aggies to pull off another stunner against the Blazers.

“Being able to control the running game,” Brown said of a key to that game and to his game on Thursday. “Our game against UNLV several years ago, our offense ran the ball effectively and we protected the ball, we didn’t turn it over on offense.

“And then defensively, getting takeaways and creating extra possessions for the offense. That’s the recipe for success.”

Redshirt sophomore running back Wesley Graves is expected to be the Aggies’ chief ball carrier.

How Howard did it

Newton ran for 190 yards and two TDs and passed for 140 yards and one score in that UNLV upset. His lone interception was the Bison’s only turnover.

UNLV lost three fumbles despite rushing for 344 yards.

Howard held the ball for over 32-and-a-half minutes while UNLV had it for 27-and-a half. UNVL committed 13 penalties to Howard’s 10.

Another key to North Carolina A&T vs. UAB

One thing Brown didn’t mention about that UNLV upset was the importance of quarterback play. It should be obvious given Newton’s production in that game.

For the Aggies, it’s a position about which Brown has been rather tight-lipped.

Sophomore Eli Brickhandler was listed first on a two-deep depth chart issued Monday with heralded freshman QB K. J. White as the back-up.

“So, it’s actually an either/or,” Brown said Monday about whether Brickhander or White will start. “We haven’t made the final decision yet. We feel comfortable with both kids going into the game.” He said practice the rest of the week would determine who coaches felt would give them their best chance to win.

North Carolina A&T HC knows how to pull off an FBS upset
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