The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) is headed back to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2016. North Carolina Central will look to help the conference improve its record in the postseason, which dates back to when it was the Division I-AA playoffs.
The MEAC enters the 2023 FCS playoffs with an overall record of 6-28 since 1981. Only three MEAC programs — South Carolina State as well as now former members North Carolina A&T and Florida A&M — have won playoff games. Only one of those wins (FAMU vs. Troy State in 1999) was beyond the first round.
Here is a look at the wins for the MEAC in the Division 1-AA/FCS playoffs.
South Carolina State 26, Tennessee State 25
SC State came into the matchup 9-2 after claiming the MEAC title and the conference’s first automatic bid. It faced a 9-2 Tennessee Stat team coached by Joe Gilliam Sr. that actually beat Louisville 40-28 earlier in the season. A late touchdown gave SC State the win, and the MEAC its first ever in the Division I-AA playoffs. It would lose to Idaho State 41-12.
South Carolina State 17, Furman 0
One year after its first foray into the playoffs, Bill Davis and South Carolina State went back again, and this time the opponent was a nearby one, if not a familiar one. SC State and Furman had never faced each other before, but the two schools in the same state met in the playoffs for the first time. SC State’s defense dominated the game as Furman only crossed midfield twice.
SC State went on to face Louisiana Tech. It lost 38-3.
It would be 16 years and six first round exits (including two in 1997) before the MEAC would win a playoff game again.
Florida A&M 27, Troy State 17
Billy Joe and FAMU rode the Gulf Coast Offense to a share of the MEAC title along with Hampton. Hampton would fall 42-34 to Connecticut in the first round. FAMU, meanwhile, would take on a Troy program that was making its fifth consecutive Division 1-AA playoffs appearance. After getting blown out 52-37 by Georgia Southern the previous year, FAMU was ready, and it took down Troy primarily with the running game. It would fall 24-21 to Western Illinois.
North Carolina A&T 24, Tennessee State 10
NC A&T had been to the playoffs twice — 1986 and 1992 — and came up short in both. This time A&T had to take on a Tennessee State program that had spent part of the season ranked no. 1 in Division 1-AA. A&T’s Blue Death defense handled Tennessee State
“We had a lot of motivation as the underdogs in this game. We know people don’t show us much respect. That’s why we want to keep trying to shock people every week.”
There would be shocking the next week, though, as A&T would fall 41-3 to Youngstown State.
Florida A&M 44, App State 29
Florida A&M 17, Troy State 10
Billy Joe and FAMU’s Gulf Coast Offense had a new quarterback at the helm in Quinn Gray, but continued to put up points and earn playoff bids. First up was Appalachian State, less than a decade away from becoming the power in what is now known as the FCS. FAMU had its way offensively vs. App. State. It then took care of Troy State for the second year in a row.
All that stood between FAMU and a potential second national championship appearance (FAMU won the inaugural title in 1978 as an independent as it was technically in the SIAC) was Jim Tressel and Youngstown State. FAMU went up 24-13 on a Quinn Gray touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but Youngstown State responded with two touchdowns, including a 10-yard touchdown pass with a heartbreaking 44 seconds remaining to end FAMU’s title run.
That FAMU run was the last time a MEAC team tasted a victory in the Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs. Some would come close like Joe Taylor’s 2004 and 2006 squads, but most would lose decisively. Of the next 18 postseason games the MEAC would play from 2000 through 2014, 12 of those ended in losses decided by at least 14 points.
Hello Celebration Bowl, bye-bye FCS playoffs autobid
A remedy (depending on who you ask) would arrive after a 2014 season in which five MEAC teams won a share of the title and Morgan State was sent to the FCS playoffs. A bowl game was rumored following the season and announced in early 2015. It would be called the Celebration Bowl — a matchup between the champions of the MEAC and SWAC. The game offered the top teams in the two Division I HBCU conferences a chance to play on a national stage and a national champion to be declared (by some) with a season-ending win instead of possibly a loss.
That came with a price, however, as the MEAC gave up its automatic bid to send its champion to face the SWAC champ.
North Carolina Central in 2023 becomes just the second MEAC team to be awarded an at-large bid and the first since North Carolina A&T was awarded an outbid in 2016, one year after winning the inaugural Celebration Bowl. NC A&T faced Richmond and was handed a 39-19 loss on the road. Defending Celebration Bowl winner and HBCU national champion NCCU will take its 9-2 record on the road to face — Richmond.