It’s week one of the college football season and several historically black colleges will have the chance to make some noise against some big-name schools. Here’s a list of some of the games to keep an eye on during the holiday weekend
Florida A&M at UCF
Date: Thursday, August 29th, 7:30 P.M. (CBS Sports Network)
Venue: Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Summary: The Rattlers have a rare opportunity to make a statement in front of a national audience when they head south for their in-state showdown with the Golden Knights. UCF comes into the season ranked #17 after completing back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. A&M has scheduled an FBS school in each of the past ten seasons but has lost every matchup. The closest margin of defeat came in a 48-16 loss to Miami in 2009.
Returning quarterback Ryan Stanley could enjoy better protection this year with the addition of former five-star recruit and ex-Auburn and Florida Atlantic offensive tackle Calvin Ashley. Ashley’s arrival is much needed for the Rattlers, who lost both of their starting tackles to graduation last season. A stiff test against UCF’s high-powered offense should help the heavy underdogs prepare for conference play in the MEAC.
Howard at Maryland
Venue: Capital One Field in College Park, Md.
Date: Saturday, August 31st, Noon (Big Ten Network)
Summary: Howard won’t have to travel far when they take on the Terrapins in a matchup that should garner some local interest. Howard’s campus is just seven miles from Capital One Field. The showdown should fire up plenty of the Howard players who grew up in the DMV with dreams of playing at a school like Maryland. The Bison are coming off a disappointing 4-6 season where they lost four games by less than a touchdown. Some of those defeats could be attributed to a suspect defense that finished 94th in the FCS in points allowed.
Howard touts star power under center, with former NFL MVP Cam Newton’s brother, Caylin, returning for his junior season. The younger Newton threw 22 touchdowns last season, but cutting down on turnovers is a must. Newton threw 17 interceptions in his ten starts. Wide Receiver Jequez Ezzard will also be a player to keep an eye on in this game. He posted an impressive junior season stat line that consisted of 1,064 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns and 26.6 yards per catch.
Meanwhile, Maryland is on its third coach in less than a year. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is set to make his head coaching debut for the Terps. He takes over a program that was in turmoil following the death of Jordan McNair and subsequent scandal surrounding former coach DJ Durkin.
It is just the second time Howard and Maryland are squaring off in football. The Terrapins won their 2016 meeting 52-13.
Arkansas Pine-Bluff at TCU
Venue: Horned Frogs Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas
Date: Saturday, August 31st, 8:00 P.M.
Summary: Coming off a rough 2-9 season, Arkansas Pine-Bluff won’t have the luxury of easing into its 2019 campaign. Head Coach Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs are always well prepared and should come into this season with a chip on their shoulder after last year’s subpar 7-6 record.
Arkansas Pine-Bluff will need its defense to make a significant improvement to keep this game close. Last year, the Golden Lions gave up 43.2 points per game—ranking them 119th in the FCS. Look for Arkansas Pine-Bluff to establish a running game early to keep TCU’s offense off the field. The Golden Lions return senior running back Taeyler Porter, who earned first-team All-SWAC honors after rushing for 1,220 yards last season.
Mississippi Valley State at Tennessee State (John A. Merritt classic)
Venue: Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
Date: August 31st Saturday, 7:00 P.M. (ESPN+)
Summary: The Tigers will get to play in front of a big crowd when they take the field at the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. The Tigers have fared well in the annual game honoring legendary TSU coach John Merritt. Tennessee State is a combined 15-6 in their previous 21 classics.
But this year is already off to a rocky start for the Tigers. Quarterback Demry Croft was suspended from the team after being arrested on rape and battery charges last week. Cameron Rosendhal has been taking snaps with the first-team offense through training camp and had an impressive three-touchdown outing the TSU’s season finale win against Tennessee-Martin.
Mississippi Valley State is bringing an astonishing 46 newcomers after last year’s miserable 1-10 season. 23 of the players suiting up for the Devils are freshmen. MVSU does tout leadership in two key spots. Senior linebacker Tadarius Davis returns after leading the team in tackles last season. Duel-threat quarterback Dejerric Bryant gained valuable experience in his five starts. He was under center for the team’s lone-win against Arkansas Pine-Bluff last season.
Jackson State vs. Bethune-Cookman (15th MEAC/SWAC Challenge)
Venue: Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta
Date: Monday, September 1st, 3:00 P.M.(ESPN2)
Summary: HBCU bragging rights are on the line in this key national TV showdown on Labor Day. SWAC representative Jackson State spent much of fall camp trying to decide who would be under center for their week one showdown with the MEAC’s Bethune-Cookman. After enduring a four-man open competition, junior Derrick Ponder was named the starting quarterback. Ponder won the job despite a pedestrian sophomore season where he posted just one touchdown and four interceptions in five games. Former Florida QB Jalon Jones is also on the roster and could still see playing time this season.
But Jackson State’s strength is in its defense, which ranked 36th in points allowed last season. Returning linebacker Keonte Thompson was a star as a freshman last season. He led the team with 83 tackles and recorded 10.5 tackles for a loss.
Bethune-Cookman went on a tear to end their 2018 campaign—winning six of its last eight games. Quarterback Akevious Williams proved to be a potent dual-threat in his eight appearances last season—notching 12 passing touchdowns and eight running scores. First-team All-MEAC defensive lineman Marques Ford was a force last season. Look for him to improve on the 8.5 sacks he recorded in 2018.
Alabama A&M vs. Morehouse (Black College Hall of Fame Classic)
Venue: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio
Date: Monday, September 1st, 4:30 P.M.
Summary: This year’s matchup between the Bulldogs and the Maroon Tigers marks the first Black College Hall of Fame Classic on the campus of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The game’s broadcasting on NFL Network will be a rare opportunity for the schools—particularly Division II Morehouse, to play in front of a national audience.
Alabama A&M QB Aqueel Glass earned second-team All-SWAC honors last year—throwing 20 touchdowns as a sophomore. Jordan Bentley should see the bulk of the carries this season after recording 509 yards while splitting time last year. The defense is anchored by 1st team all-SWAC selection Armani Holloway, who notched 108 tackles in 2018.
Morehouse is looking to pick up where it left off last season, after finishing last with a solid 7-3 record in 2018.