Remember in August when it was almost a certainty that Grambling State and North Carolina A&T would again meet in Atlanta in the Celebration to decide the Black National Champion?
The prediction seemed a firm one after the Aggies started the season 3-0, with wins over then-No. 6 Jacksonville State and FBS Group of Five opponent East Carolina on the road.
Then the leg of place-kicker Alex Raya, and the determination of Morgan State, handed North Carolina A&T a stunning 16-13 defeat for the program’s first loss in more than 600 days.
And three measly days ago, the Aggies — after righting the ship against South Carolina State and Delaware State — were upended at home by a Florida A&M bunch, 22-21 in a similar a fashion it lost to Morgan State 23 days ago.
North Carolina A&T is currently tied for second in the MEAC standings and is dropping just as fast in the FCS polls, too.
Grambling State, which hadn’t dropped a SWAC conference game since the 2014 Bayou Classic versus Southern, are 2-3 to start the season with an uncharacteristic divisional blemish to Prairie View. The Tigers are in a three-way tie for first with Southern and those same Panthers.
What was primed to be a rematch four months ago, is cloudy as ever with new contenders emerging in both leagues.
With less than six weeks remaining before bowl season starts, the race to Atlanta will likely not be decided to the very end.
Here are the teams that have the best shot at playing for a national championship when the smoke finally clears.
The Rattlers are in first place all by its lonesome in the MEAC at 4-0 after an impressive comeback win over preseason favorite North Carolina A&T on the road. FAMU holding a three-game cushion in the standings with four weeks to play should set them up in good position to represent the league in the Celebration Bowl for the first time in program history. However, the Rattlers still have dates with Morgan State, Howard and Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic before it can officially celebrate.
Mike London’s group continues to get better each week it seems. Howard leads the MEAC in offense, averaging 43.7 points per game and is at, or near, the top of every offensive category in the conference. It will be that side of the ball which will ultimately decide its fate in the final few weeks. A matchup with the Rattlers on Nov. 11 figures to determine whether the Bison play beyond Thanksgiving.
The Wildcats have reeled off three-straight wins after the starting the regular season 1-3. No other team in the MEAC has everything in front of them like BCU does. They get the opportunity to play North Carolina A&T and FAMU. What’s even better is that both of those contests will be played in the state of Florida.
North Carolina A&T
Despite being knocked of its pedestal, the Aggies haven’t been battered in its two losses to Morgan State and FAMU. North Carolina A&T has gone down only by a combined four points. That’s it. They are realistically a pair of missed opponent’s field goals away from being the odds on favorite to repeat as BCF national champions. There are two things working in the Aggies favor coming down the stretch. First, they have yet to lose on the road. Finally, North Carolina A&T features a better overall record than their remaining opponents.
The Braves were picked to win the SWAC East … and they’re likely going to win the SWAC East again. The only division game Alcorn State has left is versus a not-too-bad Jackson State in the season finale.
The Tigers haven’t looked like the Tigers for much of the season save for wins over Oklahoma Panhandle and Alabama State. Its latest win over Texas Southern was the third over a tomato can in the last four weeks. Alcorn State will present a worthy challenge, though before the Bayou Classic — against Southern five Saturdays from now — determines SWAC West supremacy.
The Jaguars eventually had to contend this year or it might be the end of the Dawson Odums era. It still could be over if Southern does not at least play for the SWAC championship. The first-place Jaguars must have been on the right side of the schedule gods, because three of its next four games are winnable versus Texas Southern, Jackson State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Southern could pad its lead in the division by just showing up in full uniform.
The win over Grambling State in the State Fair Classic two weeks ago was supposed to be a statement. That was until the Panthers were blown out 38-0 at home by Southern last Saturday. Yikes! There is still hope for Prairie View, as three of its final four contests are against SWAC foes with a combined 7-11 record in Jackson State, Alabama State and Texas Southern. They need to take advantage of that slate and get some help.