Week one of the HBCU football season is here, and there are many exciting games on the docket.
The Norfolk State Spartans play their first game with new head coach Dawson Odums against the Toledo Rockets. Meanwhile, the Southern Jaguars, Odums’ former team, will open the season against the Troy Trojans.
The North Carolina A&T Aggies play their first game since joining the Big South against the Furman Paladins. Also, we get a potential preview of the SIAC Championship game when the Tuskegee Golden Tigers face the Fort Valley State Wildcats.
While all of these games will be interesting watches, they just missed out on being among the top games to watch this weekend.
Here are the top five games to watch in week one of the HBCU football season.
Savannah State Tigers at Valdosta State Blazers
The Savannah State Tigers kick off their first playoff eligible season in the SIAC against Division II powerhouse Valdosta State.
It’s a matchup that fans could potentially see in the Division II playoffs as well.
In its first season in the SIAC, Savannah State finished 7-3 overall and 5-0 in conference play. Had it not been for them being ineligible for the postseason, they most likely would have taken home the conference title.
SSU now gets a chance to compete for a conference title this season, led by running back D’Angelo Durham, selected the SIAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Durham was part of a dynamic rushing attack for the Tigers that averaged 260.3 rushing yards per game in 2019.
In contrast, Valdosta State is also an excellent run team averaging 260.2 rushing yards but on 6.8 yards per attempt compared to the Tigers’ 5.1.
This game has the potential to see some big plays with the finish going down to the wire.
Bowie State Bulldogs at Delaware State Hornets
Of all the Division II vs. FCS matchups happening this weekend, the Bowie State vs. Delaware State game has to best potential to produce fireworks.
This contest is a matchup of a Bowie State team that has run through the CIAA, appearing in four of the last five conference titles, winning the previous two going up against a Delaware State team that has the potential to be the most improved team in the FCS.
What makes this game so exciting is that it has an heir of unpredictability about it. While Delaware State should be the favorite being the Division I team, their dreadful 2019 season has cast doubt against a Bowie State team that has been so incredible in recent years.
Bowie State is an outstanding all-around team led by CIAA Players of the Year Ja’rome Johnson and Demetri Morsell. They have not played against a Division I opponent since 2018 when the Bulldogs lost 40-23 against Wagner College.
Delaware State, a team that has not won many games in recent years, has shown some offensive potential, featuring quarterback Tylik Bethea and its tandem of receivers Trey Gross and Bizzet Woodley.
The game’s outcome is a coin flip, where each team has a chance of winning, which is refreshing FCS vs. DII game.
South Carolina State Bulldogs at Alabama A&M Bulldogs
The HBCU football season kicked off with the MEAC/SWAC Challenge between North Carolina Central and Alcorn State in what was a potential preview of the Celebration Bowl.
One week later, we have another preview of the Celebration Bowl as MEAC favorite South Carolina State faces reigning SWAC champion Alabama A&M.
Alabama A&M looks to improve on a spring season in which it finished the regular season 4-0 on its way to winning its first SWAC title since 2006.
AAMU is led by quarterback Aqeel Glass, who won the Black College Football Player of the Year award for his play in the spring and was recently named the first selection for the HBCU Legacy Bowl.
Glass is backed up by an excellent receiving corp including Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim, Zabrian Moore and Odieu Hilaire.
The Bulldogs will face a South Carolina State team headlined by quarterback Corey Fields who is coming off a freshman season where he recorded 15 passing touchdowns to just five interceptions.
South Carolina State also has one of the top defensive backs in HBCU football in Decobie Durant who was selected as the MEAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Jackson State Tigers vs. Florida A&M Rattlers (Orange Blossom Classic)
There are so many exciting factors going into the second Orange Blossom Classic in 43 years when Jackson State takes on Florida A&M.
This game will be the first game in the first full season of Coach Deion Sanders with a new and improved Jackson State roster. The Tigers will welcome a host of transfers coming from Power Five conferences and a 2021 recruiting class ranked 55th in the country by 24/7 Sports.
J-State will put its loaded roster to the test in its season opener against a Florida A&M team making its SWAC debut. There are high expectations of the Rattlers being competitive in their first year in the SWAC.
In their final MEAC season, FAMU finished the regular season 9-2 and 7-1 in the conference. FAMU’s season was highlighted by wins over MEAC co-champions North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State and a win over Southern.
This could be a pivotal game that could determine who represents the SWAC East in the conference championship game.
Grambling State Tigers vs. Tennessee State Tigers (Black College Hall of Fame Classic)
The Tennessee State Tigers kick off the Eddie George era facing the Grambling State Tigers in the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic.
TSU is looking to finish this season with a record above .500 for the first time since 2017. Regardless, each of the Tigers’ three games against SWAC opponents last season was exciting, including a matchup against UAPB that saw the Golden Lions win via touchdown as time expired.
A player to watch for Tennessee State is freshman running back Devon Starling, who is coming off a spring season in which he averaged 92.4 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry, scoring three touchdowns.
Grambling State will be a good test for Tennessee State as the G-Men are looking to bounce back from a disappointing spring season that saw them finish 0-4.
Look out for Grambling’s defensive backs, including Kenan Fontenot, Devanir Martin, Hurshie Williams, and Ryan Fields, who all recorded at least three passes defended in the spring season.