With less than a month left in the major HBCU football regular season, there is still a lot to be decided as far as division and conference championships are concerned.
The stretch runs begin tonight when Delaware State looks to remain in contention for a MEAC championship when it visits Morgan State. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
The Hornets (4-4, 1-1 MEAC) are currently in third place in the conference standings behind South Carolina State and Norfolk State, respectively.
Delaware State, with just three games remaining, will need to win out to take the conference crown.
The Hornets finish up against Norfolk State and North Carolina Central over the final two weeks.
“After our bye week,” it was a straight MEAC run,” said head coach Rod Milstead. And I’ve said this before that the MEAC is so evenly yoked in terms of the players and coaches and the competitive nature, that’s it’s anyone’s ballgame.”
Another matchup with postseason implications in the six-team MEAC features conference front-runner South Carolina State playing host to Howard.
After getting off to a slow start in non-conference play, the Bulldogs (4-4, 3-0 MEAC) have won three-straight MEAC contests to vault into first place.
“The comparables right now in our league show us to be pretty even,” Pough said. “If you look at the scores, everybody seems to be playing each other within a touchdown or two. That really means that anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”
The preseason favorites will have a tough road over the final few weeks, as the Bulldogs are scheduled to play North Carolina A&T before it travels to Norfolk State in a game that could decide who gets the Celebration Bowl berth.
There is arguably no HBCU football outfit hotter than Norfolk State.
Picked to finish third in the preseason conference rankings, the Spartans (6-2, 2-0 MEAC) are on a 6-game winning streak and are tied for first place heading into the all-important month of November.
“I really think (November) is the deciding month,” said first-year Spartans coach Dawson Odums, who boasts a 22-7 career record in November. “You want to look into November giving yourself a chance. And if you give yourself a chance, eventually you’ll have that opportunity to claim what you set out to claim.”
Over in the SWAC, both the East and West divisions are up for grabs entering the final month.
Jackson State, winners of its last six conference games, will be aiming to win the East for the first time since 2013.
But first, the Tigers will have to go through the SWAC West to play for the league championship.
On Saturday, Jackson State (7-1, 5-0 SWAC) hosts Texas Southern before visiting Southern and then ending the regular season with a rivalry game versus Alcorn State.
“Late October, November is pretty much championship football,” said JSU assistant Gary Harrell. “During this month of November, it’s a championship run and we have to stay intact and take it one game at a time.”
The closest competitor to Jackson State on its side of the SWAC is Florida A&M, which needs to win out and hope JSU stumbles twice to win the East.
The Rattlers (6-2, 4-1 SWAC) have won five-straight conference games and have the easiest remaining schedule among East contenders, with matchups against Southern, Bethune-Cookman, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The trio of opponents is a combined 5-18 overall this season.
Even if FAMU doesn’t claim the division, the program is still holding out for a possible at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, which figures to be difficult without a signature win or strong strength of schedule.
“We’ve kind of been in a playoff mindset for the last five weeks,” said head coach Willie Simmons. “Most teams make that strong push in November. Everyone is right there together in the standings. “So in order to win championships or go postseason play, you have to play well in November.”
The SWAC West faces a similar scenario with Prairie View holding a one-game lead over Alcorn State with three weeks left.
The Braves (5-3, 4-1 SWAC) picked to win the division during SWAC Media Day, suffered a crushing loss to Southern last Saturday that sets up a must-win situation versus Bethune-Cookman this weekend.
If they were to get past the Wildcats, challenges await in Prairie View and Jackson State.
“We got three games to go to be a better football team,” said veteran Alcorn State coach Fred McNair. And that’s the same mentality we have to have throughout the course of the season in terms of what we have to do to win the West.”