Bluefield State football
Photo: Bluefield State Athletics

After four months of compelling HBCU football action, the season has unfortunately come to an end.

As we put the season to rest we are taking a look back to look at what we learned from this year and what we have to look forward to next year.

Here are 8 Takeaways from the 2021 HBCU Football season.

1. Bowie State has a historic season

Bowie State vs. Delaware State
Photo: Lawrence Jackson/BSU Athletics

The 2021 football season was a season for the ages for the three-time reigning CIAA champion Bowie State Bulldogs.

After falling just short against the Delaware State Hornets, Bowie State went on a tear winning nine straight games en route to a third straight CIAA North crown and the school’s fifth in the last six seasons.

The Bulldogs finished a perfect 7-0 in CIAA play increasing their win streak to 18 games against conference opponents in the regular season with their last loss coming on October 6, 2018.

Even more impressive, BSU has not lost a home game against a conference opponent since 2014 the longest active streak of any HBCU football team.

Bowie then went on to win its third straight CIAA championship game once again knocking off the Fayetteville State Broncos to become the first team to win three straight CIAA titles since Hampton from 1992-1994.

The Bulldogs then went on to the Division II Championship tournament securing a 31-10 win in the first round against Lenoir-Rhyne for their second playoff win in school history.

In the next round, BSU continued its historic run defeating Newberry 13-10 to advance to the regional final for the first time ever before coming up short against Valdosta State.

Also read: Ultimate HBCU Sports Football Poll: South Carolina State is the best among HBCUs

2. Albany State goes on a shutout rampage

The Albany State Golden Rams were among the topmost dominant teams in all of HBCU football this year.

They finished the regular season with a 9-1 overall record and a perfect 6-0 record in conference play.

The Golden Rams defense was a big reason for their success leading in all of Division II during the regular season allowing just 52 total points.

Of their nine regular-season victories, five came by way of shutout not allowing a single rushing touchdown all season.

They fittingly culminated a dominant run with a SIAC championship win defeating the Miles Golden Bears 31-0 preventing them from three-peating as conference champions.

Albany State secured a spot in the Division II Playoffs but was unable to make it out of the first round losing to West Georgia.

3. Hampton has a bright future

Hampton-Howard football game
Photo: Audi Field

Although the Hampton Pirates finished with a losing record once again in their second season in the Big South, they showed some promising signs that they could be a team to watch going forward.

The Pirates have a collection of bright young talent on both sides of the ball that will be a huge part of the team becoming a contender in the years to come.

On offense, they were led by Jadakis Bonds who was the lone All-Big South First Team selection.

In his junior season, Bonds finished second in the Big South in receiving yards per game and receiving touchdowns.

However, the most promise will be coming from their backfield led by Elijah Burris who was selected to the All-Big South Second Team.

Hampton was the second-best rushing team in the Big South this season with four different backs and their quarterback Jett Duffey each having over 40 rush attempts.

With Duffey moving on from the team, the Pirates will go into next season with a deep backfield as they have added Norfolk State transfer running back Kevin Johnson to their roster.

This is certainly a team fans should keep their eye on in the future.

4. Florida A&M impresses in their first season in the SWAC

Florida A&M vs. South Carolina State
Photo: Florida A&M Athletics

The Florida A&M Rattlers were one of three teams that played their first season since leaving the MEAC going on to have the best season of those teams by far.

FAMU finished with the second-best record in the SWAC in the regular season going 9-3 overall and 7-1 in SWAC play falling one loss short of a conference title appearance.

The Rattlers were among the top defenses in the FCS ranking in the top 10 in points allowed and rushing yards allowed.

They had five defenders selected to the All-SWAC team including three first-team picks led by SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Land.

Land was a pleasant surprise for the Rattlers finishing a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. He filled up the stat sheet with 25 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, three forced fumbles and three pass breakups.

Many expected Markquese Bell to be the team’s top defender although he still had a great season being selected to the All-SWAC first team.

Bell concluded his college career recording 95.0 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and five forced fumbles on his way to potentially hearing his name called in the NFL draft.

The Rattlers are off to a great start in the SWAC and have a very bright future in the conference.

5. Rough start for Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T away from MEAC

North Carolina A&T vs. Robert Morris
Photo: Kevin L. Dorsey

As for the other two teams that played their first seasons since leaving the MEAC, it was a struggle, to say the least.

North Carolina A&T finished with a losing record for the first time in 10 years posting a 5-6 overall record and a 3-4 conference record.

They were shut out by Kennesaw State, their first shutout loss since 2014, and lost three consecutive games for the first time since 2013.

While the Aggies did beat their former MEAC competitors North Carolina Central and South Carolina State, they were blown out by Hampton in their first Big South encounter.

This was the first time North Carolina A&T has lost to Hampton since 2013.

The Aggies also lost their homecoming game against Monmouth after winning their last 10.

Bethune-Cookman struggled the most in its season away from the MEAC finishing with a 2-9 record their worst record in a season since 1996.

The Wildcats lost their first eight games with six coming against FCS opponents and five against SWAC opponents.

They did reel off two straight wins, their first being an upset against Alcorn State at home, and then going on the road to beat Grambling State.

Also, in fairness to Bethune-Cookman, the Wildcats were involved in numerous close games. Four of their nine losses on the season were one-possession losses.

It may have been a rough start for the Wildcats, but there were encouraging signs that they can turn things around as early as next season.

6. Bluefield State impresses in their first football season in 40 years

Bluefield State football
Photo: Bluefield State Athletics

After over 40 years without a football program, the Bluefield State Big Blue returned to the gridiron and looked like they had never left.

The team finished with a 3-3 record (not including a forfeit win over UNC Greensboro) winning those games consecutively.

The Big Blue’s first win of the season against Elizabeth City State was the most impressive, overcoming a 21-0 first-quarter deficit to secure a 35-27 win.

Bluefield State went on to beat another CIAA opponent in its next game knocking off Johnson C. Smith 20-12.

After having a game against UNC Greensboro canceled, BSU got back to business defeating Fort Lauderdale in their homecoming game.

While the season didn’t end the way the team wanted, losing the last two and having their home finale canceled, Bluefield State played great for a team that had not been around for 40 years.

7. South Carolina State shocks the world

Celebration Bowl 2021
Photo: Celebration Bowl

Although history was on the side of South Carolina State going into the Celebration Bowl, Jackson State was the overwhelming favorite.

The Tigers finished with an 11-1 record and a perfect 7-0 record in conference. They boasted the best defense in the FCS while their offense was led by freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders who won the Jerry Rice award for being the best freshman in the FCS.

Meanwhile, South Carolina State cruised through a fairly underwhelming MEAC schedule posting a perfect 5-0 record in conference play and a 1-2 in nonconference FCS games.

The Bulldogs rose to the occasion pulling off the big win in the big game defeating Jackson State 31-10.

The defense of South Carolina State from top to bottom put up its best performance of the season holding Jackson State to 194 yards of total offense forcing three Tiger turnovers.

This included forcing back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter converting both to touchdowns on the other end.

After ranking third in all of FCS in completion percentage, Shedeur Sanders completed just 44% of his passes lowest of the season.

Meanwhile, the Jackson State defense did not live up to its billing with the Bulldogs’ 31 points being the most they gave up all year.

Bulldogs quarterback Corey Fields scored four touchdowns through the air in the game with three going to All-MEAC receiver Shaquan Davis.

8. HBCU Football is taking over

If there was one thing we learned about this exciting HBCU football season it’s that there is a lot more to look forward to going forward.

Although Jackson State’s season ended in disappointing fashion, head coach Deion Sanders has built a culture that not only has had an impact on his team but on the entire HBCU landscape.

Coach Prime has exposed his team to a world that his players may not have been exposed to without him with many influential people visiting their campus to give his squad the motivation on how to be great on and off the field.

It is the culture that Prime has built that allowed him to flip the number one high school recruit in the country, Travis Hunter, from his alma mater to sign with his program.

Elsewhere, former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George had a very good first season coaching Tennessee State.

He led the Tigers to a 3-3 record in Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) play for the first time since 2016.

Grambling State announced at the conclusion of its season that it hired former NFL head coach Hue Jackson to lead their program.

Outside of individual programs, the pipeline for HBCU players to the NFL is improving with the Draft HBCU Players movement.

The Black College Football Hall of Fame partnered with the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the NFL to present the HBCU Legacy Bowl that is set to be played this upcoming February.

There is genuine support for HBCUs and their athletes that has not been seen in a long time and it shows that the best is truly yet to come.


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