After Jackson State dismantled Florida A&M by 56 points on national television in the Orange Blossom Classic on Sunday, one of the obvious questions following was whether Deion Sanders had constructed a team that has officially distanced itself from everyone in the SWAC and Black college football.
“They’re really, really good,” said Simmons in response to a direct inquiry about whether JSU has now forced other HBCU programs to elevate to catch up. “They have really good players across the board and recruited extremely well. They capitalized on the transfer portal and address some deficiencies they had last year on the offensive side of the ball.”
Florida A&M was a team many believed could challenge the Tigers atop the SWAC East after its own run to the FCS playoffs and performance in last year’s Orange Blossom Classic. The Rattlers also felt confident after it hung with North Carolina on the road a week earlier without 20 eligible players.
The Tigers, however, shattered any notion that FAMU could contend with them.
“It’s hard to find a weakness with their football team,” said Simmons. “Last year they didn’t lose a game in conference and it would be hard-pressed to see them lose one this year if they continue to play the way they played (Sunday).”
But it just wasn’t the margin of victory that stood out. It was how JSU won and the ensemble that contributed which mattered, too.
Sophomore quarterback Shedeur Sanders was in complete control of the offensive, hitting on the first 17 pass attempts and throwing three touchdowns before his first incompletion. The Jerry Rice Award winner finished with five TDs and more than 300 yards behind a revamped offensive line with only one starter on it from a year ago.
Then there were all those receivers — but not the familiar names that contributed to the SWAC championship season of 2021.
Dallas Daniels, a Western Illinois transfer, led the Tigers with 59 receiving yards, five receptions on 11.8 yards per catch. Shane Hooks, who only caught 16 balls in 2021, had six receptions versus FAMU and two touchdowns.
They were among 12 different receivers who caught a pass, though none of them were named Black College Hall of Fame Player of the Year Watch List talent Malachi Wideman.
That’s how deep Jackson State is at that position and others throughout its roster loaded with 4-star and 3-star high school recruits and transfer portal acquisitions to go along with 5-star stud Travis Hunter.
And that quality depth was something Sanders eluded to in a preseason meeting with the team, explaining that only two players on the current roster had a starting spot assured.
“We’re deep,” Sanders said in response to a question about why defensive back De’Jahn Warren — the centerpiece of Sanders’ landmark first recruiting class — didn’t play against the Rattlers. “You could go from first to third team in one practice. “We’re that deep.”
While several schools in the conference hit the transfer portal en masse to bolster their rosters, those additions — while solid — may not be enough to overcome what Jackson State has built.
Alabama State, Grambling State, and Prairie View all have first-year coaches. Save for Southern and Alcorn State, Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Bethune-Cookman, Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff don’t figure to threaten JSU in 2022 or beyond.
While it might be easy to dismiss the Orange Blossom Classic as an anomaly, the performances over the last season and change say otherwise.
Against its last 10 SWAC opponents, Jackson State has won by an average of 21.8 points. That sample size indicates just how dominant the Tigers have been and how far everyone else is seemingly in the rearview mirror comparatively.
Jackson State, as it stands now, is not competing against the SWAC or anyone else in the HBCU sphere, said Sanders. These Tigers are attempting to set a new standard.
“Everybody talks about who they have and who they brought in,” said Sanders. They forgot we got better, too. We’re not playing against SWAC. We’re not thinking like that. We’re just trying to dominate.
“Isn’t that what they (FBS programs) do? Why is it new to us? Isn’t it how it’s supposed to be done? I mean, we were doing something wrong over here. So when we get it right we don’t need hand claps to say we got it right. This is how it’s supposed to be done.”
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