The conclusion of the Celebration Bowl brings the bittersweet feeling of the end of an outstanding 2023 HBCU football season. But the journey throughout the year had many twists and turns that created intrigue and interest that lasted until the championship confetti fell in Atlanta, signifying a new Black college football king.
Here are the five takeaways from the 2023 HBCU football season.
Florida A&M finishes the job
After two seasons of being the number two team in the SWAC, the Florida A&M Rattlers finally realized its championship potential in the 2023 season.
Entering the 2023 season, the Rattlers held a 14-2 record against the SWAC, with their only two losses coming against the reigning conference champion Jackson State Tigers.
After finally getting over the humping beating Jackson State in the Orange Blossom Classic, FAMU overcame adversity finishing the season undefeated in conference play.
They advanced to beat Prairie View A&M to win its first-ever SWAC championship, becoming the first school to win a conference championship in the SIAC, MEAC, and SWAC, respectively.
The Rattlers followed that up by overcoming aHoward in the Celebration Bowl.
Not only did FAMU show themselves to be the class of HBCU football, but they also showed there was a considerable gap between themselves and the next best team.
They have the talent and the leadership to go on a run akin to North Carolina A&T’s in the latter end of the 2010s.
Howard puts narratives to bed
Coming off a season in which they were named co-champions of the MEAC in 2022, the Howard Bison had a chip on their shoulder fighting against narratives that they were undeserving of the distinction.
In their regular season matchup against fellow champion North Carolina Central, the Bison were decimated, losing 50-21 with the Eagles before winning the Celebration Bowl.
Eagles head coach Trei Oliver voiced his displeasure with Howard being named co-champion and with any notion that there should be a MEAC conference championship game.
Due in part to this controversy, the MEAC announced that it was doing away with co-conference champions going forward.
With a chip on their shoulder, Howard entered the penultimate week of the regular season, meeting up against the reigning conference champion North Carolina Central, with the conference lead on the line.
This time, the Bison dealt out the 50-piece, defeating the Eagles 50-20, clearing the way for their first outright MEAC championship in 30 years.
Although they came up short in the Celebration Bowl, Howard put all doubters to rest, showing the resilience and dedication it takes to be a championship-caliber team.
Chaos in the SIAC
Subjectively speaking, no conference had more interesting storylines, nor did they have a more intriguing championship race down the stretch than the SIAC.
Two of the biggest stories from the year in the SIAC were the breakout performances of the Allen Yellow Jackets and the Edward Waters Tigers.
Allen had its best output since its football program was rejuvenated in 2018, improving from a 2-8 record the previous year to 7-3 this year.
Meanwhile, Edward Waters overcame an 0-3 start to the season, winning six of its last seven games and securing its first winning season since 2004.
The Tigers had a flare for the dramatic winning three games by go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdowns. This included a historic upset win over Tuskegee in which they spoiled the Golden Tigers’ homecoming.
However, the Miles Golden Bears had the best single-season improvement in HBCU football, going from 1-9 in 2022 to 7-3 this year.
Allen and Edward Waters were two of seven teams in the SIAC to finish with at least six wins, leading to a heated race for a spot in the SIAC championship game.
To compound the craziness of the SIAC this season, the Albany State Golden Rams clinched a berth in the conference title game despite having the toughest odds of any of the other contenders.
Benedict reigns supreme
With all that being said, the SIAC was once again controlled by the Benedict Tigers, who, for the second year in a row, proclaimed themselves as Kings of the SIAC.
The Tigers finished the regular season undefeated, a feat in back-to-back years that has not been seen since Winston-Salem State in 2011 and 2012.
They then advanced to the SIAC championship game, in which they defeated Albany State to capture a second straight conference title.
Much of the Tigers’ success can be attributed to head coach Chennis Berry, who has completely turned around a Benedict team not used to success on the football field.
In the 10 seasons before Berry took over as the Tigers’ head coach, the team held a 35-65 overall record. He led the Tigers to a 27-7 overall record in his three seasons as head coach.
Such success leads to interest in Benedict’s leader from other programs, with many teams seeing him as a top candidate for vacant head coaching positions.
Ultimately, he settled in-state with South Carolina State, which underwent a significant change this year.
Saying goodbye to Buddy Pough
The 2023 football season was bittersweet for the South Carolina State Bulldogs as it was a time to celebrate the career of their longtime head coach.
Before the start of the season, legendary head coach Buddy Pough announced his intentions to retire after 21 years leading the South Carolina State football program.
In his time as head coach of South Carolina State, Pough left behind a legacy of excellence and class that will never be forgotten.
He led the Bulldogs to a 151-93 overall record,d winning eight MEAC championships and three Black College Football national championships.
He also led South Carolina State to four FCS playoff appearances and a win in the Celebration Bowl in 2021.
In addition, many of his former players have had successful NFL careers, including former All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard (a.k.a Darius Leonard) and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
HBCU football is forever changed due to the long-lasting impact of Pough’s great work, and the landscape will not be the same without him.
The Celebration Bowl champion Florida A&M Rattlers have added a transfer from the College Football Playoff champions. Graduate transfer Jerome Nichols, a Michigan linebacker, announced his commitment to...