By ALVIN HOLLINS JR.

Alvin Hollins Jr.-Contributor

SEPT. 18 – Just a few observations about the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s football title chase, which will heat up this week with four league games on tap, highlighted by two first place teams – Hampton and South Carolina State – in action.  Hampton (2-1, 1-0) kicks things off Thursday night with a visit to defending co-champion Bethune-Cookman (1-1, 0-1), in a nationally-televised game (ESPNU-7:30), while one of the other reigning co-champs, South Carolina State (1-2, 1-0) open their home schedule against Delaware State (2-1, 0-0), at 2:00 p.m. Saturday’s remaining conference games feature Morgan State (1-2, 0-0) and Howard (1-2, 0-0) in the Urban League Classic at Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (4:00).  The league’s newest members, Savannah State (0-3, 0-0) and North Carolina Central (1-2, 0-0) will duel in Durham, N.C. (6:00). Non-conference action features Florida A&M (1-2) hoping to bounce back after two straight losses against Southern University (1-2) in the Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic in the Georgia Dome (3:30-Versus Network). Norfolk State (2-1) visits Charleston Southern (1:30), while North Carolina A&T (1-1) hosts Coastal Carolina (4:00), in Greensboro.

Tough day at the office for Deleware State--Photo captured by The News Journal

MEAC’s Bad Day At Black Rock??

This past weekend, only two of the nine MEAC clubs in action prevailed in their matchups.  Norfolk State bowled past Howard, 23-9 in the conference opener for both squads in Washington, D.C., while Morgan State won their first of the season, nipping Robert Morris (Pa.), 13-12 in Baltimore. South Carolina State’s 38-21 loss at Big Ten Indiana was more positive than negative, as the Bulldogs continued their trend of strong performances out of conference this year, which may serve them well if they make the postseason.

Several teams might call in grief counselors after heartbreaking losses Saturday, including North Carolina Central, whose two missed extra points and botched field goal attempt in the games closing moments resulted in a 23-22 home loss to Elon (N.C.) University.  Time ran out on BCU’s next opponent, the Hampton Pirates, who came ashore in nearby Norfolk and lost a 45-42 shootout with FCS darling ODU (Old Dominion University).

Three games were runaways with the biggest surprise coming in Tampa, where Florida A&M was crushed by South Florida, 70-17. Also suffering knockouts were Delaware State, a 45-0 shutout victim at the hands of Delaware, while Savannah State fell at Appalachian State, 41-6.

FAMU’s struggles continue

While the 2011 season is far from over just three weeks in, the perennial MEAC contenders in Tallahassee – Florida A&M – find themselves in a bit of a pickle. The Rattlers have already suffered a conference loss (Sept. 8th) to Hampton, putting them down a game on the standings.  And while the Rattlers have won four conference titles with one loss (1988, 2000, 2001, 2010), in each of those previous years, the conference losses came at midyear or later, not in the first conference game.   Also, this year’s club has struggled on offense, ranking last in the MEAC in rushing (40,0 ypg) and seventh (7th) in total offense (266.3 ypg).  Those offensive struggles haven’t helped an injury-riddled FAMU defense, which ranks at the bottom of the league in total defense (524.3 ypg) and pass defense (363.7), and seventh (7th) against the run (160.7). The Rattlers edged Fort Valley in the opener on a deflected pass for a 28-22 win in the final 39 seconds, but never got on-track in the nationally-televised loss at Hampton (23-17), Sept. 8. The margin of Saturday’s loss at South Florida (70-17) has the Rattler faithful a bit skittish; but FAMU’s opportunity for redemption begins this weekend in Atlanta against long-time rival Southern University (1-2).

Thursday Night Lights a big one

Hampton WR Dyrri McCain catches a pass against ODU--Photo Courtesy of The Virginia Pilot

Needless to say, this week’s Thursday Night Lights special between Hampton and Bethune-Cookman will be crucial for both squads.  Hampton will be out to hold onto a share of the early league lead, while Bethune-Cookman, which has been off since their Sept. 10 home setback to South Carolina State, 26-18, hopes to stay in contention with a victory.  A loss by the homestanding Wildcats would drop them to 0-2 in the league, severely damaging their 2011 MEAC title hopes, while a win by Hampton could position them nicely for a title run.

Howard’s losing streak continues Saturday’s 23-9 home loss to Norfolk State extended Howard University’s trail of tears in MEAC play, as the Bison losing skid in conference games stretched to 28 games, dating back to 2007… In that 2007 campaign, the Bison lost their final three conference games and have gone winless in the MEAC each of the past three seasons (2008, 2009, 2010).

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