‘Do you remember,
the 21st night of September.
Love was changing the minds of pretenders,
while chasing the clouds away.’
The funky lyrics from Earth, Wind, and Fire seem apropos for the four teams predicted to finish atop the MEAC football standings in 2011. Most sports fans understand the correlation between momentum and confidence and winning and losing. They also understand that winning (and losing) can be as contagious as a funk band’s groovy beats. South Carolina State, Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, and Hampton may find it difficult to establish early season momentum as they all experience their toughest stretch of games at the kickoff of the 2011 campaign. By the end of September, the league crown could be out of reach for one or more of these expected contenders.
South Carolina State has the most difficult opening stretch of games. The Bulldogs will be double-digit underdogs to FBS opponents Central Michigan (9/1) and Indiana (9/17). Nestled between the two FBS contests is a matchup against Bethune-Cookman. Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs are 29-1 vs. HBCU’s over the past three seasons. The Wildcats handed the Bulldogs their lone HBCU defeat last year in Orangeburg. SCSU conclude the month with a matchup versus new look and hopeful contender Delaware State.
The Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman opened last season with one-sided victories against undermanned Edward Waters and overmatched Savannah State. This year’s early season competition is much tougher for Brian Jenkins’ squad. The Wildcats will look to extend the MEAC’s 4-2 record in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge when they face SWAC power Prairie View A&M on the 4th. BCU finish their September schedule at home with contests against SCSU (9/10) and Hampton (9/22).
Like Bethune, Hampton kickoff their 2011 campaign versus a SWAC Opponent. Hampton and Alabama A&M square off on September 3rd in the Chicago Football Classic. The Pirates next three opponents, FAMU (9/8), Old Dominion (9/17), and BCU (9/24), were 3-0 versus Donovan Rose’s team in 2010.
Florida A&M face perhaps the easiest opening schedule of the top four teams from a year ago. Division II Ft. Valley State visits Tallahassee on September 3rd. FAMU will have a quick turnaround and play a Thursday night/ESPNU contest against Hampton on September 8th. Big East title contender University of South Florida host Joe Taylor’s squad in Tampa on the 17th. The Rattlers end the month against one of their old nemesis, Southern University (9/24). FAMU should be favored over SU, but as the saying goes: “you can throw out all of the records in a rivalry game”.
The top-heavy schedule of the MEAC’s elite may leave the door open for other squads looking to contend. Morgan State can thank the schedule makers for leaving FAMU and SCSU off of their schedule. Unlike the teams mentioned above, the Bears face their toughest stretch of games at the end of the season. Norfolk State avoids FAMU this year and may have time to build confidence before facing South Carolina State, Delaware State, Hampton, and Bethune in the month of October.
The second full week of the season (the week ending Saturday, September 10th) may be the most pivotal in the race for conference supremacy. Hampton host FAMU on Thursday (9/8) and SCSU travels to Daytona Beach to face BCU on Saturday (09/10). These early season matchups will certainly cause a lot of “scoreboard watching” and should help quickly weed out the pretenders. By the month’s end, some expected contenders may have their hopes dashed while others may be humming “ba-de-ya” and dancing in September.