The excitement of HBCU football is just months away. There are plenty of annual classics and rivalry games on campus to entertain and inspire.
As the countdown continues, The Clarion Ledger has picked one must-watch HBCU game per week of the regular season. This list only includes Division I HBCU football matches.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest matchups this season.
Howard vs. Alabama State
When: August 27 (week 1)
Where: Atlanta, Georgia (MEAC/SWAC Challenge)
Raison: The HBCU football season kicks off in Atlanta, where it will also end in December with the Celebration Bowl. This is Howard’s second meeting with Alabama State. The first game between the two schools drew more than 45,000 fans to Detroit in 2004.
Jackson State vs. Florida A&M
When: September 4 (week 2)
Where: Miami Gardens, Florida (Orange Blossom Classic)
Raison: SWAC champion Jackson State takes on Florida A&M, which represented SWAC in the FCS playoffs last year.
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Jackson State vs. Tennessee State
When: September 10 (week 3)
Where: Memphis, Tennessee (Southern Heritage Classic)
Raison: This could be the last edition of the Southern Heritage Classic that will feature these two teams. It’s a big rivalry game, set halfway between TSU and JSU in Memphis. NFL legends Deion Sanders and Eddie George go head-to-head as coaches.
Hampton in Norfolk State
When: September 17 (week 4)
Where: Norfolk, Virginia.
Raison: Hampton, the first HBCU to join the Colonial Athletic Conference and one of three Division I HBCUs in a conference other than MEAC or SWAC, takes on its rival in Norfolk State. Last year, the teams combined for 91 points in a game that NSU won in overtime.
State of South Carolina at North Carolina A&T
When: September 24 (week 5)
Where: Greensboro, North Carolina
Raison: The winner of the Celebration Bowl, the de facto HBCU national championship game, has been one of those two schools every year except when Grambling won in 2016. North Carolina A&T has since moved to the Big South Conference and is expected to host the Bulldogs in a non-conference game.
Prairie View vs. Grambling
When: October 1 (week 6)
Where: Dallas, TX
Raison: SWAC finalist Prairie View takes on Hue Jackson’s Grambling Tigers in the Cotton Bowl at the State Fair Classic. The game dates back to 1925, when other Texas HBCUs participated. The match has been exclusively Prairie View against Grambling since 1985.
Florida A&M at South Carolina State
When: October 8 (week 7)
Where: Orangeburg, South Carolina
Raison: Florida A&M and South Carolina State will likely compete for playoff spots this year. This midseason game in South Carolina could end up being a preview of the Celebration Bowl, depending on how the Orange Blossom Classic game unfolds with Jackson State.
Alcorn to the south
When: October 15 (week 8)
Where: Grambling, La.
Raison: Alcorn has won three of the last six SWAC championships and heads south for a key midseason game. Last year’s game featured a lot of offense, as Southern won 38-35.
North Carolina Central to South Carolina State
When: October 22 (Week 9)
Where: Orangeburg SC
Raison: NC Central and SC State were the top two teams in the MEAC last year. The Bulldogs accepted the Celebration Bowl offer because they were able to steal a 27-24 road win over the Eagles last year.
Alabama A&M vs. Alabama State
When: October 29 (week 10)
Where: Birmingham, Alabama (Magic City Classic)
Raison: The Magic City Classic is still one of the best classic games in HBCU football. Alabama A&M, which is a year away from winning the SWAC title in the spring, has plenty of FBS transfers that will give the team a new look. Alabama State will be different after changing coaches last season.
South to Florida A&M
When: November 5 (week 11)
Where: Tallahassee, Florida.
Raison: Southern has hired Eric Dooley, who led Prairie View to the SWAC title game last year. Florida A&M enjoyed huge success in its first season in the SWAC under Willie Simmons last year, hosting the Jaguars in a season-ending game.
Jackson State vs. Alabama A&M
When: November 12 (week 12)
Where: Mobile, Alabama (Gulf Coast Challenge)
Raison: This is a neutral site rematch between the last two SWAC champions. Alabama A&M will certainly be hungry for revenge after Jackson State crushed them 61-15 and left a pink scooter in midfield for coach Connell Maynor after last fall’s game.
Jackson State to Alcorn State
When: November 19 (week 13)
Where: Lorman, miss.
Raison: Jackson State closes out the regular season against its biggest rival in the state. Last year’s match drew 58,582 spectators. Top prospect Travis Hunter visited JSU during that game and ended up moving from Florida State to JSU the following month. This year he will play in the game.
South vs. Grambling
When: November 26 (week 14)
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana (Bayou Classic)
Raison: This rivalry game at Caesar’s Superdome over Thanksgiving weekend is the biggest regular season leg of HBCU football. Both teams are under new coaches, but that won’t change the tradition, rivalry or fierceness on the pitch. The all-time series is tied 24-24.