HBCU Football Spotlight: Week Zero

By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — In a busy offseason that saw 16 HBCU squads make changes to their head coach openings, it’s fitting that three of them will be making their debuts this weekend.

Whether it’s defending HBCU national champion North Carolina A&T (Sam Washington replacing Rod Broadway), Prairie View A&M (Eric Dooley replacing Willie Simmons), or NAIA member Edward Waters (Greg Ruffin replacing Alvin Wyatt), the coaching carousel has been at full tilt since last December.

This Saturday, all three will open their seasons in an abbreviated weekend schedule.

In Montgomery, Ala., Washington’s Aggies — ranked 14th in both FCS preseason polls — will meet sixth-ranked Jacksonville State in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Game at the Cramton Bowl.

Coming off an undefeated season (12-0) and their second national championship in three years, A&T’s cupboard wasn’t left bare when coach Broadway decided to retire after going 59-22 over the last seven seasons.

Serving as the Aggies’ long-time defensive coordinator, Washington inherits a squad which includes their top three offensive players from last year as well as eight starters from a defense that was ranked No. 1 overall in the MEAC.

The league’s reigning Offensive Player of Year, senior quarterback Lamar Raynard (25-0 in his career as a starter), will have his senior backfield mate Marquell Cartwright (1,190 rushing yards, 14 TDs) and junior wideout Elijah Bell pacing an offense that looks to replace four starters on the offensive line.

Defensively, a pair of All-MEAC selections — sophomore cornerback Mac McCain III and junior defensive end Darryl Johnson — are among the returnees of an A&T unit that has been the MEAC’s No. 1 scoring defense four times in the past seven years.

Much like A&T, Jacksonville State has been the gold standard in their league. The four-time defending champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, the Gamecocks (10-2 last year) haven’t lost an OVC game in that same span.

JSU has won 32-straight OVC games, the second-longest conference win streak in FCS history, and are 31-0 in OVC play under head coach John Grass. His 43-8 record (.843) over the last four seasons is the best start to a tenure in school history.

This will be the third meeting between the Aggies and Gamecocks with JSU winning both previous matchups. The game, scheduled for a 7 p.m. ET kickoff, will be broadcast live on ESPN.

ROAD WARRIORS

In a season that will see Prairie View A&M open the season with six straight road games — including next weekend’s MEAC-SWAC Challenge against North Carolina Central — new head coach Eric Dooley will need to have his Panther squad hitting the ground running.

The 33rd head coach in PVAM history, Dooley enters the job after spending the previous four seasons at Grambling State as offensive coordinator (2014-17), including one year as quarterbacks coach (2014) and two years as receivers coach (2016-17).

While at GSU, his offenses averaged at least 31 points per game in all four seasons, and ranked first or second in the SWAC in scoring offense each of the last three seasons. In 2016, he was named American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Assistant Coach of the Year.

Dooley inherits a Panther squad that went through a series of streaks last season, finishing on the upside of a three-game winning streak to finish with a 6-5 record and a third straight winning season.

Saturday, they’ll travel to Houston to meet Rice in just the second meeting between the teams on the gridiron. The Panthers and Owls last met in 2016, with Rice winning 65-44 in the high scoring affair.

Trailing 45-14 at halftime, PVAMU outscored Rice 30-20 and outgained them 335-218 in the second half. Similar to coach Dooley, Rice’s Mike Bloomgren will be in his first game as head coach as well.

Bloomgren spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach at Stanford, the last five as director of offense as well as the last four as associate head coach. Slated for a 7 pm ET kickoff, the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

RUFFIN THE RESURRECTOR

In 2002, Greg Ruffin was selected as head football coach at Shaw University where he revived that program after a 23-year hiatus, guiding the Bears to a 7-3 record in his lone season in Raleigh, N. C.

Fast forward to 2013, Ruffin was then named head coach at Paine College in the school’s resurgence of football. This came after the program was dormant for more than five decades.

Now after serving last year as tight ends coach at Bethune-Cookman, Ruffin will try to help the Edward Waters program get back to the level of success it saw in the 50’s & 60’s when it was one of the most feared programs in all of HBCU football.

Ruffin also has coaching experience at Texas Southern University, Jackson State University, Ouachita Baptist University, Lincoln University of Missouri, and Lane College, his alma mater.

Under Ruffin, the Tigers will switch from a triple-option offense to a multiple attack that will feature several variations of a spread and the I-Formation. On Saturday, EWC will host the Knights of St. Andrews University at 4 pm ET at University Christian School Stadium.

Anthony McClean can be reached via email at anthonymcclean@basnnewsroom.com.

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