When Alcorn State faces Bethune-Cookman in the 12th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Sept. 4, the game will feature two of the best teams from historically black colleges and universities in the country. It will kick off each team’s season at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Florida, and air live on ESPN.
Alcorn State, the two-time defending SWAC champion, suffered a tough 41-34 loss to North Carolina A&T in the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, a contest between the champions of the two conferences. Alcorn State’s new coach is Fred McNair, the older brother of Steve McNair, the late Alcorn State and NFL star. Fred McNair replaced Jay Hopson, who became the coach at Southern Mississippi.
“It will be a good one,” said McNair, who was the Braves’ assistant head coach and the quarterbacks coach last season. “You know, just the opportunity to be a head coach here and now playing against another MEAC school. We had a battle against North Carolina A&T in the Celebration Bowl back in December.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup. I watched Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina State play last year in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. I think it’s a good opportunity for Alcorn State to play in it. It should be a solid matchup between two powerhouse teams.”
The Braves were 9-4 in 2015, including 7-2 in the SWAC. On offense, Alcorn State returns quarterback Lenorris Footman and wide receiver Marquis Warford. Footman last season threw for 1,106 yards and 14 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. He also had 138 carries for 1,023 yards and 11 TDs.
Warford had a spectacular year and was named the SWAC newcomer of the year. He led the team with 36 receptions for 478 yards and four touchdowns, and also rushed for 442 yards and six scores.
Defensively, the Braves have two sensational players in defensive lineman Stacey Garner and linebacker Darien Anderson. Garner was a real force up front in 2015 with 43 total tackles and six sacks. Anderson led Alcorn State in tackles with 73 total and 43 solo hits.
Bethune-Cookman went 9-2 last season, 8-1 in the MEAC, and earned a share of its fourth consecutive conference championship. This will be the Wildcats' third appearance in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, after victories over Prairie View A&M in 2011 and Alabama State in 2012.
B-CU has the makings of another formidable team under Terry Sims, who was the MEAC coach of the year in his first season in 2015. Sims expects a stiff test from Alcorn State.
“It’s a great opportunity to face an opponent from the SWAC,” he said. “They’re a very good opponent. They didn’t lose a lot. They have good continuity coming back. I think it will be a good game. It’s a good opportunity for both programs. They’re very polished. They’re very well organized and they’re a talented football team.”
B-CU will miss quarterback Quentin Williams, who threw for 2,171 yards and 19 touchdowns. However, the Wildcats have some playmakers in running back Michael Jones and wide receiver Jawill Davis. Jones rushed for 562 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Davis was the team’s leading receiver with 39 receptions for 788 yards and six TDs.
In the 2015 MEAC/SWAC Challenge, South Carolina State defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff 35-7. The event serves as a huge showcase for the participating schools and has kept the strong rivalry going between these two legendary HBCU conferences. The 2016 version will be the only regular season meeting between the MEAC and SWAC until the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17.