The HBCU football schedules are so dotted with "classics" the first few weeks of the season, it virtually renders the meaning of the word useless. However, there are matchups this opening weekend that look to live up to the name.

'The Port City Classic'

It will be a glorified family reunion on many levels when Grambling and Alcorn State revive their Southwestern Athletic Conference season-opening showdown in Shreveport, La.

The game marks Doug Williams’ return to the Tigers’ sidelines. His first tour lasted six seasons when he replaced legendary head coach Eddie Robinson. One of his first orders of business was finding a new quarterback. He didn’t have to look too far to find the replacement as his son, D.J., won a three-way battle. Across the sideline from Williams will be Alcorn’s first-year coach Melvin Spears, who not only was Grambling’s head coach for three seasons (2004-06), but he is also Williams’ cousin. Add to that, Alcorn’s QB coach is Bruce Eugene, who quarterbacked Grambling to four SWAC titles under Williams and then Tigers’ QB coach -- Melvin Spears.

The Tigers open the season coming off a 9-2 season and will have to try to find its way on offense to be effective. Not only are they starting over under center, but they need to find a suitable replacement for last season’s leading rusher, Frank Warren. In 2010, Warren shredded the Braves defense for 202 yards and five touchdowns.

.Alcorn expects its offense to be sparked by sophomore dual threat QB Brandon Bridge.

“It’s going to be special to go over a place where I spent 10 years, to get an opportunity to play against my cousins,” Spears said. “I think it’s a major accomplishment for our families to have two of us at this level. But on the other hand it really boils down to the great legacy of Eddie Robinson and (former Alcorn head coach) Marino Casem, who started this thing quite some time ago where we play Grambling on the first ballgame. The team that usually wins this game wins the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“We know each other so well. I had the opportunity to spend a long time with him [as an assistant] so I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to see. I know all the tendencies. He knows all my tendencies as well. It will boil down to who makes the least amount of mistakes.”

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge

Bethune-Cookman aims to show its terrific 2010 season was no fluke under first-year coach Brian Jenkins as it plays in Orlando against Prairie View in the sixith annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

One would think after the breakout season Bethune-Cookman had last year, head coach Brian Jenkins would be a tad more enthusiastic about opening his team’s defense of its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title up and coming Prairie View. This week he sounded anything but, doing his best to keep any hint of hype to a minimum.

“We’re a work in progress,” Jenkins said. “The only thing we can do at this point in time is to continue to coach our players hard. Hopefully they can continue to develop, and maybe we’ll be able to be competitive. We’ll see.

“[What Bethune-Cookman  did in 2010] created a lot of excitement from the fans. I think people will kind of keep their eye on us a little bit more. But as far as anything to do with us football-wise, the way I look at it, what we did last year has no merit on what we do this year.

“...Their new coach [formerly Prairie View’s defensive coordinator Heishma Northern] is a very strong and tough guy. He demands discipline and it shows with everyone they play. So I hope we can just line up with them, and play, and hopefully slow them down and score on them. We’ll see. Watching film you see a good football team in Prairie View, and they’re not to be taken lightly. The matchup will be pretty good. We just hope that we can be competitive.”

The Wildcats were more than competitive last season, going 10-2 and taking a share of the conference title. Prairie View promises to have a much better defense to compliment its high-powered offense. The Panthers, 7-4 a year ago and third in the SWAC West, will be very young all over the field and will be hard pressed to match last season’s mark.

Week 1 in the HBCU
@ Sept. 3 -- Albany State vs. Savannah State -- "Music City Classic" -- Albany State is set to defend its SIAC title and brings conference Player of the Year quarterback Stanley Jennings back into the fold. Savannah State returns nine starters on defense and seven on offense, a fact that would be more impressive if they had not gone 1-10 last year.
@ Sept. 3 -- Winston-Salem State at Elizabeth City State If you like offense, than Winston-Salem is your team. The Rams can score from anywhere on the field. ECS looks to shake off last week's overtime loss to Delta State.