Breaking down the playoffs
HBCU preview: North Greenville enters playoffs on a roll
Elizabeth City State will face California (Pa.) on Saturday with a game plan augmented with a personal scouting report in addition to film study. Head coach Waverly Tillar, a member of the NCAA Division II Football Committee, just happened to be on hand last year for Cal’s Division II playoff game against Bloomsburg and he got an eyeful.
Cal (Pa.) lost 28-26 on a failed two-point conversion in the game’s final minute and Tillar came away impressed. So when the Vikings (8-3) – the No. 4 seed in Super Region 1 -- play at No. 5 Cal (Pa.) on Saturday at Adamson Stadium, they will have a pretty good idea of what to expect even though the schools have never played before.
“[The Bloomsburg game] just showed the kind of team [Cal] coach [John] Luckhardt has up there,” Tillar said. “They have to be ready for their speed. It’s just a different platform, a different atmosphere. I have been telling the kids they’ve just got to be ready to perform.”
The Vulcans are solid. They have won or shared seven consecutive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West titles. This is its fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
The Vikings were equally impressive. They started the season with losses to perennial Division II power Delta State and Winston Salem State, the eventual Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion. They then ripped off eight consecutive wins before falling to WSSU in the championship game last week, a loss Tillar felt halted his team’s playoff chances.
But a second-place finish in the CIAA mattered to the selection committee and ECSU is making its third playoff appearance – its first since 2006.
“We had a great schedule at the beginning of the year,” Tillar said. “Started out kind of shaky with the two losses. But the two losses eventually helped us in the end. Losing to the No. 1 team in the country and the No. 1 team in our region, [I] felt strongly that it would help us in some kind of way, but we didn’t know where we would fall.”
If ECSU wins, it will play at Winston-Salem State (11-0), the region’s No. 1 seed, which has a bye.
SIAC: Albany State figured its season was finished after its 26-23 upset loss to Miles College in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game. Had it been ranked No. 11 in the final Division II poll, it was done. Its season was saved by a provision called 'earned access' – a provision that assures a conference with a team ranked in the final top 10 of the NCAA Division II ranking poll to receive one of the six spots in the championship field from that given region. The No. 6 Rams (8-3) fit the bill and will travel to Tigerville, S.C., to play No. 3 North Greenville (9-2).
North Greenville, an independent in football, is a hot team having won its last seven games. It is also virtually unbeatable in Younts Stadium. This season NGU is 5-0 at home and 9-1 during the last two years.
The schools have never played before but share a common opponent. The Rams beat Wingate 49-28 and the Crusaders blew them out 54-7. ASU also beat Wingate last season in the second round of the playoffs. That the win happened in the second round can’t be dismissed given ASU’s playoff history.
Since first appearing in the Division II playoffs in 1993, the Rams have a 3-12 record. The Rams have made the playoffs eight times during the past decade and are winless in first-round games. But following a bye in to the second round, ASU beat Arkansas Tech in 2004 and Wingate last season.
MEAC: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Norfolk State rests this week before finding out who its playoff opponent will be. Attention around the conference turns to bragging rights and raging rivalries. Among the biggest is in Orlando when Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman lock up in the Florida Classic.
A big deal? Yes and no, if you ask BCC head coach Brian Jenkins. He sees this game as part of the bigger picture.
“I do understand how people view the Florida Classic,” Jenkins said. “And I do understand the importance of winning the Florida Classic, but our program and our administration understands that our program is a lot more than the Florida Classic.
“Our program is built around victories and wins. By victories I mean you are preparing young men that can go out and be successful in life and be productive. When young mean leaving your program, and you’re able to do that, then you’ve got a victory as a head coach.
“So we’re about achieving victories as well as wins [on the field]. But I feel no pressure. It’s the same as any other game except that it is a historic event that’s been going on for a long time that I have a lot of respect for. But I don’t feel any pressure at all. The thing that I learned after coaching in the Classic I would say to maybe have one or two different adjustments.”
Like being prepared for when your starting quarterback and backup QB go down in the same game with serious injuries like they did last year in the Classic.
“As far as preparation and handling the environment, I thought our guys did a pretty good job,” Jenkins said. “Everybody who was there watching, they know what they saw. I’ve been around these types of games since I was a youth so I know the atmosphere.
“I know what’s riding on it. I know what to expect. I feel like God has blessed me with the ability to handle the situation. And handle the game, so I think I’m OK with everything.”
Another big game happens when North Carolina Central (8-2) plays at North Carolina A&T (4-6) in the season finale for both teams. The rivalry goes back 87 years and the teams have met 83 times. The Aggies have won 15 of the last 20 meetings, but the Eagles have won four of the last five contests. This everybody-knows-everybody matchup extends beyond the stands.
Rod Broadway, the former NCCU head football coach, is now running the show at NC A&T. At NCCU, Broadway led the Eagles to back-to-back CIAA championships in 2005 and 2006. Also, Aggie coaches Sam Washington, Shawn Gibbs, Courtney Coard and Trei Oliver have ties to NCCU either as a former player, coach or both.
SWAC: Drama, thy name is the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Critical games will be played during the next two weeks to determine champions of the Eastern and Western Divisions.
The Eastern Division could be decided Saturday if Alabama A&M (7-3, 6-2) wins at Prairie View. That would tie it with division-leading Alabama State (7-3, 7-2), but the Bulldogs beat the Hornets 20-19 in the Magic City Classic. There are other scenarios that involve Jackson State, but the Tigers are ineligible for the title game for academic reasons. JSU closes its season in the Capital City Classic against rival Alcorn.
If Prairie View (5-5, 5-3) defeats Alabama A&M, then Alabama State holds the tiebreaker against Jackson State if both are tied at 7-2. If this happens, the championship game matchup will be Alabama State vs. Prairie View.
A PV win would also secure the Western Division title for the Panthers. If PV loses, then Grambling (6-4, 5-3) could win the division with a win in the Bayou Classic against Southern. If PV and GSU tie at 6-3, PV is the champ because it beat the Tigers head-to-head. There also is a convoluted outlier scenario that would put Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Southern in the running.