HBCU Football Season Wrap Up

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Jay Hobson, the first white head football coach in SWAC history, coached Alcorn to respectable 4-5 conference record and a 4-7 overall finish. The Braves opened the season with a bang when they beat Grambling 22-21 in the Port City Classic in Shreveport, La.

Third-year Mississippi Valley coach Karl Morgan guided the Delta Devils to a 5-6 overall record and a 5-4 conference mark. It was their best showing since 2006 when the Delta Devils were 6-5 under Willie Totten and 5-4 in the conference. Along the way they defeated Grambling for the first time in 16 years.

Southern was 4-7 for the second consecutive season, but the Jaguars’ record is deceiving. They defeated their three biggest rivals – Jackson State, Florida A&M and Grambling. Had it not been for a botched extra point attempts in back-to-back one-point losses to Alabama A&M and Alabama State, the Jaguars could well have had their first winning season since 2009.

As it were, their record was good enough for Dawson Odums to have the interim tag removed from his coaching title last week. Odums led Southern to a 4-5 record after he replaced Stump Mitchell after the Jaguars began the season 0-2. Odums is just the second coach in school history to defeat Jackson State, Florida A&M and Grambling in their first season, joining Pete Richardson.

Mitchell was the first coaching casualty of the 2012 season, but not the last. When the year ended, Daryl McNeill at Clark Atlanta, Kenny Phillips at Fayetteville State, Elvin James at Livingstone, Andrew Faison at Virginia State and Earl Monroe at West Virginia State were either fired or reassigned.

In a surprise move, Florida A&M’s Joe Taylor, winningest active black college coach, resigned with two games remaining in the season. Taylor finished his 30-year career with a 233-96-4 record, which places him in the top five among NCAA Division I FCS coaches, and  a .709 career winning percentage. He is tied for third on the black college career victory list with former Southern coach Arnett W. “Ace’’ Mumford, trailing only “Big John’’ Merritt, who won 235 games at Jackson State and Tennessee State, and the legendary Eddie Robinson who 408 games at Grambling. Taylor has been promoting the book titled The Making Of A Champion: The Inconvenience Of Winning that he wrote and says he is done with coaching even though a number of schools have contacted him.

Former Florida A&M All-American linebacker Earl Holmes, the Rattlers’ defensive coordinator, replaced Taylor on an interim basis.

The season didn’t hold true to form in terms of preseason predictions. Winston-Salem of the CIAA was the only favorite to win its conference championship. The Rams were also the only repeat conference champion from 2011. Arkansas-Pine Bluff won its first SWAC championship in 46 years. Perennial SIAC champ Tuskegee captured its 26th conference crown and laid unofficial claim to the Comeback Team of the Year. The Golden Tigers were 10-2 after posting a 4-6 mark a year ago. Their only regular season loss was a 7-6 defeat at the hands of Alabama A&M in their season-opener. Their other loss was to Elizabeth City State in the Pioneer Bowl. Bethune-Cookman won the MEAC championship with a perfect 8-0 conference record and a 9-3 overall mark.

Alabama A&M had the most puzzling season among HBCUs. The Bulldogs started the season 6-0 but ended the year by losing four of their last five games. Only their arch-rival Alabama State ended the year on a more disappointing note. The Hornets were the preseason favorites to win the SWAC East Division. Not only did they fail to win their division, they lost to Tuskegee in the Turkey Day Classic, which was the inaugural game played in their new $62 million, 26,000-seat stadium.

The 2012 season also featured a number of outstanding individual performers, including by newcomers on the HBCU scene who transferred down a lever from the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). These included:

- Tuskegee running back Derrick Washington, who led all black college ball carriers with 1,679 yards and 14 touchdowns after transferring from the University of Missouri. Washington was No. 4 in total rushing yards for NCAA Division II.
– Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell, who was third in the SWAC with 842 rushing yards and scored 15 touchdowns after transferring from the University of Georgia.
– Jackson State quarterback Clayton Moore, who transferred from Akron and led the Tigers to the SWAC East Division championship. Moore, who became the starter in Jackson State’s third game, passed for 1,705 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Other top individual performers included:

- Winston-Salem State quarterback Kameron Smith, who passed for 3,312 yards and 43 touchdowns while leading the Rams to their second consecutive unbeaten season and berth in the Division II championship game.
– Arkansas-Pine Bluff defensive end Brandon Thurmond, who led the FCS with 17.5 quarterback sacks.
– Jackson State wide receiver Rico Richardson, who led all black college pass catchers with 1,158 yards and a 19.3 yards a catch average.
– Tennessee State defensive back Steven Godbolt, who led the FCS with six pass interceptions.
– Winston-Salem receiver Juahann Butler and Jameze Butler, who both surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for pass receptions. Butler caught 62 passes for 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns, and Massey caught 60 for 1,220 and 15 touchdowns.

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