For the past couple of seasons, Winston-Salem State and Tuskegee have been the standard for black college football at the Division II level. Both WSSU (CIAA) and Skeegee (SIAC) won their conference titles in 2012 and made the playoffs in 2013.
Tuskegee nearly won its first-ever playoff game in 2013 while Winston-Salem State has won at least one D2 playoff game in each of the last three seasons. Both teams enter the 2014 season in the Top 25 of Division II.
Because of all that success, both teams enter the season with a bulls-eye on their back.
Winston-Salem State's top challenger for the CIAA Southern Division crown appears to be in-state rival Fayetteville State. FSU had a big turnaround in 2013 thanks to quarterback Derek Bryant, defensive back Michael Johnson and first-year head coach Lawrence Kershaw. Rudy Johnson returns under center for Rams, but he'll have to fight off former Alabama and UVa. quarterback Phillip Sims for the starting job. Having two capable quarterbacks should definitely help first-year head coach Kienus Boulware as he attempts to keep the Rams' playoff streak alive.
Virginia State finished 9-1 last season, but didn't get a chance to go to the playoffs as a result of the fight at last year's CIAA Championship Game. The Trojans lost their starting quarterback and leading rusher from last year's squad, but their defense looks to be one of the strongest in D2.
Tuskegee's path to the playoffs is likely even tougher than WSSU's as it plays in the SIAC's talented West Division. Hot on its heels will be Miles, who upset Tuskegee in the regular-season finale last year, knocking them out of the SIAC Championship Game. It will also have to contend with Miles and Stillman, both of which had winning records in 2013.
The path appears to be much clearer in the East as Albany State was the only team in the division to record a winning record last year. How much easier is the SIAC East? Morehouse and Clark-Atlanta went a combined 5-15 last season, and Paine will be fielding a football team for the first time in more than 50 years.
Both Winston-Salem State and Tuskegee are the most talented teams in their conferences, but with a coaching change at WSSU and Tuskegee playing in an exceptionally good division, neither team is guaranteed to return to the playoffs this year.