As far as the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs go, Bethune-Cookman is the one black college with the potential to make some noise down the stretch in 2013.
Last season the Wildcats took a pretty decent swing at it, but came up short in the first round of the FCS playoffs against Coastal Carolina.
The road to postseason success has been a bumpy one for HBCU football squads. Of the two HBCU conferences that participate in FCS competition, only the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference sends a representative to the 16-team playoff pool, while the Southwestern Athletic Conference elects to stick to its own format of scheduling the Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern in November.
MEAC teams are 0-15 in the FCS playoffs, and with Bethune ranked No.20 in the preseason coaches’ poll, right now the Wildcats are on the fringe of contention. Especially since losing All-American left tackle Terrance Hackney, who the team announced on Monday would be leaving the team for personal reasons.
Bethune returns a lot of its weaponry that led to a 9-3 overall record and perfect 8-0 finish in the MEAC last season. The offense boasts three capable quarterbacks who each saw success in 2012 (when injuries hit). Senior running back Isidore Jackson is a two-time all-conference selection. And while thin at wide receiver, few FCS squads are known for having a high-power passing game.
On defense, Bethune can hold it down in the MEAC, but the conference doesn’t prepare them much for the postseason when all the teams are good. Coastal Carolina can actually attest to that, after holding Bethune to 14 points in the opening playoff round, before giving up 63 in a second round loss to Old Dominion.
The Wildcats open the season against Tennessee State, a team from the Ohio Valley that just missed the preseason top 25 ranking. The critical point in the regular season for Bethune is going to be the four-game road stint over the course of a month, when the Wildcats begin conference action coming off the Florida State game.
It shouldn’t be too much of a struggle getting past Delaware State and Howard, but it’s a shaky way to start the conference schedule.
Then, say the Wildcats get into the postseason tournament, the entire FCS landscape is owned by back-to-back champion North Dakota State. And this is the season the Bison are supposed to be at their best, with the squad led by the recruiting class they’ve been discussing for years in Fargo.
Outside of NDSU, Montana State, Eastern Washington, and back-to-back runner-up Sam Houston State are in the mix to threaten.
Bethune-Cookman is HBCUs best shot at watching one of its squads compete for a national championship. In a single game elimination format, we’ve seen that the unexpected can take place in football. But Bethune still has a long bumpy road to travel before they’re seriously in the conversation with the preeminent squads of the FCS.
The name of the game is to get in like they did last year and see what happens.