BASN’s HBCU Football Previews: Scouting The CIAA

By Tony McClean
Updated: August 22, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — After winning their third straight CIAA football crown in 1994, Hampton University would leave the conference and join the MEAC. Now over a decade later, another defending CIAA grid champion has left.
Longtime member and defending Black College national champion North Carolina Central has left the conference and will enter their first season in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly called Division I-AA.

Just two years ago, Winston-Salem left the CIAA and in 2006 played their first season as a Division I independent, much like what the Eagles will be doing as they await approval to join the MEAC.

However, if you think the talent level in the CIAA has dropped, you’d probably be mistaken. In fact, the league had two other schools (Elizabeth City State, Johnson C. Smith) besides NCCU play in the postseason last year.

While ECSU posted the best record (9-3, 7-0 CIAA) in school history last year, J.C. Smith (7-4, 4-3) rebounded from a win less 2005 campaign to reach the Pioneer Bowl. Both the Vikings and Golden Bulls will be right in the middle of their respective division races in 2007.

Here’s a brief capsule look at both of the conference’s division races. The teams are being listed in the predicted order of finish of the league’s preseason poll by the conference coaches.

Eastern Division

1. Elizabeth City State University

After last year’s success, Waverly Tillar’s bunch has caught the eyes and ears of the college football world. Eight Vikings along with junior QB Curtis Rich Jr. (2,030 yards, 21 TDs) and All-CIAA senior RB Brandon Fields (1,062 yards, 6 TDs) were named to the league’s preseason squad and the Vikings as a team have been tabbed in five national preseason polls. This also includes Street and Smith Magazine (12th), and (19th). With 14 returning starters (seven on both offense and defense), the team motto of “Unfinished Business” is sounding louder and louder.

2. Bowie State University
After a 2-0 start in 2006, a three-game losing streak (including a 7-3 loss to Livingstone) which saw the Bulldogs get outscored 70-36, all but knocked BSU out of the title chase. However, Mike Lynn’s bunch has 16 returning starters (eight on both offense and defense) from last year’s 5-5 (4-0) squad. The Bulldogs will be right in the middle of the Eastern Division race. Don’t be surprised if their regular season ender at Elizabeth City is for a berth in the CIAA Championship Game.

3. Virginia Union University
If you’re looking for a possible sleeper in this year’s CIAA title chase, the Panthers could be an interesting team to watch. After going a disappointing 5-15 during his first two seasons in Richmond, Arrington Jones saw VUU make a dramatic turnaround with a 7-3 (5-2) in 2006. Behind All-CIAA junior QB Lamar Little (the league’s total offense leader) and 16 other returning starters, the Panthers are just another team from a top-heavy division that has title aspirations.

4. Virginia State University
The Trojans are coming off a disappointing campaign in 2006. An 0-6 start led to a 2-8 finish for coach Andrew Faison. Just last year, VSU entered the season with optimism after a 6-4 2005 campaign. However, with heavy losses on both sides of the line, it looks to be difficult for the Trojans to contend in 2007. Injuries and slow starts over the last two years (2-8 in August/September) have proven to be fatal for VSU. In fact, three of their first five games (Carson-Newman, Norfolk State, and Livingstone) will be on the road.

5. St. Paul’s College
In three seasons at Lawrenceville, coach Willard Bailey’s Tiger squad still appears to be a work in progress. While St. Paul’s have had their moments (an upset against Fayetteville State last season), the Tigers have struggled (6-14) since returning to the gridiron some three years ago. There is talent on this team. Junior QB Demetrius Brown has averaged 217 yards in the air the last two seasons. However, Bailey’s bunch will need to improve defensively to move up in a tough division.

Western Division
1. Fayetteville State University
Despite a disappointing 3-7 campaign in 2006, the Broncos have been tabbed to win the West for the fifth straight season. Any team that can turn to former All-CIAA QB Jay Autry on offense and last year’s CIAA Rookie of The Year DB Donte Wise on defense will have to be reckoned with. Along with 13 returning starters (7 offense, 6 defense) and you can see why Kenny Phillips’ squad are looking to get their third league crown in the last six seasons.

2. St. Augustine’s College
For the first time since restarting football in 2002, the 4-6 Falcons were tabbed as co-favorites to win the Western Division. So why does Mike Costa’s squad get that kind of respect? Most importantly, St. Aug’s returns its entire front line from a defensive unit ranked No. 2 overall in Division II in total defense a year ago. Offensively, junior QB Brandon Franklin’s return from a broken collarbone will be the key to the Falcons’ success.

3. Johnson C. Smith University
Despite the fact that JCSU won’t have the element of surprise that they had in 2006, Daryl McNeil’s Golden Bulls squad will still be a viable contender for the CIAA crown in 2007. While they can make some noise on offense, the Golden Bulls defense is this team’s staple. JCSU’s entire secondary, including All-CIAA DB De’Audra Dix, returns along with three other defensive starters. A early showdown game at St. Aug’s on September 22nd could be the CIAA game of the year.

4. Shaw University
Despite their 3-7 finish in 2006, many think the Bears could possibly be a sleeper team in 2007. Darrell Ashberry’s squad has 12 returnees from last year including sophomore WR James Pettway (547 all-purpose yards, 6 TDs) and senior FS Pierre Reeves (39 tackles, 4 picks). A September stretch with games against Elizabeth City and St. Aug’s will give us a gauge as to just how good this year’s Bear team is.

5. Livingstone College
Former Edward Waters head coach Lamonte J. Massie takes over the reins of a Blue Bear program that has won just four games (4-26) over the last three seasons. In his second season (2002) at EWC, the Tigers finished with a 6-4 record. Massie would see his record improve over the next two seasons as he eventually led EWC to a South Eastern Atlantic Conference title in 2004. It will likely take Massie a bit longer to change the fortunes of the Blue Bears.