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MEAC vs. SWAC: ESPN ‘Strongly Considering’ SCSU-Grambling Matchup
Fans who wished conference champions South Carolina State and Grambling could settle the debate over the 2008 black college football championship could get the next best thing.
ESPN spokesperson Tilea Coleman confirmed Thursday that the network was “strongly considering” pitting the Bulldogs against the Tigers in this year’s MEAC/SWAC Challenge. The fifth annual contest, which matches up a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference for bragging rights in Football Championship Subdivision black college football, is tentatively scheduled for Labor Day Weekend at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
Neither ESPN, S.C. State nor Grambling officials have confirmed or denied talks about the possible matchup. However, Alcorn State sports information director LaToya Shields said Wednesday the school was told not to schedule Grambling for its Sept. 5 season opener because of the Tigers’ expected involvement in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.
The two schools were reportedly in negotiations to move the contest, which would not count against Grambling in the SWAC standings.
S.C. State athletics director Charlene Johnson would only state Thursday the school was waiting on an announcement from ESPN in regard to the matchup. The same stance has also been taken by both commissioners Dennis Thomas of the MEAC and Duer Sharp of the SWAC.
The Bulldogs are slated to open the 2009 campaign Sept. 5 at Benedict College. Neither school has indicated whether discussions have taken place between them about the possibility of postponing the game in order to make the Bulldogs available.
ESPN released its Labor Day and Thursday primetime television schedule on Thursday, but did not include the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Last year’s game, won by Hampton 17-13 over Jackson State, aired the Sunday before Labor Day on ESPN2.
The network said it would release additional games in the coming months.
This would not only be the second straight year S.C. State opened the regular season in Orlando, Fla., where they lost 17-0 to Football Bowl Subdivision foe Central Florida, but along with Grambling, their second appearance in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.
The then-defending MEAC co-champion Bulldogs played in the inaugural event held in 2005 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., and defeated then-defending SWAC champion Alabama State, led by current Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, 27-14.
Grambling participated the following year and lost in overtime to Hampton 27-26. The 2006 game marked the last time both conferences sent their defending champions to the challenge, which the MEAC leads 3-1.
The Bulldogs finished 10-3 last season and were a perfect 8-0 in the MEAC. Despite losing only to Football Bowl Subdivision teams UCF and Clemson University and defending three-time Football Championship Subdivision champion Appalachian State, S.C. State placed second behind SWAC champion Grambling in the final SBN Sports Black College Football poll. It was the 14th Jake Gaither black college football national championship trophy won by the Tigers, who finished 11-2 overall, 8-0 in the SWAC for its 22nd conference title.
The Tigers lead the all-time series with S.C. State 9-5. The last meeting took place at the 1994 Heritage Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, with coaching legends Willie Jeffries of S.C. State and the late Eddie Robinson of Grambling on the sidelines.
The Bulldogs rallied from 11 points down thanks to two touchdowns rushing and passing from Marvin Marshall, the latter set up by a blocked punt by Kenny Bynum which was recovered by current Hunter-Kinard-Tyler head coach Jermaine Derricott at the 1-yard line, to take a 31-27 victory. Ironically, the 1994 season was the last time up until this past season the Bulldogs had won 10 games and the MEAC regular-season title outright.
S.C. State returns 13 starters from last year’s team, led by MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, running back Will Ford.
MEAC vs. SWAC: ESPN ‘strongly considering’ SCSU-Grambling matchup
By Thomas Grant Jr., The Orangeburg Times & Democrat (SC)