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FAMU, Bethune-Cookman deliver midseason 1-2 punch

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


The midway point of the season for Florida's black college teams can best be summed up in three words:

Undefeated and untested.

Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are enjoying success unprecedented since the '70s. The last time B-CC was 5-0 was 1975; the last time FAMU was 5-0 was 1979.

For the past two weeks, FAMU has held the No. 1 position in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network Black College rankings; B-CC is No. 2.

They are the only undefeated teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference -- FAMU 4-0; B-CC 2-0.

FAMU is ranked No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today Division I-AA poll, up from No. 4 after then-No. 1 Troy State lost to South Florida on Saturday.

All the success comes with a caveat, however.

The combined records of the teams FAMU and B-CC have defeated are unimpressive. The Rattlers' opponents are 5-17, the Wildcats' 4-18.

Neither has faced the other top teams of the MEAC: Hampton (4-1, 2-0) and North Carolina A&T (3-1, 1-0). FAMU's toughest test will come against non-conference foe Grambling (4-1) on Saturday. Then comes MEAC showdowns against North Carolina A&T on Oct. 14 and Hampton on Oct. 28. That's the day B-CC faces North Carolina A&T; Hampton looms on Nov. 4.

If the schools can survive the coming weeks and maintain the Nos. 1-2 positions in the black college rankings, the Nov. 18 Florida Classic in Orlando between FAMU and B-CC becomes a battle of epic proportions.

Say, like the '98 game, when FAMU's 50-14 Citrus Bowl win sealed the MEAC title and black college football's mythical national championship. FAMU and B-CC were 1-2 in the Sheridan poll. The Rattlers were No. 4 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, the Wildcats No. 18.

IT NEVER RESTS: Having said all that, give midseason credit where it is due. Each is undefeated thanks in great part to defense.

B-CC is sixth in total defense in I-AA, fourth in scoring defense, seventh against the run and third in pass defense. FAMU is 37th in total defense against a bit more difficult schedule. That is balanced by a passing offense ranked eighth in I-AA.

Playing in the Conch Bowl Classic in Nassau, Bahamas, on Saturday, B-CC handed Morgan State a 42-6 MEAC thumping. The ball got rolling on the third play from scrimmage when defensive back Rashean Mathis intercepted the Bears' Custavarious Patterson. Mathis had two interceptions as B-CC totaled seven sacks and held Morgan State to 132 yards.

FAMU was even more impressive against Howard in Saturday's 43-0 victory at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee, the Rattlers' first shutout in three seasons. Linebacker Pat Burrows had a safety, Darnell Vickers had one interception and Jefferson alum Troy Hart had two interceptions, returning the second 99 yards for a score with 33 seconds left.

NUNNALLY UPDATE: FAMU wideout Jacquay Nunnally continued his record-breaking pace Saturday in pursuit of Jerry Rice's Division I milestone of 301 career receptions.

Nunnally's eight receptions for 52 yards and two touchdowns moved him into a seventh-place tie. He has 264, and with six games left needs to average six passes to eclipse the record.

Louisville wide receiver Arnold Jackson has entered the race, catching seven passes in a 41-22 win over Connecticut, ranking him 12th with 260 career receptions.

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