As if FAMU and B-CC need more incentive, the winner of today's game is the MEAC champion.
By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000
ORLANDO -- The stakes, as usual, are high.
The intrigue, though, is higher.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship will be decided in today's 4 p.m. Florida Classic showdown between rivals Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman at the Florida Citrus Bowl in front of more than 72,000.
An automatic entry into the Division I-AA playoffs is the prize at stake for the Rattlers (8-2), ranked No. 13 in the Sports Network poll, and the No. 16 Wildcats (9-1). FAMU still could earn an at-large bid, but with three wins over Division II teams, B-CC may not.
"This year it's for all the marbles," B-CC coach Alvin Wyatt said. "It's all laying out there, waiting to be won."
To the 21st annual classic, Wyatt has added a bit of mystery:
Who will take B-CC's first snap from center?
Will it be prolific senior Pa'tell Troutman, the leading rusher in Wildcat history, sidelined for two games because of a separated left shoulder?
Or will it be his understudy, Allen Suber, a redshirt freshman from Tampa Catholic who has given B-CC a new passing dimension in guiding the team to two wins.
Or will both play?
Troutman has declared himself "95 percent" healed, and Wyatt said Suber understands that Troutman may get the start today. But Wyatt also declared he has two "No. 1" quarterbacks ready to guide the triple-option Wyattbone offense today.
FAMU coach Billy Joe isn't sure it matters.
"They're the same identical team, no matter who is back there," Joe said. "If you didn't know that Allen Suber was No. 7, you would think Pa'tell Troutman was back there. They're identical clones. They have great speed and quickness, outstanding athleticism and they throw the ball extremely well. Their styles are so similar."
Wyatt has called Troutman, when healthy, the poor man's version of Virginia Tech's Michael Vick. Troutman has rushed for 712 yards and seven touchdowns and completed 53 of 107 passes for 787 yards, thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
But in three games -- two of which he started and won -- Suber completed 31 of 61 passes for 485 yards for a touchdown and five interceptions, and rushed for 244 yards and four touchdowns.
Both have gotten the job done, helping a ground attack that is without injured back Jay Rogers.
But the pride of B-CC this season has been its defense, which is ranked third in pass defense in I-AA, fifth in total defense and seventh in scoring defense.
Will that be enough to overcome history? FAMU holds a commanding 41-11-1 advantage in the series, having won the past five meetings over a B-CC team weakened by NCAA sanctions by an average of 33.8 points. Wyatt has never defeated FAMU since becoming coach four seasons ago; and B-CC hasn't won the MEAC in 12 years.
But Joe, whose team has struggled with injuries and turnovers this season, doesn't care about history.
"This year they have the ability to beat us if we don't play real well," he said. "We have to bring our A-game. If we don't, it will lead to our demise."
But FAMU has Wyatt even more concerned.
The Rattlers have overcome midseason injuries that at one point cost FAMU nine players and left the lineup jumbled.
Now healed, FAMU is led by wide receiver Jacquay Nunnally, the most prolific receiver in Florida college football history and the career receptions leader in Division I. Nunnally leads the Gulf Coast Offense with 84 receptions for 957 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
But like B-CC, it is a FAMU defense that has 31 takeaways, eight blocked kicks and six touchdowns that most concerns the opposition.
To Wyatt, FAMU has a decisive talent advantage as well. B-CC is playing with 16 less scholarships than FAMU this season and with eight less next, sanctions imposed by the NCAA in 1995 for lack of institutional control, financial aid violations and use of ineligible student-athletes.
And when it comes down to reputation and resources, Wyatt said, FAMU is, well, FAMU.
"They still have the talent," he said. "They have more talented athletes, and our kids, we had to develop on our own. FAMU can go out and sign a disgruntled or dissatisfied quarterback or wide receiver, whereas we don't have the same luxuries."
Typically, both coaches handicapped their teams.
Said Joe: "Nothing is forever. We won't continue to beat B-CC forever. There will be a time when they beat us, and hopefully that time won't be upon us."
Said Wyatt: "Joe will tell you that he doesn't lose two games. He doesn't lose on homecoming, and he doesn't lose to Bethune-Cookman."