No. 4 Towson gives NCCU a chance to get its foot in the door

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

The No. 4-ranked team in what used to be called Division I-AA will bring a mean running game to N.C. Central’s O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium on Saturday (2 p.m., NCCUEaglePride.com).

Towson will be the highest-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team ever to line up on NCCU’s home field and has shown what it can do by knocking off Connecticut in Week 1.

Connecticut plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A), the NCAA’s top rung.

NCCU is coming off of a 40-13 road win against Charlotte, an FCS independent in its first season.

In NCCU’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, N.C. A&T used its season opener to grab a 24-21 win over Appalachian State, a perennial I-AA heavyweight that next season will play I-A football in the Sun Belt Conference.

Over the weekend, Bethune-Cookman testified on behalf of the MEAC with a win over Florida International, another I-A school.

Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins has been among a chorus of MEAC coaches singing the praises of their league. The Wildcats’ win over FIU was the first time in Bethune-Cookman’s history that the school beat an FBS opponent, and it offered a refrain that underscored what coaches like Jenkins keep repeating about their conference.

“It’s supportive evidence,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got other schools in our conference that have won games against bigger teams or played these teams tough, so it just goes to show the level of coaching that’s going on and the type of coaches that are here at the MEAC schools.”

This Saturday, Bethune-Cookman gets a crack at another I-A school, No. 8 Florida State.

“Hopefully, people will start to take notice and start to understand that MEAC football is a very quality brand of football, and we’re not only stating that but we’re starting to prove it by taking on the competition that we’re taking on and coming away with victories.”

The MEAC’s mettle will be on the line when Towson brings the strength of the Colonial Athletic Association to NCCU’s front door. The CAA routinely has several teams in the FCS playoffs. NCCU wants to get in the postseason and have a shot at a national championship and beating Towson would put the Eagles in that conversation, NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said.

“If we can win those types of games, then you can begin to talk FCS playoffs later on down the road as you get to your conference (schedule),” Foster said.

An NCCU win against Towson could open the door to recruits from the Tigers’ Maryland back yard, just like the Eagles’ victory at Charlotte might attract high school football players from the Queen City to the Bull City, Foster said.

“FCS football is a good brand of football,” Foster said. “The programs are recruiting well and bringing in some good football players — some great coaches — at the FCS level. It’s just a matter of getting out and competing and believing that you can get a win and get things done. You certainly can’t go in thinking that you can’t beat those guys.”

Appalachian State made believers out of a lot of people by upsetting Michigan in 2007.

Jenkins said the recruiting piece is critical, and that’s why he’ll go head-to-head with any coach when chasing prospects.

“We go in and recruit the best of the best. We don’t back down,” Jenkins said.

“Recruits are starting to look at this thing as far as, ‘Hey, I can go to any school and be able to make it to the League’ (NFL) — if that’s their goal— ‘and still play a good brand of football,’” Jenkins said. “I really believe that the playing field on some ends are starting to be balanced out a little bit, and because of that, you’re able to compete with these teams.

“Coaches and players are starting to see that there is a formula out there that you can do to get your team prepared to play these teams.”

It’s sexy to talk about teams bringing in skill position standouts, but that’s not the main target, Jenkins said.

“The skill is the skill. That balances out. That equals out,” Jenkins said. “Everyone is going to have a guy that runs 4.3 or so. Everyone is going to have a guy that can take it to the house. Everyone is going to have cover corners and different things like that. But the upgrade on the interior line on both sides of the ball is what’s giving — in my mind — us a chance to compete and play with these teams and even beat these teams. And I think that’s the major part of the formula that all teams on our level are starting to see.”