NCAA Football

Tradition-rich HBCUs that seek to reverse slumps

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - There hasn't been a game in over a year, but HBCU football is hot news on the FCS level, from recruiting gems to coaching hires to conference realignment.

When the action returns to the field, some of the more tradition-rich HBCUs hope to get hot again because it's been far too long for them.

Here are a trio of HBCUs whose struggles just don't feel right given their rich traditions:

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TENNESSEE STATE

Scenario: The Tigers' program dates to 1912 and ranks sixth all-time in all-time winning percentage (.648) among FCS programs of at least 10 years. The dominance of the John Merritt era - an incredible 172-33-7 record from 1963-83 - is long gone, with the Tigers a combined 49-64 from 2000-09 under James Reese and James Webster and 56-56 from 2010-19 under Rod Reed. In their most recent season in 2019, the Tigers finished 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Spring Forward: Reed has a 29-45 record against OVC opponents, so progress in the spring season is pivotal. While the Tigers have one of the conference's lower totals of returning starters, some experienced players who had been lost to season-ending injuries in 2019. Credit the Reed staff for producing five NFL draft selections on the offensive line since 2014, and this year's standout is tackle Cam Durley. Speaking of the NFL, All-OVC cornerback Nick Harper Jr. is the son of Nick Harper Sr., who played nine seasons on the next level.

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HAMPTON

Scenario: The 576-432-36 (.569) all-time record since 1902 is impressive, but the Pirates have been chasing the past, especially since coach Joe Taylor's 16-year tenure - a 136-48-1 record with five of the school's seven black college national titles - ended in 2007. The Pirates are 39-50 since 2012, and 10 of the wins are against programs below the Division I level. They were 5-7 overall and 1-5 in their first Big South campaign in 2019.

Spring Forward: Hampton is one of three Big South programs to announce they are not going to play a spring season, instead planning regular spring practice before making a fall return. Third-year coach Robert Prunty hasn't quite earned a signature win. The Pirates are usually strong at Armstrong Field, but need improvement on the road. They had young building blocks in 2019 with wide receiver Jadakis Bonds, who caught 15 touchdowns, and linebacker DeAndre Faulk.

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JACKSON STATE

Scenario: The Tigers won eight of their 16 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles from 1980-90, but have captured only one in the last 23 years (2007). While 462-302-15 (.603) all-time since 1946, they're just 23-44 over the last six seasons. In 2019, they went 4-8 overall and 3-4 in the SWAC.

Spring Forward: Deion Sanders' hiring as head coach in September has brought heightened levels of excitement. Even during a down period, there's little concern with attendance as the Tigers' 2019 average was an FCS-high 33,762. The program is on NCAA two years' probation for certification and recruiting violations that occurred prior to Sanders' arrival. The 2019 team featured a bunch of key underclassmen, none bigger than SWAC defensive player of the year Keonte Hampton, and Sanders has gone big on transfers in his first recruiting class. The Sanders era kicks off against Edward Waters on Feb. 21.

Updated February 9, 2021