MEAC/SWAC Challenge tops in FCS Week 1

The ninth annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney will feature Florida A&M and Mississippi Valley State on Sunday, Sept. 1 (11:45 a.m. ET on ESPN) at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla. This huge rivalry game between the two FCS historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) conferences will be the premier black college football game this weekend.

Although the MEAC certainly has the advantage in regards to wins in this series with a 6-2 record, the game always has some big-time players to watch. And this year is no exception. The MEAC/SWAC Challenge has arguably two of the best players in HBCU football in Florida A&M quarterback Damien Fleming and Mississippi Valley State defensive lineman Robert Simpson.

Fleming has a bundle of talent. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound junior, was selected preseason MEAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year. A year ago, he displayed a strong passing arm throwing the ball down the field. Fleming completed 214 of 308 passes for 2,157 yards including 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

He shows a lot of poise in the pocket. In last season’s 24-22 victory over Delaware State, he connected on 30 of 37 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns. Fleming has a bright future.

Simpson has played some great football for the Delta Devils. The 6-3, 267-pound senior was named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, an award annually given by The Sports Network to the best defensive player in FCS. Simpson has great quickness and strength up front.

Simpson finished second in FCS with 22.5 tackles for loss. The All-SWAC standout had 59 total and 29 solo tackles. He also finished fourth in the conference with seven sacks. His ability to play the run and rush the passer makes him a solid NFL prospect. He should get an invitation to the NFL combine next year.

In this HBCU classic, Fleming and Simpson give fans around the country a player to watch on both sides of the ball. Look for both players to be major playmakers in this game.


• Head coaches Earl Holmes of FAMU and Karl Morgan of MVSU will bring some NFL experience to the sidelines at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Holmes played his college football for the Rattlers. He was a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996. He played 10 seasons in the NFL at linebacker for the Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.

Morgan played his college football at UCLA. He was a great nose guard for the Bruins. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1984 to 1986. Morgan played for the Houston Oilers, too.

• Fleming shared preseason conference player of the year honors with Isidore Jackson, Bethune-Cookman’s outstanding running back. The Wildcats are the favorites to win the MEAC this season. Jackson has a lot to do with that. He rushed for 1,069 yards on 191 carries while scoring 11 touchdowns. He averaged 5.6 yards a carry.

• Speaking of running backs, Isaiah Crowell is an exciting runner for Alabama State. Crowell rushed for 843 yards on 159 carries last season. The 5-11, 190-pound junior, scored a league-leading 15 TDs last season. He was the SWAC Newcomer of the Year.