ORLANDO, FL—7th ranked Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats on paper look like the overwhelming favorites to run away with a Florida Classic victory over the Florida A&M University Rattlers this year. The Cats come in sporting an unblemished 10-0 record and their highest FCS national ranking in school history. They have the 2010 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Matt Johnson and the MEAC Coach of the Year in head coach Brian Jenkins. They’ve won games in a variety of ways; outscoring opponents, strong defensive efforts and come from behind victories. A win today for the Wildcats would give them their first undefeated regular season in school history and assure them a spot in the NCAA FCS Playoffs.
Standing in the way of the Cats becoming the second MEAC team in five years to go undefeated in the regular season (Hampton, 2005) is a feisty Florida A&M team that has “rattled” off five straight victories since losing 19-0 to South Carolina State in early October. The Rattlers, however, are not out just to play spoiler; there is a lot on the line for them as well. A FAMU win today would give the Rattlers a share of the MEAC title, their first since 2001 and an outright title if North Carolina A&T upsets South Carolina State today. Add to the fact that this is arguably the biggest game in both teams’ season and you have all the makings of a quintessential Florida Classic.
KEYS TO VICTORY
The Cats need to come out and impose their will on FAMU early. If Johnson can lead the vaunted “Speedway O” to 2-3 scores in the first half, it will effectively neutralize FAMU runningback Phillip Sylvester and turn the Rattlers into a primarily passing team. If that happens, B-CU’s ball hawking defensive backs Arkee Smith and Michael Williams and linebackers Reggie Sandilands and Ryan Lewis will have their way with Rattler redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Trainor.
For the Rattlers to have a chance to win this game, they have to control the time of possession with an exceptional day from Phillip Sylvester. The Marianna, FL native enters the game having rushed for 100 yards in the last five consecutive games. He’ll need a sixth today in order for the Rattlers to earn a share of the conference title. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive backs Qier Hall and Curtis Holcomb must stay glued to the Wildcat receivers in order to give their front four enough time to pressure Johnson into making quick decisions.
In a game like this, records, stats and the like are thrown out the window. This is more than a game. This is for bragging rights throughout the state for the next calendar year. The Wildcats have been playing stellar all season and after a rocky start and a philosophical offensive change, the Rattlers have stormed back to place themselves into contention to win the conference title. I think the dream season continues for Coach Jenkins and the Wildcats, but in typical Florida Classic fashion, the Cats win in a nailbiter.