Albany State, Hampton top final ranking
The 11-1 SIAC champion Albany State Golden Rams, who completed the first black college undefeated regular season since 2000 and made a gallant run through the Div. II playoffs, narrowly edged out the 10-2 MEAC champion Hampton Pirates for the top spot in the final Black College Sports Page Top Ten for 2004.
James "Mike" White's Golden Rams posted a 10-0 regular season record en route to winning the SIAC championship and entered the Div. II playoffs as the number two team in the nation, the highest ranking in school history and the highest ranking for a black college team at the end of the regular season since Tennessee State finished atop the I-AA national poll in 1999.
That undefeated record included the Rams' first win in ten tries over thier nemesis, national power Valdosta State. And after receiving a first round playoff bye and knocking off Arkansas Tech in the second round, ASU had to face Valdosta State again in the playoff quarterfinals in what White called the biggest game in school history.
Playing inspired football in their second straight game at home, the Rams dominated first half play and took a commanding 24-0 lead into halftime. But the tables turned in the second half as VSU outscored the Rams 38-0 to end their storybook season.
Citing their comeback against Albany State as inspiration, Valdosta State went on to win the Div. II national championship two weeks later.
The story of Joe Taylor's 10-2 Hampton squad was not as dramatic and a little less accomplished.
The Pirates posted wins over nationally-ranked non-conference foes Gardner-Webb and Western Illinois en route to getting as high as 12th in one I-AA national poll. Their only regular season stumble, a 28-23 road loss at then-winless Delaware State, was all that kept them from an undefeated regular season mark.
Receiving the MEAC's automatic bid to the I-AA playoffs, the Pirates matched the high-powered offense of third-ranked William & Mary before coming up on the short end of a 42-35 score. W&M went on to make it to the semifinal round.
So both Albany State and Hampton proved they could play with the best in their respective divisions and deserve the rankings as the top two teams in 2004 black college football.
In the Sheridan Broadcasting Network (SBN) poll, Hampton finished first with Albany State a close second, trailing by four first place votes and 19 points overall.
Black college fans can vote on-line for either Albany State or Hampton as the top team in 2004 at HBCUsports.com (a.k.a. Onnidan.com).
CIAA champion Shaw, in just its third year back playing football after a 24-year absence, didn't get a chance to show its stuff in the playoffs after winning the school's first grid title since 1947.
Deondri Clark's Bears were left out of the Div. II playoffs despite knocking off two-time CIAA champ Fayetteville State in the conference championship game. No matter. The Bears took their medicine, went to the Pioneer Bowl and handled Tuskegee, the SIAC runner-up that was coming off a Thanksgiving Day win over eventual SWAC champion Alabama State. The 9-2 Bears are the surprise team of the year and finish a deserving third in our final Top Ten.
Tuskegee (10-2) earns the fourth spot. Before the Pioneer Bowl loss, the Golden Tigers' only blemish had been a last-second loss to Albany State. Head coach Rick Comegy did a fine job rebounding from last year's 5-6 mark.
SWAC champion Alabama State finished on a high note, getting revenge by knocking off defending champion Southern in the conference title game. ASU had lost to the Jaguars early in the season and twice in 2003 including last year's championship game.
The last five of our Top Ten were all on the verge of something great.
No. 6 Southern lost its final two games to Grambling State (at the Bayou Classic) and to Alabama State. No. 7 South Carolina State handled everyone in the MEAC except Hampton. No. 8 Bethune-Cookman overcame plenty of adversity but couldn't get by SC State or Hampton.
Other than Shaw, No. 9 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, under new coach Mo Forte, perhaps made the biggest strides. The Golden Lions were within a half-minute of playing for the SWAC championship. CIAA runner-up Fayetteville State fell to Shaw in the conference title game but still made the Div. II playoff field.
© 2004 Azeez Communications, Inc.