This year’s Florida Classic more than lives up to the hype

It’s one of those games where the hype doesn’t live up to the actual implications, this Florida Classic.

For Bethune-Cookman, it’s a chance to finish 11-0 for the first time in school history. For Florida A&M, a chance to snatch a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title away from the frontrunners — and reclaim its own glorious past.

There are the joys of watching strength-on-strength: Bethune is ranked No. 1 in the MEAC with 39.4 points a game. FAMU is No. 2 in scoring defense, allowing 14.4 points a night.

Aiming for its first MEAC crown since 2002, Bethune-Cookman has all but sewn up a bid into the FCS postseason. But even that is still in play should the Rattlers play the spoiler.

Oh, and then there is this: Bragging rights for the two Florida-based schools.

One game. With so, so much on the line.

“We are in to win and I don’t see it (as) being a spoiler,” Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor said during his weekly press conference. “The bottom line is whoever wins, wins the championship. I’m sure because of their record, we would probably be considered underdogs but that’s for the media.”

Well, and for the pollsters. And the statisticians.

Bethune-Cookman (10-0 overall and 7-0 in the MEAC), the only undefeated team in the championship subdivision, reached its highest ranking of the year on Monday — No. 7 in the Sports Network/ FCS Top 25. They got there by outscored opponents 411-145 so far this season, while setting a new school record already with 4,417 offensive yards.

[Is there a realistic two-team FCS playoff scenario for the MEAC?]

Still, Bethune’s offensive production has begin to slow of late. First, the Wildcats only put up 14 against South Carolina State, struggled with Hampton before winning 23-18, then topped one-win Howard by just 15 points — this after embarrassing a pair of previous opponents with 50-point margins.

“They might be tired,” South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said. “They scored so much in the year.”

For Florida A&M (7-3, 6-1), a 42-6 victory in last year’s Florida Classic means an all-time series lead of 20-10. To extend that domination, the Rattlers’ focus this year is on Bethune quarterback Matt Johnson. So far, he has completed 65.1 percent of his attempts for 1,844 yards, 13 touchdowns and only five picks — while rushing for another 670 yards and five TDs.

“This game is immeasurable,” Taylor enthused earlier this week, “because you get a chance to see two championship quality teams face off on Saturday fighting for their own destiny.”


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