FAMU’S SWAC football schedule puts Rattlers in revival matchups

FAMU football will kick off the 2021 season on Sept. 5 in the Orange Blossom Classic.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

FAMU’s first football season in the Southwestern Athletic Conference will revive a couple of longstanding rivalries that date back decades.

The schedule actually begins with a Sept. 5 matchup against Jackson State in a revival of the Orange Blossom Classic. Sandwiched between that game and the annual end-of-the-season matchup against Bethune Cookman in the Florida Classic, and nine other games, that include four that the Rattlers will play at home.

While FAMU begins its first season as a member of the SWAC in the fall, the Rattlers actually join the league on July 1 to officially end its affiliation with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

FAMU has not played a down of football since the 2019 season because of the impact the coronavirus has had on college sports since last spring. FAMU opted out of playing a MEAC spring football schedule, instead waiting to play in the SWAC.

FAMU announced its SWAC football schedule on New Year’s Day.

“It’s very exciting to actually see a schedule on paper,” said head football coach Willie Simmons. “It kind of gives you that feeling that football is going to go on. This COVID environment has created a lot of doubts in people’s minds about the short-term and even long-term viability of football at Florida A&M.

“To see the schedule on paper is very exciting, but obviously we are going to play it day by day and be prepared for any adjustments we have to make. This virus is still very, very prevalent. It’s still very dangerous and we have to take every precaution to make sure that we are able to safely move forward.”

Unlike previous years before the Rattlers switched conferences, playing SWAC teams won’t require special negotiations. Facing SWAC opponents is now just part of the Rattlers’ reality that will become routine.

B-CU has also made the move to the SWAC and will be in the East Division with the Rattlers. Others in the division are Alabama State, Alabama A&M, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State. 

Teams like Southern and Grambling that have lengthy history with FAMU are in the West Division, which also includes Alcorn State, Texas Southern, Prairie View A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. 

From top to bottom the Rattlers’ schedule looks like one that’s filled with challenging games every weekend during the three-month season. Simmons, however, said he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“One of the things that make the Southwestern Conference what it is is the fact that every week there are marquee games in a tremendous football environment,” he said. “We want to create that same type of atmosphere for our program by moving to the Southwestern Athletic Conference where you have those rivalries like Southern, Grambling, Alcorn State to create that type of atmosphere for us.

“It’s something that we are excited about. It’s going to be a battle but they say to be the best you’ve got to beat the best and that’s something that we are committed to and looking forward to as we transition to a new conference and a new era of FAMU football.”

FAMU plays three non-conference games, including its home opener Sept. 11 against Fort Valley State. The other non-conference matchups are against South Florida in Tampa on Sept. 18, and South Carolina State, a former MEAC opponent, on Oct. 9.

The homecoming matchup brings Grambling to Bragg Stadium for their first meeting since 2001.That year they played in the Circle City Classic, which Grambling won to take a 10-5 lead in their all-time series.

The season-opener against Jackson State will be the first time the Tigers play FAMU since a 2018 meeting at Bragg Stadium that JSU won 18-16. Jackson State won their last two meetings, taking their 2014 game 22-17.