By A.D. Drew | BCSN SportWrap Co-host

While many HBCU football fans have debated over whether Florida A&M University or North Carolina A&T University are deserving to be called the Black College National Champion, there is a Division II school that sits between Baltimore, MD and Washington D.C. that should be recognized for their accomplishments.  The pollsters at the Black College Sports Network (BCSN) crowned the Bowie State Bulldogs as our “Under D1” National Champion.  

Most organizations who rank HBCU football teams take all teams at all levels into consideration when voting.  Other than Dr. Kenyatta Cavil of INSIDE THE HBCU SPORTSLAB, (with his major and mid-major poll), and,  we are the only organization that I know of who separate FCS from all other levels of football.  When we created our poll at the BCSN, we felt that it was important to distinguish the classes of teams.  FCS teams receive 63 full scholarships for football. Division II teams receive 36 scholarship equivalents for football.  NAIA schools receive 16 scholarship equivalents for football. Because of these scholarship differences, we decided to separate the FCS schools from the rest of the pack.  

The Final BCSN-Under D1 Poll

  1. Bowie State (11-1)
  2. Miles (8-2)
  3. Savannah State (7-3)
  4. Langston (8-2)
  5. Virginia State (8-2)

The Bowie State Bulldogs have had an amazing season.  Coming into 2019, all head coach Damon Wilson, CIAA Coach of the Year, had to do was find a way to replace two-time Deacon Jones Award winning, All-American quarterback, Amir Hall.  The Deacon Jones award is the HBCU version of the Heisman Trophy. All Bowie did was have an undefeated regular season and lead all HBCUs in victories with 11. They were ranked #3 within their region and as high as #15 nationally.  Out of 166 Division II schools, the Bulldogs were 7th in scoring defense and 16th in scoring offense.  

The CIAA offensive player of the year, quarterback Ja’rome Johnson (6’1”, 170, JR, Washington, D.C.) did not start his first game of the season until game four.  Gaston Cooper (6’0”, 210, R-JR, Silver Spring, MD) was the starter entering the season, although Johnson appeared in every game for the Bulldogs. An ankle injury opened the door for Johnson to start the final nine games, and all he did was rush for 996 yards, pass for 1860 yards, and lead the conference in passing efficiency at 151.9 (24th nationally).  The Bulldogs also boasted the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year, Demetri Morsell (DB, 5’11”, 170, SO, Upper Marboro, MD) and CIAA Defensive Rookie of the Year, Jonathan Ross (DL, 6’3”, 225, R-FR, Waldolf, MD). There were three additional CIAA first team selections, including last years Defensive Player of the Year, Joshua Pryor (DL, 6’4”, 280, R-SO, Baltimore, MD), five CIAA second team selections, and three CIAA All-Rookie selections.  Click here to see Bowie’s All-CIAA winners.

Bowie State has built a schedule that annually puts them in position to compete for the Division II playoff and ultimately, a Division II championship.  No NAIA school has appeared on their schedule this decade. In 2015, Division III Brevard College is the only lower level team that Bowie has played. The Bulldogs have not played the traditional, annual, FCS “check” game that most Division II schools play.  They have set the pattern of playing the check game in even years, (Wagner 2018; Central Connecticut State 2016, 2015; Morgan State, 2014). Every opponent this year was within Division II.  

Bowie State has gone quietly under the radar to most pollsters in 2019.  As the final polls have appeared over the past week, the Bulldogs have finished between three and seven in combined polls.  While a debate can be made about Bowie State being the top  team in HBCU football, anything less than a rating of three is disgraceful and disrespectful to this team. I challenge someone to name a time when an HBCU has lead Black College Football in wins and not been the undisputed National Champion! 

All Bowie can do is build a competitive schedule and beat the opponents who step on the field. The Bulldogs were the only HBCU to win double digit games in 2019. Considering the turmoil on the FCS level, how deep in the Division II playoff would Bowie have had to go to seriously be considered for the national championship? 

Have we become so wrapped up in the Celebration Bowl that we don’t consider anyone else as a champion?  The Celebration Bowl is not a Black College Championship Game.  Tennessee State and Hampton will never have the ability to compete in this game due to conference affiliation (non-HBCU).  What happens if and when these two are competitive?  We see yearly where D-II HBCU teams teams defeat FCS HBCU teams in rival or check games.  The Celebration Bowl is for FCS teams only, specifically the SWAC and MEAC champion.  In this year’s game, the team with the most conference wins in the MEAC could not compete.  What if the SWAC or MEAC conference runner-up actually goes to the FCS playoffs and makes a deep run?  Because D-II teams cannot compete in this game, are their accomplishments any less significant?  Will our NAIA schools ever get consideration with a deep playoff run?

Times were easier when all the HBCUs were NAIA schools. When everyone else went to the NCAA and Division I-AA (current FCS) or Division II, Central State had a run in NAIA from 1983 to 1992 where they made a claim to the HBCU National Championship (1983, 1986-1990, 1992).  Six times this century, a Division II team has been the consensus national champion (2000, 2007 – Tuskegee; 2006 – North Carolina Central; 2010 – Albany State; 2011, 2012 – Winston-Salem State). Three additional times, a Division II school has “shared” the title by winning over 40% of the polls (2004 – Albany State; 2013 -Winston-Salem State; 2014 – Virginia State).

Bowie State Bulldogs, the pollsters at the Black College Sports Network stand up and applaud your work on the field this year.  Be proud of all of the accolades that you have earned this year. Yes, we were disappointed with your first round loss at home in the playoffs, but we praise you for representing all Historically Black Colleges and Universities with pride and dignity.  Take this season, along with your recent success, and hit the recruiting trail and remind everyone that you are the BCSN 2019 “Under D1” National Champion.