The North Carolina A&T Aggies are entering the 2016-2017 football season ranked in the FCS Top 25 for the first time in over a decade. No.25 Aggies won their second straight MEAC championship with a 10-2 record. Last year the Aggies won the inaugural Celebration Bowl and earned their fourth Black College national championship.
The Aggies are going to be led by their senior All American running back Tarik Cohen, a two time MEAC offensive player of the year is ready to lead the Aggies back to Atlanta. Cohen set the single season record with 1542 yards and he is only 642 yards away from breaking the conference career rushing record. Cohen has some impressive help from his offensive line, led by 2015 MEAC offensive lineman of the year junior Brandon Parker and preseason all MEAC junior center Darriel Mack. Kwashaun Quick has a few targets that he will be able to depend on throughout their passing game. Senior Denzel Hayes leads a strong receiver core featuring senior Xavier Gaines, junior Kris Gardin, and senior Michael Weaver Jr.
The Aggies have a strong team but face multiple challenges within the MEAC. The Aggies will be featured on ESPNU three Thursdays in a row playing against three opponents that look to dethrone them from the top of the division. On September 29 the Aggies will compete against the Hampton Pirates in Greensboro. Connel Maynor is going into his third season, coming off a season he doubled his win total finishing 6-5 in 2015. This record left the Pirates at third in the conference at the end of the season, the Pirates continued success depends on the production of the Quarterback position. Malik Watson, a transfer from San Diego State is most likely going to be under center when the Pirates travel to Greensboro on September 29.
October 6 the Aggies will welcome the Spartans of Norfolk State for another nationally televised game on ESPNU. The Spartans are depending on Senior Quarterback Greg Hankerson, who will try and pull off the upset against the defending national champions. Hankerson led the MEAC last year in total offensive yards with 2,475 last season. The Spartans are expected to ride the Hankerson ship one last time hoping he’ll lead them to the MEAC championship.
By October 13 I believe when the Aggies travel down to Daytona Beach and go head to head with Bethune Cookman it will be the most anticipated game of the 2016 season in the MEAC. The Wildcats are returning with their high powered offense with talented senior Michael Jones in the backfield and a talented receiving core. The WIldcats led the MEAC in total offense, scoring offense, pass offense, passing efficiency, first downs, and third down conversions in 2015. The toughest test for this A&T defense as they will have their hands full.
The WIldcats are facing a lack of Quarterback depth, with starting junior Larry Brihm. Brihm, the backup from last year is the only Quarterback on the roster with game experience. The Aggies will be more then ready for this divisional showdown with one of the best teams in their conference. November 5 the Aggies will play defensive powerhouse South Carolina State at home. The Bulldogs are led by a strong defense, trying to recapture their share of the MEAC championship. The Bulldogs were part of a five team share of the MEAC championship in 2014. South Carolina state receive 49 votes in the FCS preseason poll this year and they are expecting to have a strong year. Led by preseason defensive player of the year junior Darius Leonard, a stifling defense with the best linebacker core in the MEAC will go at the Aggies as their chances at the division crown could depend on this very game. The Bulldogs allowed a conference low 15.2 points per game in 2015 and were second in total defense.
The Aggies play both their rivals in a three week span when they travel down the highway to close out the regular season against the Eagles of North Carolina Central on November 19. The Eagles have finished with a share of the conference championship the last two years led by senior Quarterback Malcolm Bell and junior linebacker Jeremy Miles. The Eagles will play their best game with 10 preseason all conference players ready to get after the Aggies.
The North Carolina A&T Aggies can three peat this year, but there is a long road ahead they can only progress through the season one week at a time. The Aggies will open the season Saturday September 3 against the St. Augustine Falcons at home at 6:00 p.m.