FAMU Athletic Director Derek Horne and his staff have been doing a lot of maneuvering to pull off this schedule.
"We had to make some hard decisions," Horne said. "I am tasked with making sure this department is diligent in pursuing opportunities to be fiscally responsible, as well as improving our brand. We determined that it was best for us to capitalize on our local fan base and build our brand at home in Bragg Stadium and in Florida, as opposed to competing in the Atlanta Football Classic this year. We wish the 100 Black Men of Atlanta much success with their weekend that is vital to the community of Atlanta. We will now have seven games in Florida for our fans to enjoy!"
The Rattlers are coming off a disappointing 4-7 campaign (4-4 MEAC), but are stocked with experience. The Rattlers return All-MEAC (2nd team) quarterback Damien Fleming, who is regarded as the league's top returning quarterback. The junior signal caller should help the Rattlers improve on last season's record. Defensively, the Rattlers will have veterans Brandon Denmark, Terry Johnson and Jonathan Pillow to rely on. Sheridan Broadcasting Network All-American kicker Chase Varnadore represents a dependable weapon in Holmes' arsenal on special teams.
"After careful consideration, we have decided to add more home football games for the upcoming season to minimize travel costs and enhance the opportunity for our student athletes to excel academically," said Larry Robinson, interim president of FAMU. "We believe, the home game that we are playing in lieu of the Atlanta Classic will net comparable revenue to our most recent game in Atlanta. It has been an honor to play in the Atlanta Classic over the years and we look forward to an opportunity to compete in this great series again in the future. These additional home games also give us an opportunity to reinvest in the Tallahassee community and our FAMU fan base."
The orange and green will open the season the same place they end their regular season, in Orlando. They will face the Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge presented by Walt Disney World on Sept.1 at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The Sunday matchup on Labor Day weekend allows the game to have center stage of college football and a national viewing audience on ESPN. This will be the Rattlers' second appearance at the MEAC-SWAC Challenge, and it is the first since it moved to Orlando. FAMU and B-CU held a pact not to play in the event when it moved to Orlando, but B-CU broke from that and played in the event the past two seasons. The Rattlers played in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge in 2007 against Southern University in Birmingham, Ala. The 30,000 fans it drew are nearly 10,000 more than it drew before or has drawn since. Last season, the Delta Devils struggled to a 5-6 record (5-4 SWAC) and look to rebuild in 2013.
Sept. 7 will bring the "Big Blue" Tigers of Tennessee State to Bragg Memorial Stadium for the Hall of Fame Game and the 2013 home opener. The Tigers bested the Rattlers 17-14 in the 2012 John Merritt Classic at LP Field in Nashville,Tenn as the Rattlers failed to punch in a touchdown from the one-yard line. The Tigers are said to have one of the best recruiting classes in the country and head coach Rod Reed feels his team will have the maturity to have a successful season. The loss to the Tigers last season was one of five losses by seven points or less the Rattlers had on the 2012 slate. The Tigers compiled an 8-3 record, playing out of the Ohio Valley conference.
On Sept.14, the Rattlers will play the front end of a home-and-home series with the Samford Bulldogs, with this season's game being played in Bragg Memorial Stadium and a future game to be played in Birmingham, AL. The game has been designated as Youth Day. This will be the first meeting between the Rattlers and the Bulldogs, who are members of the Southern Conference. Last season they complied a 7-4 record, while head coach Pat Sullivan was awarded Co-Coach of the Year in the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs will field a veteran bunch as Quarterback Andy Summerlin and defensive lineman Jeremy Towns were granted sixth years of eligibility by the NCAA. The Bulldogs are known to travel well and should make for a competitive and testy third game of the season.
On Sept. 21, the Rattlers take the show to Columbus, OH to take on Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The Buckeyes were undefeated in 2012, but were not bowl-eligible, serving NCAA sanctions for previous infractions. That will make Ohio State hungry to repeat and provide a formidable opponent for the Rattlers. The teams have never met before, though their former head coach Jim Tressel had tangled with the Rattlers as head coach of Youngstown State. The game will net the Rattlers $850,000 and provide a historic national stage.
The Rattlers will enjoy an open week on Sept.28, just before the start of MEAC play.
The Rattlers play their first MEAC game on Oct.5 as they take on the Morgan State Bears in Baltimore, MD. The Bears limped to a 3-8 record (2-6 MEAC) and should get the best of coach Don Hill-Ely who is in the last year of his contract. The Rattlers last traveled to MSU in 2009 as FAMU quarterback and MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, Curtis Pulley, led the Rattlers to a 31-28 win on ESPNU.
The Rattlers travel up the road to Savannah, Georgia to take on the Tigers in the second MEAC contest of the season on Oct.12. The Rattlers were not kind the last time they visited T.A. Wright Stadium, compounding a 47-7 win behind the 200-yards rushing of Al-Terek McBurse. Tiger head coach Steve Davenport is looking to rebuild the squad after a grueling 2012 slate which saw them face two solid defeats against Oklahoma State and Florida State, losing by a margin of 139-0 to open the season. The Rattlers pulled off a 44-3 win last season, which turned out to be the last win in the career of FAMU head coach Joe Taylor.
The Rattlers play homecoming on Oct.19, against the Howard University Bison. The Bison are on a two-game winning streak against the Rattlers, after an emotional 17-10 victory in the nation's capital last year. Coach Gary "Flea" Harrell will have to do one of his best coaching jobs to date, as the senior-led team of last year gives way to rebuilding with a host of new players. The Bison finished with a 7-4 mark (6-2 MEAC) and it's highest MEAC finish in years. The Rattlers will look to get revenge for two years of close games, resulting in defeats.
The Rattlers will welcome the N.C. A&T Aggies to Bragg Memorial Stadium on Oct.26 for Parent's Weekend. The Aggies held the Rattlers to a 16-3 defeat in Greensboro, N.C. on Nov.13, which was the final game of the Joe Taylor era. It was the morning of the NC A&T game that Taylor announced his intentions to retire. In addition, starting quarterback Damien Fleming was sidelined, putting backup Tyler Bass in to start his first game as a Rattler quarterback. The offense did not respond and the Rattlers were left reeling with little offensive production.
FAMU will visit Norfolk, VA. on Nov.2 to face the Spartans of Norfolk State University. The Rattlers and Spartans did not meet in 2011 or 2012, but in 2010, Philip Sylvester sealed a tight contest with 136 yards rushing and a final 10-yard touchdown run. The Spartans went on to win the 2011 MEAC crown, but fell to 4-7 last season (2-6 MEAC). Head coach Pete Adrian has reloaded the squad in exerting revenge on the Rattlers and making another run at the MEAC title.
The Rattlers will face the South Carolina State Bulldogs on Nov.9. The last time the Rattlers went to Orangeburg, S.C., they broke a streak of over a decade of not beating the Bulldogs at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium. The game annually features the two best-traveled teams in all the MEAC. Last season, the Rattlers lost to the Bulldogs 27-20 in overtime. The game featured the winningest active coach in HBCU football in Joe Taylor, and the most successful in recent history in Buddy Pugh. The game will feature two rebuilt teams, with the Bulldogs coming off an uncharacteristic 5-6 (3-4 MEAC) season.
The Delaware State Hornets will come to Tallahassee on Nov.16, for the fifth and final home game of the season. The game has been designated as Community/Senior Day. The Hornets are emerging as a solid team under Kermit Blount. In 2012, the Rattlers escaped Dover, DE., on the signature drive of quarterback Damien Fleming's career. In an offense-dominated game, the Rattlers held a two point lead going late into the game and ended up starting their final possession with 6:33 remaining. Fleming would lead the offense to five first downs, allowing the Rattlers to run out the clock and preserve the victory for the Rattlers. The Rattlers, however, got a glimpse of what they will have to face this season as rookie running back Dae-Hon Cheung made his debut with 135 yards rushing. The Rattlers will be able to plan on the fact that Fleming surgically carved up their defense for 399 yards passing.
The regular-season finale will take the Rattlers back to central Florida on Nov.23. FAMU vs. B-CU in the Florida Blue Florida Classic, which remains the biggest HBCU football rivalry in the country. Along with the proximities of the schools, the well-connected family and alumni bases and pure competitiveness of the teams, records never matter. It's always a fight to the finish. B-CU head coach Brian Jenkins, who recently signed an extension with the Wildcats, will look to make it three in a row, while the Rattlers will look to break the streak. The Rattlers put on a valiant effort amid the turmoil of the sudden retirement of head coach Joe Taylor, but fought to a respectable 21-16 loss last season. James Owens, one of the Rattlers' top returnees, thrilled the crowd with a 41-yard scamper for a touchdown. FAMU will come to Orlando with revenge on their minds and an end to the two-game winning streak of B-CU.
Vaughn Wilson Interim Sports Information Director Florida A&M University (850)599-3200 www.FAMUAthletics.com