In spite of all the talk about the sugary, frosted goodness of Ohio State's 2013 schedule, Florida A&M is the only non-FBS team on the schedule. The Rattlers are going to make $850,000 to make a trip to Ohio State to receive their whomping and head home, but it's worth noting that despite their HBCU status, the Rattlers have a proud football history. Even though their most famous attribute is the Florida A&M Marching 100 (and we will avoid any talk of the hazing scandal here, because football), they still have had some extremely notable players come through the program in past years.
We'll get into that later, but first, the nuts and bolts:
Ohio State vs. Florida A&M Kickoff Time, TV Schedule
Both are yet to be announced. I fully expect, however, that this will be a noon game, probably on the Big Ten Network.
Q: Wait, I want to hear more about this band! Are they as good as TBDBITL?
Well, they're certainly different. Here they are performing at halftime of the game against Southern in 2011.
That will at least give you an idea. They are more of a traditional show band, instead of a military-corps style like TBDBITL, but they still put on one heck of a halftime show. Though they aren't making the trip up to Columbus this year, if you ever have the chacne, it might be worth the ticket for bandheads, as not many folks up here have been able to see an HBCU band perform live. It is one heck of an experience. And no, Drumline doesn't quite do it justice.
Q: Okay, fine, we'll talk about football. How do they stack up historically?
Well, the Rattlers actually have a pretty solid history of winning championships. Their first Black College Football national title was in 1938, and they have won 10 others since then - the second most championships after Grambling State. They also won back-to-back championships in 1977 and 1978, and five in the 1950s under legendary coach Alonzo "Jake" Gaither, who earned his masters degree at Ohio State. 1978, coincidentally, was the first-ever FCS Championship tournament. Some of their most famous graduates include luminaries like Ken Riley, Bob Hayes, Quinn Gray and the immortal Nate Newton, poster boy for '90s Dallas Cowboy debauchery. The Rattlers have a proud football history at the HBCU and Division 1-AA level. However, they are 0-14 against FBS foes since 1979, when they defeated the University of Miami. They have fallen on hard times this past decade, recording only three winning seasons (2008, '09, and '10).
Q: Well, that's all well and good, but what about this year?
Unfortunately, last year the Rattlers finished at 4-7. Their longtime coach, Joe Taylor, retired at the end of last year, giving way to a new coach, Earl Holmes. Taylor is something of an HBCU legend, having won four championships while at Hampton - including 3 straight from 2004 to 2006 - but he was on the downside of his career at FAMU. Holmes brought in a solid recruiting class, focused mainly on the state of Florida but also landing JUCO transfer (and former Clemson recruit) Lemond Buice at the running back position. The Rattlers do not boast many transfers from FBS schools as some schools in the MEAC do.
Q: How's the offense look? Will the Buckeyes be able to stop it?
Shouldn't be a problem. Their most decorated players coming in to the 2013 season are junior-to-be quarterback Damien Fleming and kicker Chase Varnadore. Fleming threw for over 2000 yards last year and threw for 16 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Tyler Bass will also see some time at the position, as he is more of a pocket passer while Fleming is a running threat. Varnadore has an NFL leg and drilled two field goals of over 40 yards against Oklahoma last season, while Fleming has a decent arm and is able to scramble effectively.
The Rattlers were a relatively young team last year, but do not return many of their skill position players. They must replace their leading rusher, running back Eddie Rocker, as well as his senior backfield mate and kickoff return specialist James Owens. Those two provided a one-two punch out of the backfield as seniors last season. The likely candidate to replace those yards actually begins with Fleming himself, who is the leading returning rusher. Jordon Stanley is the most senior returning running back, while Lee Williams also received a few carries, including two against Oklahoma. Those two will form a thunder-and-lightning style platoon in the backfield, as well as Fleming running on options. Senior fullback Raymond Jackson, a 5'9, 253 lb bulldozer, will lead the way on goal line situations. They will need to dramatically improve their rushing production, as the Rattlers averaged less than 3.5 yards a carry in 6 of their 11 games.
They will also need to replace their leading receiver, Travis Harvey, who graduated. The leading candidates to pick up that slack are junior Lenworth Lennon, a 5'9 slot receiver, junior wideout Admasen Felix, and tight end Michael Ethridge, a red-zone threat with 3 TD's despite a Jake Stoneburner-esque 11 catches. Incoming freshmen wideouts Victor Love (6'5, 180) and Joseph Williams (6'3, 190) also have a chance to prove themselves in camp, as the wide receiver position behind Harvey was quite thin on production last year. The pass catching rotation could get a boost from former Michigan State Spartan Juwan Caesar, who recently announced an intention to transfer. Caesar was a former 3 star recruit that saw his career derailed by injury, but could provide a little high-end talent infusion to an inexperienced roster.
The offensive line is relatively inexperienced, with the left side of the line leaving for graduation this past summer. The most experienced player is senior right guard Kevin House, who is also their best lineman. Expect him to move to tackle. Douglass Almendares should start at the center position, while Zerrie Patterson is the third returning starter at right tackle. Replacing their two most senior offensive linemen is the most worrisome part of the roster for the Rattlers, quarterback and potential wideout talent aside, as Fleming may need to run for his life against even MEAC competition unless the unit improves from last year.
Q: Okay, so what about the defense?
The defense ranked decently last year, only giving up an average of 321 total yards per game. They run a 3-3-5 stack package and feature a young but talented secondary. Their best players are all on the perimeter, as rising junior Devan Roberts was a ballhawk at the Rover position last year and made two picks. He is the best player on the defense, and should receive some NFL attention this year and next. Sophomore Patrick Aiken also looks like a future star at corner. They do replace one of their starters, Marvin Ross, at field corner, but Devontate Johnson looks like he has the lock on that job. John Ojo starts at the Free safety position, while Peter Tulloch mans the strong safety spot.
The issue is on the defensive line, where two of three starters graduated last year and must be replaced. Derrick Connor is likely to play on passing downs as an edge rusher, as FAMU switched some downs to a 4-3 look instead of their usual 3-3-5. The most likely candidates to start are massive (6'10, 296) Frances Mays at defensive tackle, who got lots of playing time last year, and undersized (6'5, 245) James Broaddus at defensive end. The spots may also be taken by one or even two of the incoming freshmen of the 2013 recruiting class, as in general they boast better size than the incumbent players.
At linebacker, Mike Ducre is the returning starter. Incoming freshman Luke Helms, the brother of current defensive end Matt Helms, should get a look at the middle linebacker spot. Just like the defensive line, the linebacking corps is pretty much open to anyone who earns the job.
Q: What are the keys to this game?
Earl Holmes has a lot to live up to, following an HBCU legend, and even just being competitive against Ohio State would go a long, long way to live up to Joe Taylor's legacy. He cannot afford to be starstruck if FAMU wants to compete against the only FBS team they'll play all year. They ran a rudimentary form of the read-option last season, so it remains to be seen exactly what offensive system they will use, but with Damien Fleming being a running quarterback it's safe to assume we'll see more of that system. Expect the Rattlers to try to do what every other team does: spread the Buckeyes out, get the defense moving from sideline to sideline, and then pick their spots.
To protect against that, Ohio State's defensive line will need to constantly be in the backfield, wreaking havoc on FAMU's option game and forcing Fleming to hold on to the ball and make decisions under pressure. Fleming's playmakers are relatively new and his offensive line is relatively inexperienced, so the focus will be on making sure he does not get free and is constantly harassed. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington will need to be ready to eat.
Offensively for the Buckeyes, the running game will need to be established early. The defensive line and linebackers are all going to be relatively inexperienced groups in 2013, and they are also going to be slightly undersized albeit with decent speed. With the veteran offensive line of the Buckeyes and the solid group of running backs, along with superstar Braxton Miller, there's no reason the Buckeyes can't run roughshod over the front seven of the Rattlers. The secondary of the Rattlers is good enough to be equivalent to that of a low-tier FBS team (especially with Devan Roberts), so expect the run to be emphasized before Miller begins to air the ball out.
If the Buckeyes are able to spot an early lead, that could easily led to Florida A&M pressing, which should give the Buckeye defense plenty of changes to force short possessions and turnovers.
As Ohio State's only FCS opponent this year, FAMU doesn't bring much of a challenge, and it's also a pretty big bummer we won't be able to see the Marching 100 in the flesh. The halftime show would've probably been the most entertaining part of the game.
Q: Will the Buckeyes defeat Florida A&M?
In a GIF: