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Ranking the 2024 ESPN nationally televised HBCU football games from Classics to rivalries

As the 2024 HBCU football season approaches, ESPN has announced a slate of 11 Black College football games that will appear on its family of networks.

Here, we rank the nationally televised matchups based on appeal and interest.

11. Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs Arkansas

When: August 29 at 7:30 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

We start with an in-state HBCU vs FBS matchup as the Golden Lions of Arkansas-Pine Bluff go up against the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks.

The Golden Lions kick off their season looking to improve over their 2-9 record last year as they enter their second season under head coach Alonzo Hampton.

Though there is no expectation that UAPB could win this game, it is an excellent opportunity for the Golden Lions to test and improve their skills against a P5 opponent to begin the season.

10. Alcorn State vs Vanderbilt

When: September 7 at 7:30 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

Alcorn State can play an SEC opponent in front of a nationally televised audience when they play against Vanderbilt.

The Braves are entering a new era, ushering in new head coach Cedric Thomas after seven seasons under Fred McNair.

This will be the Braves’ second game against an FBS opponent; they will open the season playing the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

9. Tuskegee vs Alabama State

When: November 28 at 2 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

Tuskegee and Alabama State will conclude their respective regular seasons in the Turkey Day Classic for the second year in a row.

Historically, The Turkey Day Classic between these teams saw Tuskegee take a seven-year hiatus from playing.

Since the Golden Tigers returned to the series, things have not gone their way. Tuskegee have lost by a combined 84-12 in their past two matchups against the Hornets.

AAMU Tuskegee
Tuskegee and Alabama State will conclude their respective regular seasons in the Turkey Day Classic for the second year in a row. Photo: AAMU Athletics

8. Prairie View A&M vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff

When: October 11 at 9:15 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

The only in-conference SWAC matchup announced to be airing on national television is between reigning SWAC West champion Prairie View A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Prairie View A&M has been searching for its first SWAC championship since 2012 after appearing in two of the past three conference title games.

They have had complete control of UAPB in years past, winning 10 of their past 11 matchups, all by double-digit margins.

7. Johnson C. Smith vs Tuskegee

When: September 1 at 7 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

One of two matchups between Division II teams announced for national television, Johnson C. Smith and Tuskegee clash in the Red Tails Classic.

Last year was a breakout year for the Golden Bulls, who finished with a winning record for the first time since 2012. They parlayed their regular-season success into being selected to the inaugural Florida Beach Bowl against Fort Valley State, albeit in a losing effort.

Johnson C. Smith hopes to perform better against a Tuskegee team that was one of seven in the loaded SIAC and finish with a winning record.

6. Edward Waters vs Benedict

When: September 19 at 8 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

The two-time defending champion Benedict Tigers will get national television exposure when facing the Edward Waters Tigers.

Like Johnson C. Smith, the 2023 season was also a breakout year for Edward Waters, who posted a winning record for the first time since returning to the SIAC in 2021.

They will face a Benedict team that is heading in a new direction following the departure of former head coach Chennis Berry.

New head coach Ron Dickerson has the daunting task of leading a Benedict team that has not lost a regular-season game since October 23, 2021.

5. Florida A&M vs Norfolk State 

When: August 24 at 7:30 PM ET; How to Watch: ABC

Florida A&M and Norfolk State get the HBCU football season started on August 24 when they square off in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

The Rattlers, who become the first team to represent the MEAC and SWAC in the Challenge, enter the 2024 season looking to repeat as SWAC champions.

This will be the beginning of a new era for the Rattlers, as this will mark James Colzie’s head coaching debut.

Meanwhile, the Spartans are entering their fourth year under head coach Dawson Odums and are searching for their first winning season since 2021.

Grambling AAMU
The Tigers and Bulldogs will meet with a lot on the line.

4. Grambling State vs Alabama A&M

When: November 14 at 8 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

In a sleeper matchup in the SWAC, the Grambling State Tigers go up against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs.

Both teams come into this season with a point to prove, having put together consecutive losing seasons for the first time in many years.

While Grambling State welcomes head coach Mickey Joseph, Bulldogs coach Connell Maynor faces another year of discussion about being on the proverbial hot seat.

Although this game may not have postseason implications, it is always fun to watch these two teams play against each other.

3. North Carolina Central vs South Carolina State

When: October 31 at 7 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

The first of three North Carolina Central contests on this list, the Eagles will face South Carolina State on October 31.

For the first time in over 20 years, Buddy Pough will not be on the sideline coaching South Carolina State. That honor will go to Chennis Berry, who will take over for the team after leading Benedict to consecutive SIAC titles.

Last year, North Carolina Central snapped a three-game losing streak against South Carolina State in a dominant 62-28 win.

South Carolina State comes into this game with revenge on its mind in a matchup that could have MEAC championship implications.

2. North Carolina Central vs Alabama State (Orange Blossom Classic)

When: September 1 at 3 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPN

In what could likely be a Celebration Bowl preview, North Carolina Central faces off against Alabama State in the Orange Blossom Classic.

For the first time in the Orange Blossom Classic’s history, it will not feature Florida A&M and Jackson State, which had played in the game in the three years since it was revived.

In their third year with Eddie Robinson Jr. as their head coach, the Hornets are looking to become SWAC championship contenders.

They have steadily improved each year, posting back-to-back winning seasons and sporting one of the top defenses in the country.

This contest will be a great first test in their quest to become SWAC champions for the first time in 20 years.

1. Howard vs North Carolina Central

When: November 15 at 8 PM ET; How to Watch: ESPNU

Like North Carolina Central-Alabama State, Howard-North Carolina Central could also have some postseason implications, but with a dash of a personal storyline to spice it up.

After Howard and NCCU each won a share of the MEAC championship in 2022, Eagles head coach Trei Oliver voiced his displeasure with having to be a co-champion, seeing as his team convincingly beat the Bison in the regular season.

This led to the MEAC doing away with co-champions. With this in mind, the stage was perfectly set for a matchup between the Bison and Eagles, who had sole possession of the MEAC title on the line.

Howard left no doubt about who the deserving champion was this time, knocking off NC Central 50-20.

Revenge will surely be on the mind of the Eagles as they look to get themselves back on top of the MEAC. Meanwhile, Howard is looking to become the first team to win consecutive outright MEAC titles since North Carolina A&T did so in 2018.

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