North Carolina Central is looking to make a splash in its first year being eligible for a conference championship in the MEAC, a conference that it helped found. NCCU's Division I status became official on Aug. 11, completing its five-year reclassification process from Division II and the CIAA.
After a disappointing 3-8 season last year, which saw then-head coach Mose Rison fired in the middle of the season, NCCU made clear its commitment to having a strong football program by hiring one of the best coaches in the Football Championship Subdivision: Henry Frazier. After turning around programs at his alma mater, Bowie State, and Prairie View A&M, Frazier is ready to make his mark in the MEAC. Frazier's five-year plan not only has the Eagles winning conference titles but competing for national championships. It will help that 60 of a maximum 63 scholarships are funded.
Quarterback Michael Johnson returns for his senior season after completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,179 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Wide receiver Geovonie Irvine had 53 catches for 758 yards and five touchdowns and will surprise the MEAC this year. Playmaker Arthur Goforth, who averaged 14.2 yards per punt return and 24.8 yards per kick return with two touchdowns, could see more time in the backfield, where he averaged 5.1 yards per carry. The Eagles open the season Thursday at Rutgers, then visit Central State in Cleveland before hosting Southern Conference power Elon at home on Sept. 17.
In Raleigh, there are still two Division II schools: Either Shaw or Saint Augustine's may very well win the CIAA championship this year. The Shaw Bears won last year for the third time in four years and rely heavily on defense. Up front, Charles Deas and Stanley Porter are preseason All-CIAA performers and combined for 29 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago. The Bears' first three games are on the road, including a matchup against FCS opponent Delaware State before coming "home" on Sept. 24 against Elizabeth City State at Durham County Stadium.
The Falcons of Saint Augustine's hope to be in the friendly confines of their new on-campus facility before season's end as they look to build on a 9-2 2010 campaign. Quarterback Joaquin Green returns for his junior season and will have weapons to throw to in Jamain Smith and Tyron Laughinghouse. Defensively, the Falcons return seven starters led by linebacker Chaz Robinson, who was second team All-CIAA as a freshman.
The Raleigh rivals will end the season against each other on Nov. 5—at Durham County Stadium.