October is (basically) here and as CIAA football enters divisional play, the league has a level of parity that hasn’t been seen in well over a decade.
Here are some of the numbers that support that claim, and a look at the field the rest of the way.
– Virginia State is the lone CIAA program unbeaten at 5-0 after punishing Shaw University 38-19. VSU is 3-0 after interdivision play, and looks to be the strongest team in the league, but it needs to look no further than VUU’s 2022 CIAA North fumble to know that ONE game can change the whole race.
– Half of the league’s 12 football programs — three each in the CIAA North and CIAA South — have a legitimate shot to find themselves in the league’s championship game in Salem, VA in six weeks.
VSU is the club leader in the CIAA North with Virginia Union and Bowie State at 2-1 after losses to Fayetteville State and Livingstone in the last two weeks. Both teams will look to take down VSU (Bowie State hosts VSU for homecoming next week) and hope the chips fall their way.
-The CIAA South has two teams that enter division play with perfect 3-0 conference records — Johnson C. Smith and Fayetteville State. Winston-Salem State fell to 2-1 in CIAA play with a loss to an improved Lincoln program on the road.
-The two divisions split dead even at 10 wins and 10 losses each after three weeks of conference play. Considering the dominance of the northern division in CIAA football over the last half-decade, that’s a pretty significant achievement.
Beyond the contenders, there appears to be a level of teams that are all-but-mathematically eliminated from championship game contention but could pose as stumbling blocks for those who still have a path.
Lincoln University suffered heart-breaking losses to CIAA South contenders Fayetteville State and Johnson C. Smith in the first two weeks of conference play, but held on for a gritty comeback win over Winston-Salem State at home on Saturday. It is 1-2 in conference play but will look to take momentum from its first home win since 2018 as it goes on a homecoming tour, starting with CIAA newcomer Bluefield State.
Livingstone College looked to have taken a step back in the first two weeks of the season after winning four games in 2023. But it showed tenacity in a close home loss against Virginia Union and then knocked off Bowie State for its biggest program win in recent memory. It will look to head down the road to Winston-Salem State and beat the Rams for the second year in a row after ending a series losing streak that stretched for a quarter century before last season’s win in Salisbury.
Elizabeth City State, Shaw and Bluefield State have all beaten teams in the league despite ECSU and BSU being 0-3. ECSU took Johnson C. Smith to the limit on Saturday before suffering a tough loss. Bluefield State scored at will against Livingstone but hasn’t been able to claim a win since. Shaw beat ECSU for a crossover win, but couldn’t take down CIAA North contenders Virginia State, Bowie State or VUU in a non-conference matchup.
And then there is St. Augustine’s University. SAU is winless, and averages just 6.6 points per game while giving up 34 points per game.
As we’ve seen in the past, a lot can happen in the second half of CIAA football. We’ve seen nationally-ranked contenders stumble (VUU in 2022) and new powers emerge (Fayetteville State 2017) in the final weeks of play. Buckle up your seatbelts.
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