Florida A & M Preview Part I: An Overview

In the week leading up to the match up with Florida A & M, Jeff Murdock looks at the Rattlers, and their off-season struggles. The Rattlers come to Champaign only returning 15 starters from last year's team, including quarterback Ben Dougherty, but they will be without their four best players who were ruled ineligible by the NCAA for player in games while academically ineligible.

The Florida A & M (FAMU) Rattlers have been one of the better teams in the last few years in the MEAC, winning the conference title in 2000 and 2001, but the 2004 season is definitely a different animal. The Rattlers were looking to make the move up to Division I, but that idea was derailed by a combination of things, especially the 196 NCAA violations reported by their athletic department. As a result of these violations, the Rattlers were stripped of 11 MEAC titles across their athletic department, including two conference football championships. It gets even worse for the Rattlers, as this punishment was just the punishment from the MEAC, and they are still waiting for the ultimate decision on their fate from the NCAA.

But as in life, things must go on for Head Coach Billy Joe and his Florida A & M Rattlers. Despite losing 17 players from a year ago due to academic ineligibility, the Rattlers must take on a football schedule that is loaded with four Division I-A opponents: Illinois, Tulane, Temple, and Virginia Tech. This season was supposed to be Florida A & M's first venture as a Division I-A school, but they have decided to rescind their request for that status. Even with that decision, the four Division I-A schools will be able to use the Rattlers as a Division I-A opponent when it comes to bowl eligibility because when they were scheduled, it was under good faith that FAMU would be a Division I-A school.

The Florida A & M Head Coach Billy Joe is the winningist coach in the history of Division I-AA football (83-38 at FAMU, and 230-100-4 overall), but he will have his work cut out for him this season. The Rattlers start out the season with four straight games away from Tallahassee, and don't play a home game in September for the first time since 1988. Joe only returns fifteen starters from last year's team, nine on offense and six on defense. He has spent all off-season trying to figure out how he would fill out the two-deep on his roster.

Just as Joe thought he had his two-deep set, more bad news game from the NCAA as they ruled four of Florida A & M's best players ineligible. Seniors Defensive Lineman John Edwards and Defensive Back Edward Kwaku both have to sit out the first three games of the season, senior Offensive Lineman Fletcher Williams will have to sit out the first five games of the season, and senior Wide Receiver Rod Miller will have to sit out the first six games of the season. All four players were ruled ineligible by the NCAA for participating in games while they were ineligible. These violations were among the 196 self-reported violations Florida A & M submitted to the MEAC and the NCAA.

As far as defining his two-deep rotation, Billy Joe was going to make his final decisions after a closed 11-on-11 scrimmage on Sunday August 28. The position battles that are still being fought include almost every location on the field, except quarterback. Joe is still trying to decide how his rotation will look for the secondary, inside linebackers, defensive line, and receiving corps. The one constant Billy Joe finally has is a quarterback he can rely on, Ben Dougherty. This is just the third time that Joe has had the luxury of returning his starting quarterback in his tenure as Rattler head coach.
Parts II and III of this series will contain detailed looks at the Rattler offense and defense.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories