FAMU players celebrate a touchdown during the game between Florida A&M and Southern University at Bragg Stadium on Saturday, November 5th, 2022 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Logan Stanford)

Florida A&M won’t be going to the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game, but it’s evident the Rattlers clearly are the second-best team in the league.

That makes it all the more puzzling why No. 20 FAMU was snubbed when the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee released its playoff bracket of 24 teams Sunday.

The Rattlers, who went to the playoffs last year, went 9-2 after an 0-2 start. They finished second in the SWAC West to 11-0 Jackson State, and their only losses were to Jackson State and Power Five foe North Carolina.

“It’s a slap in the face to all HBCUs. We are a worthy team, as of today the 20th-ranked team in the coaches poll,” FAMU coach Willie Simmons said on Monday’s SWAC coaches Zoom conference. “Guys that coach football, that watch football and vote said there were 19 teams that have a stronger resume. The powers that be felt otherwise.

“A lot of teams got in that we’re ranked higher than, and that we have a lot more wins than. It’s a slap in the face to all of us at this level. Hopefully it resonates throughout our community and that we speak up like we always have about injustice to our people.”

Eleven of the teams selected had eight victories or fewer, seven of which received at-large bids, including Delaware, Idaho and North Dakota. Each of those three teams went 7-4.

FAMU, the only HBCU to win the FCS championship, was an at-large selection last season and lost to Southeastern Louisiana, 38-14, in the first round.

Falling short

FAMU wasn’t the only SWAC team that missed a chance to keep its season going. Prairie View and Texas Southern each fell in differing fashions Saturday, allowing Southern back into control of the West Division.

Prairie View’s loss opened the door for Texas Southern, which suffered the more sudden and painful loss when Alabama A&M rallied for three fourth quarter touchdowns to win 24-20 and knock the Tigers (5-6, 4-4) out of contention.

“Tough outing,” Texas Southern coach Clarence McKinney said. “We played extremely well for 55 minutes, controlled the game early on. Got an injury to our quarterback late in the game. Alabama A&M got control of the game and we couldn’t stop them.”

Texas Southern quarterback Andrew Body accounted for 340 yards and two touchdowns but fumbled the ball through the end zone at the Bulldogs 1-yard line, negating what would have been a clinching touchdown with the score 20-10 and seven minutes left. He was injured on the play and did not return, further hurting the Tigers’ chances.

The Tigers had their best season since going since finishing 5-6 in 2014 but missed out on its first winning season since going 9-3 with a SWAC championship in 2010. McKinney has been building the program the past four seasons.

“We’re starting to win games; we’ve won more each season,” he said. “We’ve laid a foundation and trying to catch up with the elite teams in the SWAC and hope we’re closing the gap.”

Prairie View scored first in its 27-7 loss to Mississippi Valley State, but the home team took over from there. The Devils forced four turnovers, including a pick-six, and scored all their points in the second half.

“You have to come out and play four quarters of football every week in the SWAC,” Prairie View coach Bubba McDowell said. “My hats off to coach (Vincent) Dancy. He had those guys playing in the second half. You can’t put it any plainer: They out-physicaled us in the second half. Our guys did not want to play. We started making mistakes, turnovers and we couldn’t recover.

“We knew what was at stake. We just did not come out and execute. We didn’t take advantage of some situations, but it’s over and done with.”

Players of the Week

Alabama A&M quarterback Xavier Lankford, Jackson State defensive lineman Justin Ragin, Mississippi Valley kicker Orlando Fernandez and Jackson State freshman Travis Hunter won SWAC player of the week honors for their performances Saturday.

Lankford completed six of eight passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 38 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the victory against Texas Southern. Ragin had five tackles, 3½ for loss and three sacks in Jackson State’s 24-13 win at Alcorn State.

Fernandez hit both of his field goal attempts and had three of his five punts downed inside the 20 in the win over Prairie View. Hunter scored two touchdowns, one on a 44-yard interception return and another on a 19-yard reception, in the Tigers win at Alcorn.