The return of the Orange Blossom Classic in 2021 was a hard nose old school football game. Florida A&M (FAMU) and Jackson State met for the first time as SWAC rivals last season to open the year. The game ended with a low score 7-6 victory for Jackson State.
Both programs went on to be the highlight of the conference the rest of the year. Jackson State went on to win the SWAC and play for the HBCU national championship in Atlanta, but came up short in the Celebration Bowl.
FAMU accepted the at large bid to play in the FCS playoffs. The Rattlers also came up short, but like Jackson State, gained momentum heading into 2022.
On the recruiting trail, Jackson State finished #1 in all of FCS football. The Rattlers added the highest rated class in school history. Some of these recruits will have an immediate impact come September 4th.
So who are the top players to watch for?
5. Jah’Marae Sheread, WR, FAMU
5’7 and very explosive, Sheread was the second leading receiver for the Rattlers in 2021 with 662 yards receiving. Sheread transferred in from Texas State and immediately made an impact.
He led all receivers for the Rattlers with 9 receiving touchdowns on the year. In 2021, Sheread made it difficult for teams to defend the Rattlers passing attack. In last years game against Jackson State, Sheread was credited with just 19 yards. Sheread had his lowest yardage total of the year.
Sheread was also dynamic in the return game in 2021. Taking one punt return back for a touchdown and a few close calls on the year.
After looking at the tape, Sheread is a match up nightmare for opponents. The key to his success in this years game will be determined by the quarterback play. Sheread can and will get open, it will be up to his quarterback to deliver.
4. Travis Hunter, ATH, JSU
The 5-star talent out of Georgia made the biggest statement when he signed to Coach Prime and the Tigers during early signing day. So, there should be no surprise that he is considered to be an impact player in this game.
During the spring game, Hunter played both sides of the ball. At wideout he scored 2 touchdowns and went to play corner and snagged 2 interceptions.
Although FAMU returns a veteran quarterback, Hunter should get plenty of opportunities in this game to make a play on the ball in the secondary. With that being said, Hunter should benefit from having second year quarterback, Shedeur Sanders.
FAMU can only hope the Orange Blossom Classic doesn’t turn into a coming out party for Hunter.
3. Shedeur Sanders, QB, JSU
The SWAC’s returning Freshman of the year will have the most talent of any HBCU in recent memory at his disposal. Sanders will be looking to follow up on his Freshman campaign with a win over FAMU.
Last season, Sanders threw for 3,231 yards and 30 touchdowns to 8 interceptions.
When we last saw Sanders, the QB was having a tough time in the Celebration Bowl against South Carolina State. The Line for Jackson State did not give Sanders much time to make any plays on the day.
Heading into 2022 and the game against FAMU, Sanders will have to improve his play overall. There were a lot of moments where Sanders either over threw or under threw his targets. I expect a more polish game come this fall.
2. FAMU DLine vs JSU OLine
As great of a season Jackson State had last year, the glaring issue that became a constant thorn was their offensive line. Sanders was sack 35 time on the year, and if it is not sured up heading into the Orange Blossom Classic FAMU D-Line could be in the back field all game.
FAMU returns the FCS sack leader in Isaiah Land. Although Land’s 19 sack were huge, FAMU’s defense was able to force 42 sack overall on the year. Along side Land, DT Gentle Hunt, who had 5 sack on the year. His quick hands and light feet at that size is a dangerous combination for Jackson State to prepare for.
1. Isaiah Land, EDGE, FAMU
The best defensive player in all of FCS was on the verge of heading to the FBS. After recording 19 sacks in 2021, Land was looking to test the transfer portal waters.
It should have come at no surprise in his interest in moving up to the FBS level after seeing only 4 HBCU players get drafted. Even his former teammate Markquese Bell went undrafted after being one of the best players on all of FCS.
Ultimately, Land decided to return to FAMU for the 2022 season. Last year, Land did not record a sack against Jackson State. But, what makes Land special is his quick twitch and his ability to get up the field. A talent that he developed as the season went on.
Jackson State will have to keep a running back next to Sanders to help in pass protection.
Overall, the winner of this game will be the favorites to take home the SWAC Championship and the Celebration Bowl at the end of the season. With that being said, these two HBCU powerhouse programs are expected to put on a great show come September 5th.