Commentary

Magic City Classic a fierce rivalry

Updated: October 26, 2011, 3:01 PM ET
By Donald Hunt | Special to ESPN.com

There are a number of rivalries in college football on every level. However, there are very few if any like the one between Alabama State and Alabama A&M.

Alabama State is in Montgomery. Alabama A&M is in Huntsville. The two school get together annually in Birmingham at Legion Field for the Magic City Classic. When Alabama State clashes with Alabama A&M on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU, 10:30 p.m. ET on tape delay), this will be 70 years for this legendary black college classic. Moreover, they're expecting 70,000 fans at the game.

This is actually, the 75th meeting between the rivals, the 70th in the Magic City Classic. Alabama A&M leads the overall series 36-35-3. The Bulldogs also lead the series in the Magic City Classic, 35-31-3. Last season, Alabama State ended a five-game losing streak to Alabama A&M with a 31-10 victory.

The Hornets (6-1 overall, 6-0 SWAC) are the top-ranked black college football team in the country. Alabama State is ranked No. 16 in the FCS Sports Network Top 25 poll.

[+] EnlargeKejuan Riley
Alabama State University Alabama State's Kejuan Riley has been doing it all on defense this season.

Reggie Barlow, Alabama State head coach, knows a little something about the Magic City Classic. Barlow was an outstanding wide receiver for the Hornets. He knows what it's like to play in game of this magnitude.

"This game is a big game for a lot of reasons," Barlow said. "It's the Magic City Classic and it means so much to so many people and their people. It's a game everyone marks on their calendars. Being an alumnus, I've always enjoyed being a part of this game. We have to get ready and continue to prepare for a team that is playing with a lot of confidence and has a lot of really good players."

The Bulldogs have been playing some good football. After a slow start losing to Hampton and Southern, Alabama A&M (5-2, 4-1 SWAC) has won five consecutive games. Bulldogs running back Kaderius Lacey has been a big reason why Alabama A&M is on a roll. Lacey has 142 carries for 544 yards while scoring five touchdowns. The 6-1, 218-pound junior, is a rugged inside runner.

"Lacey is a big guy," Barlow said. "He runs that ball hard. He's physical and does a good job for them all the way around. He blocks well in the passing game. But when he has that ball, he's a load and there's no such thing as one guy bringing him down. Obviously, he has a lot of talent and has been coached well. He's one of the better backs in our conference."

Alabama State has a number of great players as well. Nick Andrews, the Hornets quick-footed wide receiver, is regarded as one of the best receivers in the nation. Andrews, a 5-9, 170-pound senior, leads the SWAC with 54 receptions for 769 yards. He knows how to find the end zone as well. Andrews has scored nine touchdowns. He's capable of scoring any time he gets his hands on the football.

Andrews isn't the only big time player for the Hornets. Kejuan Riley, Alabama State's free safety, has been a major player on defense. Riley is ranked second nationally with six interceptions and leads the Hornets in tackles with 50 this season. The 6-2, 208-pound junior, made a career-best 15 tackles with one interception and three passes defended in the Hornets' 20-7 victory over Prairie View A&M two weeks ago.

Alabama A&M head coach Anthony Jones is well aware of Riley's talents, noticing Jones' ability last season.

"Riley is running around there," Jones said. "He's their centerfielder. When you make a bad read, he's going to make you pay. There's times when you make good reads and he makes you pay. I saw him last year. I was really, really impressed with him. He has taken his game to another level."

Alabama State would like to get back to the SWAC championship game. If they can beat the Bulldogs in this huge matchup, the Hornets will be in good shape to return to the conference title game on Dec. 10. That makes the Magic City Classic even bigger this season, if you can believe that.

HBCU notes

Two current NFL standouts Robert Mathis (Indianapolis Colts) and Tarvaris Jackson (Seattle Seahawks) played in the Magic City Classic. Mathis played for Alabama A&M. Jackson starred for Alabama State.

• Bethune-Cookman running back Isidore Jackson was selected the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Jackson rushed for 206 yards on 34 carries to lead the Wildcats to a 14-6 victory over conference leading and 24th-ranked Norfolk State. Jackson, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry, notched a new school single game record with the 34 attempts.

• Ryan Davis, Bethune-Cookman defensive end, was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Davis collected 11 tackles, eight solo, with six for a loss of 25 yards. He posted 3.5 sacks for a 21 yads of loss. He also forced and recovered a fumble and logged a quarterback hurry in the win over Norfolk State.

• Grambling State running back Dawrence Roberts was named Southwestern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Roberts rushed for 136 yards on 18 carries for a 7.6 yard average, including a SWAC season-long rush of 87 yards in GSU's 30-24 overtime victory over Mississippi Valley State. This is the third time in the last four games that Roberts has rushed for more than 100 yards.

Marquis Jackson, Texas Southern defensive end, was chosen as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Jackson tallied eight total tackles (7 solo), including 4.5 tackles-for-loss (13 yards), 3 sacks (8 yards), a forced fumble, and a pass breakup in the Tigers homecoming 42-11 victory over Central State.

• Alabama State free safety Kejuan Riley has been added to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, honoring the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

• The Black College Football Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2012. The newest members were selected from a list of 35 finalists who had been determined by the Black College Football Hall of Fame Committee. The inductees will be honored on February 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Ga.

The inductees will be Willie Brown (DB, Grambling State, 1959-1963), Harry Carson (DE, South Carolina State, 1972-1975), Eldridge Dickey (QB, Tennessee State, 1964-1967), Steve McNair (QB, Alcorn State, 1991-1994), James Harris (QB, Grambling State, 1965-1968), Claude Humphrey (DE, Tennessee State, 1964-1967), Willie Richardson (WR, Jackson State, 1959-1962), Johnny Sample (DB/RB, Maryland Eastern Shore, 1954-1958), Rayfield Wright (OL, Fort Valley State, 1963-1966), Cleve Abbott (head coach, Tuskegee, 1923-1954) and Jackie Graves (former NFL scout, former director of player personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles).

SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

1. Alabama State
2. Jackson State
3. Winston-Salem State
4. Bethune-Cookman
5. Albany State
6. Alabama A&M
7. Norfolk State
8. Hampton
9. Florida A&M
10. South Carolina State

Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll

1. Alabama State
2. Jackson State
3. Winston-Salem State
4. Norfolk State
5. Albany State
6. Alabama A&M
7. Bethune-Cookman
8. South Carolina State
9. Hampton
10. Morehouse

HSRN Division I-FCS Top 10 Poll

1. Alabama State
2. Jackson State
3. Alabama A&M
4. Norfolk State
5. Hampton
6. Florida A&M
7. South Carolina State
8. Prairie View A&M
9. Bethune-Cookman
10. Morgan State

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at dhunt37261@aol.com.