Nashville, Tenn - Tennessee State University Football will open the 2010 season when they host Alabama A&M in the 12th Annual John Merritt Classic (JMC) on Saturday, September 4th, at LP Field. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The highly anticipated match-up will be the first career game for head coach Rod Reed. In December of 2009, Reed was named the 21st head coach of TSU Football dating back to 1912.
Radio: Big Blue Sports Network (WVOL 1470 AM - Nashville, Tenn. / WOJG 94.7 FM - Jackson, Tenn. / WMRB 910 AM - Columbia, Tenn.)
Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN)
Web Video Stream: OVCSports.TV (pay-per-view)
*Links will available on game day
This will be the 29th meeting between the TSU Tigers and the AAMU Bulldogs. The Tigers hold the series lead 18-10. Last season, the Bulldogs defeated TSU in the JMC, 24-7, and have won six of the last nine meetings dating back to 2001.
Since 1924, the Tigers are 32-26-4 in season openers and against the Bulldogs hold a 4-5 record when starting the season off.
In the JMC, TSU is 2-4 versus the AAMU but posts an overall 7-4 record since the Classic's inaugural game in 1999. In the first JMC, the Tigers defeated Alabama State, 41-8, in their first game at LP Field.
The last time TSU defeated AAMU, was in 2008 at Louis Crews Stadium in Huntsville, Ala., 34-13.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE TIGERS
The Tigers finished with a 4-7 (3-4 OVC) record in 2009 and return 17 starters (7-Offense / 5 Defense / 5-Special Teams) including the first ringers at the offensive skill positions. TSU finished last season fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference team standings but posted upsets against two Top-25 FCS ranked squads on the road.
Last year, the Tigers closed out the year snapping a four-game skid with a win over then ranked, No. 13, and OVC Champions, Eastern Illinois, 21-10, on ESPN-U. Early in the season, TSU defeated No. 13 Eastern Kentucky, 20-17.
Statistically, TSU once again finished at the top of the defensive stats in the OVC. They were first for a consecutive season in total defense against league opponents and third in overall play. The Tigers finished second in red-zone and scoring defense while holding conference teams to a league best in pass defense (89.7), total yards (272.9) and rush defense (119.9).
In the 2010 preseason, TSU was selected fifth in the predicted order of finish receiving one first-place vote for a total of 70 . The last time the Tigers were picked fifth in the early season, they captured their first OVC Championship in 1998.
SCOUTING ALABAMA A&M
The Bulldogs enter 2010 after posting a 7-5 (4-3 SWAC) record winning the SWAC East Division before losing the championship game to Prairie View A&M, 30-24, ending a two-game win streak.
AAMU returns 18 starters (9-Offense / 8-Defense / 1-Special Teams) under ninth-year head coach Anthony Jones. Last season, the Bulldogs led the SWAC in rushing defense (102.5 yards), sacks (43), and time of possession (33:09). AAMU was predicted to finish first in their division in the SWAC preseason slating a possible rematch against Prairie View A&M.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Senior defensive back Eugene Clifford highlights the Tigers after being selected to nine preseason All-America teams. Clifford was also named to the 2010 OVC Preseason Team along with defensive tackle Donte'e Nicholls.
Clifford was named to the OVC first team last year and was credited with 60 stops (34 solo); two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, seven pass deflections and five break-ups. He also tacked on two scores from a 69-yard interception return and the other courtesy of a 78-yard fumble recovery in the 2009 JMC. The score from the fumble is the longest in modern TSU football history.
Nicholls, a junior, made his first early season squad after transferring from the University of South Carolina in 2009. He finished with 35 tackles (20 solo), 5.5 for a loss, and three pass break-ups. Nicholls played in the reserve role last year making only two starts.
For the Bulldogs, five players headline the SWAC's preseason teams in Russell Jackson (First Team - OL), Frank Kearse (First Team - DL), Afu Okosun (First Team - LB), Anquez Jackson (Second Team - OL), and Korey Morrison (Second Team - DB).
Kearse and Morrison each earned 2010 preseason honors as both were named to the 2010 FCS Senior Scout Bowl Preseason All-America second team and the CDS HBCU squad. Morrison also led the SWAC last year in passes defended with 17 including five interceptions. Okosun returns as AAMU's leading tackler from a year ago totaling 79 tackles (44 solo, 35 assists), with six for a loss. He also posted one sack and one interception.
ABOUT THE JOHN MERRITT CLASSIC
The John Merritt Classic, first played in 1999, honors John A. Merritt, the legendary TSU football coach who led the Tigers from 1963 - 1983. During 21 seasons, "Big John" won four undisputed national championships among historically black colleges ranked by the Sheridan Poll, compiled a lifetime record of 172-33-1.
The JMC, one of only three football Classics solely hosted by a single NCAA FCS institution, is intended to allow Tennessee State to raise funds for scholarships and other related needs for TSU students. The Classic also provides an opportunity for community outreach with its weekend of activities.
Alabama A&M becomes the third FCS to host a Classic. They will play in their first Louis Crews Classic named after their legendary coach on September 11, 2010 against Central State.