Circa 2003-04, I was really into reading as much as I possibly could about college football and basketball history. If you can imagine this – and I’m sure it’ll shock anyone reading this – I particularly loved rating systems. I was obsessed with the BCS and with its interlocking parts – Sagarin, Billingsley, Howell, et al. For whatever reason, a certain group of schools grabbed my attention in 2004. They were all newcomers to I-A (now FBS) in football, and they were all from Florida.
Obviously, you know the first two by heart now: Florida Atlantic and Florida International. Both are commuter-ish schools near or in Miami that offer degrees of various repute and what might as well be coaching rebuilding programs. In both sports, the following coaches have taken their talents to (sorta close to) South Beach: Lane Kiffin, Butch Davis, Ron Turner (took Illinois to 2001 Sugar Bowl), Isiah Thomas, Mike Jarvis (mid/late-90s CBB guy that took St. John’s to the Elite Eight in 1999), etc. These are places you go to convince others you’re younger than you are.
The third of these was a total mystery, and still is: Florida A&M. For one season, and one only, they transitioned up from I-AA to I-A. They have a phenomenal all-time record of 567-274-23 (67%) in football, including six MEAC titles from 1990 to 2001 under head coach Billy Joe. (I implore you to read more about this here, from friend of the show Bill Connelly.) In basketball, I can remember them taking on Kentucky in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. It would be Kentucky’s last win of that season.
Since that moment in time, Florida A&M serves as a historical oddity: the football program that died on impact in 2004, a basketball program that’s almost done the same, minus a play-in game loss in 2007 to Niagara. Largely, they operate of no consequence to anyone outside of Tallahassee, unless you know about the Marching 100, and I promised myself this wouldn’t be another post about marching bands. They do bring their basketball program to Knoxville this week. Unfortunately, they do not bring the marching band, or much notable history, with them.
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Chattanooga: a city in Tennessee. It is, indeed, a place you are allowed to reside. In all seriousness, it’s a solid little place: there’s minor league baseball, several quality food options, and a bunch of nice outdoor activities. Pound-for-pound, it’s one of the better mid-sized cities in the South. If I were not a nice man, I would say that they have minor league basketball and football, too, but that’s not very kind.
The Chattanooga Mocs basketball program has largely operated on the same treadmill for most of my life: never great, never bad, with one large outlier in the process. In 1997, Chattanooga was the best team in the Southern Conference and won the conference title, entering the NCAA Tournament at 22-10. They received a 14 seed, and in the minds of most, that was essentially it. That year, they’d draw 3 seed Georgia (yes, this used to be a thing) in the first round and were sizable underdogs. I’d imagine few bothered to even consider them for the upset; said Georgia team was one of the weakest 3 seeds ever, but you simply don’t pick a 14 seed to win.
All Chattanooga did was blow the doors off of Georgia for a half. At halftime, the Mocs led 46-31; they’d hold on for dear life in the second half, squeaking out a 73-70 victory. Realistically, that’s better than they could’ve expected to do. Surely, after a Round of 32 matchup with 6 seed Illinois, they’d be done. Instead, the Mocs demolished Illinois in the second half, winning 75-63. Now, out of nowhere, the Mocs were the talk of the nation – a 14 seed in the Sweet Sixteen for just the second time in NCAA Tournament history.
The dream would end soon, and they’d settle into the loop I mentioned previously. Since the end of their 1997 Sweet Sixteen loss to Providence, the Mocs have made the NCAA Tournament just three times, losing by double-digits in each matchup. They’ve finished outside of KenPom’s top 300 just once, but have never cracked his top 100 at season’s end. They’ve never lost fewer than three games in SoCon play, but – until Lamont Paris’ first year in 2017-18 – had never won fewer than five, either. They’re just…there. If nothing else, they provide a great opportunity to play college basketball and get a degree at a solid university. Life could be far worse.
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Located in lovely Montgomery, Alabama is Alabama State University. There probably isn’t much you know about it if you know about it. It’s an HBCU most famous either for being the place 2 Chainz played basketball at, or maybe it’s Tarvaris Jackson, or, hopefully, Ralph David Abernathy. Maybe you know them because of the famed Magic City Classic. You probably don’t know about the basketball team; that’s not a surprise, considering they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
As part of my duties here, I am supposed to educate you about the basketball team a college has. However, I like advertising other stuff, too. In this instance, I find it much more important to tell you about the MIGHTY MARCHING HORNETS.
Alabama State’s marching band is one of the most beloved, well-respected, and flat-out wonderful bands you will find in this world. They are full of swagger, relentless play, and I’ve spent hours watching their walk-ins on YouTube. You know of the Human Jukebox, the Sonic Boom of the South, the Ocean of Soul, obviously. But you must know about the Mighty Marching Hornets.
Alabama State’s marching band has performed in the Rose Parade, a 2 Chainz music video, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, several NFL games, and they go to the Battle of the Bands – a real thing that sounds absolutely incredible – every year. Their danceline, called the Honey Beez, was asked to perform on America’s Got Talent. It is, uh, a slightly different experience than the Pride of the Southland Band, no disrespect intended.
The Fifth Quarter isn’t something that makes much of an appearance in high-major athletics, but it’s everything to these band members. After football games, Alabama State and their opponent march out, attempting to one-up each other with what they perform. Buddy, is it ever good stuff.
Will the Mighty Marching Hornets be on display in Knoxville tonight? Unfortunately, no; the band only performs for SWAC home games. The Alabama State Hornets, a basketball team that’s less explosive, sure will, though. They are coached by Lewis Jackson, they’ve made the NCAA Tournament four times, and they scheduled like crazy this year. Prior to Tennessee, they’ve played Gonzaga (lost by 31) and Houston (28); after, they’ll play VCU, Kansas State, Oregon, and several others. They won’t play a home game in the 2019-20 season until January 11, 2020. Tennessee simply happens to be another march, in and out, like it will be most nights.
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