Ranking the best HBCU football teams of all time

    Bill Connelly is a staff writer for ESPN.com.

Maybe your parents attended a Black college. Maybe you did the same. Maybe you grew up watching the Bayou Classic each year on television. Maybe you even got a chance to go to the Bayou Classic. (Maybe you got a chance to attend the Battle of the Bands, saw Southern’s Human Jukebox start “Purple Rain,” and thought, “How in the hell are they going to do justice to the high notes at the end?” And hot damn, did they do justice to the high notes at the end. Maybe it brought tears to your eyes. But I digress.)

Maybe you were more of a latecomer and didn’t get sucked in until the Celebration Bowl started up a few years ago. Or maybe you were hooked by this spring’s SWAC showcase, with Alabama A&M willing a thrilling conference race and different coaches taking turns passive-aggressively dunking on Jackson State’s Deion Sanders.

HBCU football hooks you forever. It brings to the table all the passion, history, big crowds, rivalry and attitude you could possibly want from college football, and without the pretense and $5 million salaries. It indeed enjoyed a moment in the football spotlight in March and April, with constant ESPN appearances during FCS’ one-time-only spring season.

And the 2021 season begins Saturday with Alcorn State and North Carolina Central kicking off the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta, with College GameDay, and hip-hop group Migos, in attendance.

To commemorate the occasion, let’s dive into the history books. Here are the 30 greatest HBCU football teams of all time.

The list is frequented by teams in the 1955-1980 range, when a host of legendary coaches fielded teams loaded with future All-Pro talent. After full college football integration took hold, a lot of that talent gravitated toward other schools, but within this list, every decade, every era and nearly every great coach is represented.

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