Howard's football team no longer resembles the unit that opened the season losing two of its first three games. With two weeks left in the season, the Bison, winners of five of their past six, are in position to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship and an automatic bid to the Division I-AA playoffs.
"It's really crazy," said linebacker Michael Ajayi, a St. Stephen's/St. Agnes alumnus. "There are so many question marks out there, so many things that need to happen. If we finish 8-3, we're going to let the cards fall where they may."
The Bison (6-3, 4-2 MEAC) head to Daytona Beach, Fla., to face first-place Bethune-Cookman (9-1, 5-1) on Saturday. If Howard wins and beats Delaware State at home to close the season Nov. 23, it will secure at least a share of the league championship for the first time since 1993.
"This is the first time since I've been here that we are playing for something this late in the year," said senior cornerback Serge Sejour, an Einstein High graduate who caused an early fumble in Howard's 23-9 victory at South Carolina State last weekend. "Normally we were just playing to get it over with."
During Sejour's three previous seasons, the Bison have gone 5-6, 3-8 and 2-9, leading the school to dismiss coach Steve Wilson after the 2001 season. Wilson had led Howard to some of its best moments, including the 1993 MEAC title and a Heritage Bowl victory three years later. But the team's fifth-year seniors are the only players on the roster who have experienced a winning season, and that came in their redshirt year of 1998.
"It's a different team," Sejour said. "We all have to buckle down over the next two weeks. We have a chance to get a ring."
In addition to Howard, both Hampton (6-4, 4-2) and Florida A&M (7-4, 5-2) remain in contention for the title. Florida A&M would have to win its remaining game, against Bethune-Cookman in the annual Florida Classic at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Nov. 23. Hampton would have to beat North Carolina A&T at home and Morgan State in Baltimore.
"I told my team not to get into scenarios," Hampton Coach Joe Taylor said. "There are just too many."
The catalyst of the Bethune-Cookman offense, MEAC player of the year favorite Allen Suber, might miss the game against the Bison because of a sprained right foot. Neither Suber nor Wildcats Coach Alvin Wyatt were available to comment, but Suber was forced to watch the Wildcats' undefeated season unravel with a 37-7 loss at Hampton last weekend.
Suber, who sprained the foot two weeks ago against N.C. A&T, had rushed for a MEAC-best 1,014 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 1,232 yards and eight touchdowns before the injury.
"If they have Suber, surely they are going to run the option with him because he is so good at it," Taylor said. "Without him, they become a throwing team."
Taylor said he did not know if Suber would play until Suber walked onto the field on crutches just before kickoff last Saturday. The Bison don't expect any more warning this week.
"We're preparing to face Allen Suber, believe me," Ajayi said. "But if he's not there, we will exploit that."