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FAMU Rattlers cap a triumphant football season with a win over BCU but lose out on a playoff bid

Football players in white jerseys high five each other
Will Brown
Used with permission
FAMU wins its season rivalry football game against Bethune Cookman University

Florida A&M University says it's disappointing not to get a football playoff bid despite finishing 9-2 and ending the regular season with nine straight wins, including a victory over Bethune Cookman this past weekend. The lack of an invite to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs marked a stinging setback to a season that started in controversy and ended in triumph.

The confidence the Rattler’s head football coach Willie Simmons spoke with Saturday evening after the team’s dominant victory over the Wildcats, was gone 15 hours later. Simmons was crestfallen Sunday to find the Rattlers did not make the postseason this year, as it did last.

“We’ve done what we needed to do,” Simmons said. “We can’t go back and turn back the hands of time to play Jackson again. We can’t play North Carolina again. But, all we’ve done is show consistently over nine weeks that we’re an elite football team.”

FAMU kicked off the season with questions about whether it would have enough eligible players to field a competitive team against the University of North Carolina. A week later, they lost to Jackson State 59-3. By the end of the season, FAMU had a better record than seven of the 13 programs that earned at-large berths in the FCS playoffs.

Sunday afternoon, after the playoff teams were announced, Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders also questioned why the Rattlers were not in the 24-team field.

“Please make me understand a team that only lost to a Power 5 & the 5th rank FCS team not get in?” Sanders asked on Instagram. “Somebody help me please!!!!!” the outspoken pro-football Hall of Famer-turned HBCU football coach said in his Instagram stories.

Despite the disappointment, this year marked the first time since 2000 that FAMU has won at least nine games for three straight seasons. The Rattlers resumed their dominance over Bethune-Cookman with a 41-20 win on Saturday in Orlando. Bethune-Cookman cut the FAMU deficit to seven points early in the fourth quarter. But FAMU scored touchdowns on its next two drives to put the game away.

Wide receiver Xavier Smith was named game MVP after he caught a touchdown pass and threw another in his final collegiate game. Smith joins Brandon Norwood and Terry Nickens as the only Rattlers to lead the program in receiving for four straight seasons.

“I feel as though people can feel that people can understand and see that passion that we have for FAMU is like no other,” said Smith, who topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark in Saturday’s win. “Like coach [Simmons] says, it’s something you can’t put into words. It’s just a feeling of passion. A feeling of not wanting to let the alumni down or the fans down. It means the world to me.”

Smith and the other Rattler seniors will not wear orange and green again. Simmons saluted them and said they will be successful in life because of what the Rattlers achieved this year.

The university had hoped to secure a home game if it made the playoffs.

Will Brown has served as a reporter at newspapers in Florida and Texas since 2007. He has earned journalism degrees from Florida A&M University and the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He is based in Fleming Island.