Bears, Bison set for Chicago Football Classic

(STATS) - The Chicago Football Classic traditionally features an atmosphere unlike most FCS venues, including a college fair, tailgate and battle of the bands. The 18th version Saturday is set on another big stage at Soldier Field, completing an all-around experience for the fan.

Then there is the football, something this year's two teams would like to enjoy for once.

The neutral-site game between historically black schools features two struggling Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams that hope a conference victory in the spotlight can spark their seasons.

Morgan State and Howard have trudged through the first three weeks of the season, muddled by issues on the field and off.

Howard (0-3, 0-1) lost its first two games against FBS opponents by a combined 125-0 and dropped its conference opener 37-19 to rival Hampton in last week's AT&T Nation's Football Classic. The Bison were outgained 1,160-183 in losses of 49-0 and 76-0 to Appalachian State and Boston College, respectively, before losing the yardage battle 460-333 to Hampton.

"It don't get any easier," coach Gary Harrell said. "We had two tough opponents, FBS schools, and we jumped right into MEAC play. And now we're going against defending MEAC champion Morgan State."

The Bears (0-2), though, haven't performed like the team that won the program's first MEAC title in 35 years and first FCS postseason berth last season. A big reason for that is the loss of 10 players - six starters - to academic ineligibility.

Coach Lee Hull said there is no update regarding those ineligible players during Tuesday's MEAC teleconference.

"But the effect is we've got a lot of young guys playing and getting some valuable experience," he said. "If we do get those guys back, that only benefits our team down the stretch here in MEAC play."

A win Saturday would do wonders for Morgan State as it opens league play. The Bears dropped their opener to FBS opponent Air Force 63-7 and followed with a 67-14 loss to FCS No. 4 Illinois State. They surrendered more than 500 yards of offense in each game.

The Bears' only win, 61-0 over Virginia-Lynchburg last week, didn't count toward statistics – including rankings and records - as the Dragons were included on a list of 34 non-countable programs by the NCAA this summer.

What Morgan State could take from the game was confidence.

"For us and our team, it counts," Hull said. "We played the game, there were refs there, there were fans there, there was a score, there were stats taken. So, for us, it counts. I'm not taking anything away from what our guys have done."

Howard has lost its share of players to injuries early in the schedule, including outside linebacker Devin Rollins, who Harrell said Tuesday will miss the rest of the season due to an injury sustained in training camp. Rollins led the Bison with 122 tackles last year - 65 solo and 57 assists - while adding team highs of three sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Harrell said five Howard starters on defense are out with health issues.

"It's football, things happen," he said. "We have to go with the guys that we have. A football game won't be canceled because of the guys that are missing."

Howard has dropped eight of the last 10 against Morgan State, including a 38-35 loss last season.

The results, though, has been historically tight and last year's contest was no exception, coming down to a Chris Moller 38-yard field goal with 28 seconds left that thwarted a Howard rally from a 35-21 deficit. Nine of the last 11 meetings have been decided by seven or fewer points, two of them by a point and two more by a field goal.

The 2014 matchup, the Whitney Young Classic, was also played at a neutral site at MetLife Stadium.

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