The Celebration Bowl is still in its infancy, but there is a lot of anticipation surrounding this year’s matchup.
North Carolina A&T is one of two undefeated FCS teams in the country. The Aggies could have probably secured a national seed and a first-round bye if they were taking part in the FCS playoffs this season. They were dominant all year and even scored a win over an FBS opponent on their way to an 11-0 campaign and a MEAC Championship.
This week, they will be taking on Grambling. The Tigers have had a pretty successful season of their own, knocking off every FCS foe in their path and finishing 11-1. It was a little more difficult for the Tigers, though, as they had to survive a few tough tests on their way to a SWAC Championship.
This will be the third year that the MEAC and SWAC have had their champions meet to crown an HBCU champion. North Carolina A&T won this game in 2015, while Grambling won it last year. If Grambling wins this week, it would tie Tennessee State for the most HBCU national championships.
Celebration Bowl Betting Odds
North Carolina A&T -9
Keep an Eye On…
Devante Kincade has been the star of the SWAC for the last two seasons. The Ole Miss transfer has dominated at this level and has taken the Tigers to two straight league titles.
While most quarterbacks in the SWAC are run-first and struggle to throw the ball consistently, Kincade is a very accurate passer. In his two seasons at Grambling he has completed 62 percent of his throws for over 5,700 yards. He has a pristine touchdown-to-interception ratio as well. He has thrown 52 scoring passes compared to just seven picks on the year.
Kincade’s passing makes him special, but he can run the ball effectively as well. When you take out sacks and sack yardage, he has carried the ball 80 times for 494 yards with six touchdowns this season.
The Aggies defense will be the toughest FCS unit he has faced this year, though. North Carolina A&T allowed just 4.2 yards per play and was fourth in the country in total defense. Four Aggies ended up being All-MEAC selections, including Franklin McCain III, the grandson of one of the members of the Greensboro Four.
Matchup to Watch
Grambling’s defense doesn’t look much worse when you look at basic stats. However, offenses in the MEAC were generally better than those in the SWAC and the Tigers had trouble stopping decent offenses. Tulane scored 43 points against Grambling and Alcorn State dropped 32 points on this defense.
It could be a long day for this Tigers unit. Lamar Raynard has been one of the most unheralded quarterbacks in the country this season and would be a bigger name if he didn’t play in the MEAC. He completed over 65 percent of his passes and averaged 9.5 yards per throw for the Aggies. Like Kincade, he was careful with the ball, throwing 26 touchdown passes against just five picks.
The Aggies boast a very good running back in Marquell Cartwright, who ran for 1,080 yards and 13 touchdowns, proving to be a competent replacement for the explosive Tarik Cohen.
All too often, the big boys up front have been unheralded. If you talk about NC A&T, though, you must bring up its offensive line. The Aggies had three O-Linemen that were First-Team All-MEAC selections, and left tackle Brandon Parker is probably going to be selected in the first few rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. He is a man among boys at this level and regularly dominates whoever he goes up against.
Grambling has had a great year and lived up to lofty preseason expectations by running through the SWAC. However, the Tigers are about to meet their match here. The Aggies are just a cut above and I believe they would have made a deep run in the FCS Playoffs if they didn’t make the Celebration Bowl.
Pick: North Carolina A&T -9