2016 Celebration Bowl Preview
The official HBCU National Championship, the 2016 Celebration Bowl matches up SWAC and MEAC conference champions Grambling State and North Carolina Central.
Kicking off the 2016 bowl season, the Celebration Bowl is a continuation of the Pelican and Heritage Bowls, matching up the top historically black college football teams. Last years champion, North Carolina A&T made shockwaves this season with their 39-36 defeat of Kent State in September. The Aggies dropped their rivalry matchup to NCCU dashing the opportunity for a second straight appearance in the Celebration Bowl.
Grambling State Tigers
Historic and legendary HBCU power Grambling State gets its first shot at a National Title since 2008. Former Tiger running back Broderick Fields was hired as head coach in 2013. Fields played under the legendary coach Eddie Robinson and this season coached the Tigers to their first SWAC title since 2011. Grambling finished 10-1 and went undefeated in the SWAC, their only loss being a 31-21 defeat to Arizona.
The Tigers are lead by former Ole Miss quarterback Devante Kincade. Kincade was named the 2016 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year behind 2,873 yards passing with 31 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Kincade’s has guided the Tigers offense to top of the SWAC statistically. Grambling ranks first in total and scoring offense. Their defense is just as potent as their offense, topping the SWAC in total and scoring defense as well. Anchored by linebacker Arkez Cooper, Grambling’s defense has given up a total of 184 points this season, allowing only 16 points per game. Cooper leads the Tigers in tackles with 68 on the season including six sacks.
North Carolina Central Eagles
NCCU started off 2016 0-2 with losses to Duke and Western Michigan. Since then, the Eagles have gone 9-0, with an 8-0 record in the MEAC. The Eagles will be playing for their first National Championship since they won in 2006. Head coach Jerry Mack has coached NCCU to a first place finish in the MEAC in each of his three years. However, this is the first MEAC title NCCU can claim outright having tied several times since Mack’s hiring. Mack was named the 2016 MEAC Coach of the Year for the Eagles’ performance.
Senior Malcolm Bell will lead the Eagles for the final time Saturday. The first team all-MEAC quarterback leads the conference in total yards with 2,735 in the air and on the ground. Bell leaves Durham as one of the best quarterbacks in program history. He currently sits second all-time in passing yards for the Eagles.
Linebacker Reggie Hunter leads the third ranked MEAC defense. The junior from Henderson, N.C. lead the team with 73 tackles. The Eagles defense has surrendered 343 yards per game. This is inflated due to blow out losses in ‘Money Games’ against Duke and Western Michigan. NCCU has not given up more than 21 points except once to Norfolk State in a 34-31 loss. They will need to continue their stout play against the high powered offense of Grambling and Kincade to pull off the upset.
Bowl games are difficult to predict. Games with stellar defenses turn into shootouts, while two high powered offenses seem to sputter. The 2016 Celebration Bowl features the best of both facets of the game. A high powered Grambling air attack go against a stout NCCU defense. NCCU comes into the game as 15 point underdogs. Limiting Kincade has to take top priority if the Eagles want the championship they’ve come so close to reaching.
The 2016 Celebration Bowl kicks off at 12 EST on ABC.
Grambling 34 NCCU 28