Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl: North Carolina Central Eagles vs. Grambling State Tigers
Date: Dec. 17, Noon ET ABC
Location: Georgia Dome | Atlanta
North Carolina Central
Best moment: The Eagles beat then-No. 9 North Carolina A&T 42-21 to win the MEAC title outright. It is the third consecutive season that North Carolina Central has won at least a share of the MEAC, but this is the first such season in that span that it has the title to itself. The Eagles were dominant, taking a 35-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, and it was their 15th consecutive victory over a MEAC opponent.
Lowest moment: North Carolina Central’s only two losses came to FBS teams at the beginning of the year: a 49-6 loss to Duke followed by a 70-21 loss to unbeaten Western Michigan.
Key player: Quarterback Malcolm Bell was a first-team All-MEAC selection this season, leading the league in average total offensive yards per game (248.6). Bell threw for 2,191 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 544 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Motivation level: The Eagles just missed out on the Celebration Bowl last year (rival North Carolina A&T represented the MEAC), so they’ll be looking to capitalize on their opportunity with a victory.
Best moment: It has to be the Tigers’ 52-30 victory over rival Southern on Nov. 26 in the annual Bayou Classic. It gave Grambling the SWAC’s West Division title and a berth in the SWAC championship game. It was the Tigers’ 18th consecutive SWAC regular-season win.
Lowest moment: The Tigers have only one loss this season, a 31-21 loss to Pac-12 opponent Arizona, and even that was a positive development in some ways because Grambling – a 45-point underdog going into the game – led 21-3 at halftime. Getting shut out in the second half while the Wildcats mounted a comeback was tough, though.
Key player: Quarterback DeVante Kincade has been outstanding for the Tigers this season, throwing 28 touchdowns to only three interceptions, the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the FCS of anyone with at least 23 touchdown passes. Kincade, an Ole Miss transfer, is third in the FCS in passing efficiency (171.6).
Motivation level: This will be big for Grambling; the Tigers lost the SWAC title game to Alcorn State in 2015, so by beating the Braves this time around, they get their chance to be showcased on a national stage. A victory would put an exclamation point on what has been a fantastic season for the Tigers and has them feeling a little nostalgic for the glory days of Grambling football.