Wednesday, November 16, 2016

North Carolina A&T Visits North Carolina Central to Battle for MEAC Title and Celebration Bowl Bid; Preview of All Nov. 19 HBCU Football Games


What better way to settle the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football championship with a game between two bitter rivals?

That's what happens Saturday when North Carolina A&T (9-1, 6-0 MEAC) and North Carolina Central (8-2, 7-0 MEAC) meet in their season-ending rivalry game that didn't need anything else to make it a big game.

But with the MEAC title riding on this game, it has reached the magnitude of being a much bigger game.

"It's going to be a big one," North Carolina A&T Head Coach Rod Broadway said after last Saturday's win over Delaware State.  "We're going up against a 7-0 team and they are our biggest rival. We have to be better prepared to play well (Saturday)."

The winner wins the MEAC title outright and a trip to the Celebration Bowel in Atlanta where they will play the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion on Dec. 17.  North Carolina A&T is ranked ninth in the country while North Carolina Central is ranked 25th.

Last season, they shared the MEAC title, with A&T getting the tie-break to get the Celebration Bowl bid, a game in which they defeated Alcorn State.

This season, the Aggies have A&T has plowed their way through, their only loss coming to FBS team Tulsa in week three, a week after defeating another FBS team, Kent State.  Sporting the MEAC's top offense and top defense, they haven't scored less than 30 points since their Tulsa loss (when they lost 58-21) and only two teams have managed to score as many as 20 points against them since then.

A&T running back Tarik Cohen has continued his sensational career, rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns this year.  He leads the nation in touchdowns and has rushed for 200 yards four times this season, in which he is a strong candidate for the Walton Payton Award, which goes to the top FCS player each season.

He will be a focus for the North Carolina Central defense that is fourth in the conference in total defense and rushing defense.

The Eagles calling card is offense, as they have the MEAC's top passing offense, led by senior Malcolm Bell.  Bell has thrown for 2,007 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead the MEAC in both categories.  He is finishing up an NCCU career in which he ranks second all-time in passing and second in total offense.

Interestingly, he was named the MEAC Co-Offensive Player of the Week last week with, who else, Cohen.

Another storyline is this - the winner will be assured of another week of football this season.  The loser will be at the mercy of the NCAA FCS Football Playoff Selection Committee which will Sunday choose the field for this year's playoffs.

The MEAC gave up their seat on the selection committee and the conference's automatic berth in the FCS playoffs so the champion could play in the Celebration Bowl.  That only leaves the chance for an at-large bid for other MEAC teams. This year, only two MEAC teams have a chance -- North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central.

Here is the rundown of the rest of the Nov. 19 HBCU football schedule:


Mississippi Valley State at Southern - Barring any insane upset, Southern (7-2, 7-0 SWAC) will look to ensure that next week's Bayou Classic against Grambling will be the winner-take-all for the West Division spot in the SWAC title game.  Southern has won seven in a row after losing their first two to FBS teams.  Mississippi Valley State (1-9, 1-7 SWAC) would love to close out the season by upsetting the SWAC apple cart.  But besides a big win over fellow woeful squad in Arkansas-Pine Bluff, MVSU has given up at least 56 points in each of their last four losses.  That's not good news as Southern's offense is second in the SWAC in scoring and total offense and features receiver Willie Quinn, quarterback Austin Howard and running back Lenard Tillery, who ran for 245 yards last week, most by a SWAC player in three seasons.

Alabama A&M at Auburn - This doesn't not look like a good day coming for Alabama A&M (4-6, 4-5 SWAC)  A&M has already ensured that they will finish second in the SWAC East, their highest placing in seven years.  But FBS SEC Auburn is tuning up for their huge showdown with the nation's No. 1 FBS team in Alabama and a place in the SEC Championship game next weekend.  So they will be looking for a big tune-up to get some momentum, especially after losing to Georgia last week.

Jackson State at Alcorn State - Alcorn State (4-5, 4-4 SWAC) has had a disappointing season, to say the least.  What they don't want to do is end the regular season with a losing record, even as they are assured a spot in the SWAC title game as winners of their third straight SWAC East championship.  They are looking for another big game from quarterback Noah Jackson who scored eight TD's week in their blowout of Mississippi Valley State. Jackson State (3-7, 3-5 SWAC) is limping to the of the season, losing four of their last five, and three straight for the second time this season.

Grambling at Texas Southern - The script for Grambling (7-1, 7-0 SWAC) is the same one for Southern - take care of business this week and play for the SWAC West title and championship game berth next week.  But Grambling has the tougher matchup this week. Texas Southern (4-6, 4-4 SWAC) has lost three of their last four, but they have had a lot of close games this season. They feature the SWAC's third-best overall defense.  But Grambling is led by the conference's best passer in Devante Kincaid 2,159 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. And pass defense isn't TSU's best area.

Prairie View at Arkansas-Pine Bluff - The season has been on in which Prairie View (6-4, 6-2 SWAC) has lost to some good teams - two FBS teams, along with Grambling and Southern.  If they were in the SWAC East instead of the SWAC West with Southern and Grambling, they'd be in the SWAC championship game. But they are not. Trey Green is closing out a solid season as their freshman quarterback, throwing for 1300 yards and nine touchdowns this season.  Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-9, 1-7 SWAC) is closing out a season in which their one win was a shocker over Alcorn State. But they are a team that struggles to score and are last in total defense in the SWAC. For the season, they've averaged a SWAC-worst 14.3 points a game and have scored just 41 points over the last five games.


Norfolk State at Hampton - Fresh off their first-ever win at South Carolina State last week, Norfolk State (3-7, 2-5 MEAC) looks to close out their season with another win. They've won two of their last three after losing six straight.  Hampton (5-4, 5-2 MEAC) has won four of their last five, and trying to erase the memory of two their two losses, one to North Carolina A&T, that could have meant a share of the MEAC title.

Morgan State at Army - Morgan State (2-7, 2-5 MEAC) steps out of MEAC play this week to face Army (5-5), a team that's lost their last two games, against Air Force and Notre Dame. They are led by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who runs a triple-option rushing attack heavy on the run. Morgan State has lost five straight games, but they do have a decent rushing defense, as they are ranked fifth in the MEAC.

Savannah State at South Carolina State - After losing their three opening games against FBS opponents, things looked to be heading in the right direction when South Carolina State (3-6, 3-3 MEAC) won their next three games, all against MEAC teams.  But the teams they beat were the MEAC's two bottom teams in Howard and Delaware State and an improving Florida A&M team. Since then, they've lost three straight, including last week's loss to Norfolk State.  Savannah State (3-5, 3-3 MEAC) has been the exact opposite.  They've won three conference games in a season for the first time ever and have had a great year, by their standards.  A win over South Carolina State would be huge for their program.

Bethune-Cookman vs. Florida A&M - The Orange Blossom Classic features a Bethune-Cookman (3-5, 3-3 MEAC) team that has awaken as of late, winning their last three games after losing their first five. What looked like another terrible Florida A&M (4-6, 4-3 MEAC) season that started with four straight losses has turned around for them too.  They've on four of their last six games, losing only to a really good Division II North Carolina Central team and to the best team in HBCU football, North Carolina A&T. BCU likes to score, as their 25 points per game is third in the MEAC. That's a problem for FAMU as they are ninth in scoring defense, giving up 32 points a game. Bethune-Cookman is a great running team, while FAMU struggles against the rush.  But the Rattlers do have the MEAC's top pass defense. Freshman quarterback Ryan Stanley has been a spark for FAMU this season.


Tennessee State at Southeast Missouri - Tennessee State (6-4, 3-3 OVC) will close out a season in which they started 4-0, but then lost four of their next six games.  They were blown out last weekend, 44-16 at home to Tennessee Tech after having to get a late win the week before to hold off winless Austin Peay.  SEMO has lost four of their last five, including the last two.  They have struggled on offense during that streak when they've averaged 14 points in those four losses.

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