The 2017 bowl season technically begins at noon this Saturday with a matchup between historically black FCS programs North Carolina Central, the MEAC champion, and Grambling, the SWAC champion, in the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta. MyBookie oddsmakers favor Grambling in the college football odds.
NC Central vs Grambling State Celebration Bowl Odds, Pick & TV Info
When: Saturday, Dec. 17, noon ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Opening NCAA Football Lines: Grambling -15 (56)
Why Bet on NC Central?
The Eagles beat rival North Carolina A&T a few weeks ago 42-21 for the MEAC title and trip to this bowl game. For NCCU (9-2, 8-0 MEAC), the 20th-ranked team in the FCS Coaches Poll entering the game, it was the first time in the gridiron program’s history the Eagles won three straight conference championships. After sharing the league crown in 2014 and 2015, the Eagles are the conference’s first outright champion since 2012.
North Carolina A&T entered the contest at No. 9 in the coaches poll and with the nation’s fifth-ranked run defense, but NCCU senior quarterback Malcolm Bell and sophomore running back Dorrel McClain combined for 240 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The Aggies had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Bell rushed for a game-high 131 yards and two touchdowns, while McClain tallied 109 rushing yards with three trips to the end zone. Bell added 184 yards and a touchdown on 10-for- 18 passing to finish with 315 yards of total offense. Senior wide receiver LaVontis Smith had a team-best for receptions for 83 yards.
While the NCCU offense posted the most points against the Aggies since 1984 and the second-most in the 88 games of the series, the Eagles also soared defensively. Tarik Cohen, the nation’s third-leading rusher with 1,436 yards prior to Saturday, was held to just 82 yards. NCCU was rewarded for the league title by having a conference-high 17 selections to the All-MEAC teams. On the first team were Bell, Smith, center Carl Jones, offensive lineman Tarrance Wells, defensive lineman Frederick Henry-Ajudua and Mike Jones, who is recognized as both a defensive back and a return specialist. Bell threw for 2,191 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 544 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
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.
Why Bet on Grambling?
The FCS No. 14 Tigers have now won 10 games in a row after defeating Alcorn State University 27-20 for the SWAC title. The first half of the game was all Alcorn as the Braves were able to rattle off 17 unanswered points over the Tigers. Alcorn limited Tigers quarterback DeVante Kincade to three of seven for 64 yards and he was sacked four times. Chad Williams and Martez Carter combined for one three catches and 67 yards. Grambling’s running game was halted to just 15 carries for 96 yards.
The tide of the game began to turn in GSU’s favor when the Braves’ Michael Ajumobi dropped a pass in the end zone and Alcorn picked up a delay of game penalty. The stalled drive was finished with Alcorn making a 41 yard field goal with 9:46 left in the game to lead 20-14. Late in the fourth quarter, Carter was nearly in the end zone when an Alcorn State defender knocked the ball loose on the 2-yard line. Luckily for Carter and the Tigers, receiver Dominique Leake was in the perfect place to catch the fumble in midair and step into the end zone to tie the game at 20.
After a blocked extra-point attempt by Alcorn State, Carter scampered into the end zone on a 31-yard touchdown run with less than four minutes remaining to give Grambling State (11-1) its first lead of the game. Grambling State cornerback Jameel Jackson intercepted a pass at midfield with three minutes left to secure the win.
Kincade was 15-of- 22 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and was sacked a SWAC championship record of eight times. Williams was the leader for the Tigers receivers with six catches for 103 yards. Carter was the anchor for the Grambling offense with 14 carries for 136 yards and one touchdown. Carter was also named SWAC Championship Offensive MVP for the Grambling and set the SWAC Championship record for all-purpose yards with 348 yards.
The Tigers have only one loss this season, a 31-21 defeat to Pac-12 opponent Arizona. Kincade, an Ole Miss transfer, is third in the FCS in passing efficiency (171.6). He has thrown 28 TDs to just three picks.
NC Central vs Grambling State Celebration Bowl Pick: Grambling State Tigers
Go Grambling here and the over on NCAA Football odds.