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Road to the Celebration Bowl

Celebration Bowl by the numbers: N.C. A&T vs. Alcorn State

The teams will meet for the third time in the game’s five-year history

If there’s a feeling of déjà vu associated with this year’s Celebration Bowl matchup, there’s a perfectly good explanation. The North Carolina A&T Aggies will play the Alcorn State Braves in Atlanta for the third time in the Celebration Bowl’s five-year history.

In the teams’ first two meetings in 2015 and 2018, the N.C. A&T Aggies (8-3) walked away with the Celebration Bowl trophy and bragging rights, winning 41-34 and 24-22, respectively. But the unwavering Alcorn Braves (9-3) hope they will prevail in this year’s contest on Dec. 21.

Alcorn State earned its berth to the bowl by defeating Southern University 39-24 on Dec. 7 to become the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champion. And though the Aggies finished second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), the team received its fourth visit to the bowl due to Florida A&M University’s (9-2) postseason ineligibility for the 2019 season.

This year’s game will be broadcast live at noon on ABC from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. How do the teams stack up this season?

In the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI), N.C. A&T is given a 71 percent chance of winning. The FPI is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations using FPI, game results and the strength of schedule.

Here’s a look at both teams by the numbers:

Alcorn State Braves

  • Alcorn State is led by SWAC offensive player of the year Felix Harper and SWAC coach of the year Fred McNair.
  • Besides the Braves winning the SWAC title for the second consecutive season, the team has also won the SWAC east division for the sixth season in a row. This is their 17th conference championship in school history.
  • Although Alcorn State is 0-2 in their appearances at the Celebration Bowl, the team is coming in with the better record this year (6-1 SWAC, 9-3 overall).
  • Alcorn State ranks No. 1 in turnovers in FCS. This season, the team has 13 fumble recoveries and 34 turnovers gained overall. The team is ranked 26th in scoring offense (32.8 points per game) and 12th in scoring defense (19.70 average points per game). The Braves do struggle with penalties, ranking 110th in fewest penalties with 8.42 penalties per game, and 101 penalties on the season for 859 yards on the season.

Players to Watch

  • Quarterback Harper threw 29 touchdowns this season, with 167 completions, 2,387 passing yards, good for a 167.9 efficiency rating.
  • Solomon Muhammad, linebacker, is first-team All-SWAC and led the team in tackles and sacks.
  • De’Shawn Waller, a first-team preseason All-SWAC selection at running back, and Niko Duffey combined to rush for more than 1,300 yards this season.

North Carolina A&T Aggies

  • The Aggies lead the series against the Alcorn State Braves 2-1.
  • They have earned a trip to the Celebration Bowl four times in the game’s five-year existence. Three of those trips resulted in wins. Two of those wins were against Alcorn State, the other was against Grambling State in 2016.
  • In the FCS, N.C. A&T ranks in the top 20 in scoring offense, with 35.7 points per game and ranked top 10 in scoring defense (18.60 average points per game). The team struggles with penalties, ranking 106th in fewest penalties with 8.09 penalties per game (89 penalties on the season for 802 yards on the season). The team is tied at No. 57 in turnovers gained, with eight fumble recoveries and 19 turnovers gained this season.

Players to Watch

  • Jah-Maine Martin, running back, leads the FCS in rushing yards per carry and ran for more than 1,400 yards this season and is a first-team All-MEAC selection. He also is a finalist for black college football player of the year.
  • Elijah Bell, wide receiver, is a three-time All-MEAC selection and led the Aggies with six touchdowns and 71 yards per game.
  • Franklin McCain III, defensive back, Jermaine McDaniel and Justin Cates, defensive line, Justin Cates and Jacob Roberts, linebackers, were all All-MEAC selections this season.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.