This is the first bowl of the season, kicking off at noon on Saturday, Dec. 17. Our 2016 Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl free pick features two conference winners- the North Carolina Central Eagles (9-2 Overall, 8-0 Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference) and the Grambling State Tigers (11—Overall, 9-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference).
The Eagles beat North Carolina A&T 42-21 to convincingly win the MEAC title. NCC was also the top team in the Conference. The Tigers took the West Division of the SWAC and then beat the East Division winner, Alcorn State, 27-20 to take the SWAC championship and win a trip to this bowl game.
North Carolina Central Eagles
The North Carolina Central Eagles had a rough start to their 2016 season as they lost their first two games to two FBS teams. Duke beat them 49-6 and then Western Michigan won their game against the Eagles 70-21. But NCC won every game after that, including a very tight one against Florida A&M 17-13.
The primary player in this game for NCC is QB Malcolm Bell. He made first team All-MEAC as he led the league in average total offensive yards per game (248.6). In addition, the QB threw for 2,191 yards and hit pay dirt 16 times. He also has an adroit ground game, as he ran for 544 yards while crossing the goal line nine times.
The Eagles are allowing 24.3 PPG. But when you subtract their two FBS losses that average number of points per game drops to 16.6 PPG. On offense, the Eagles are averaging 30.7 PPG.
Grambling State Tigers
The Tigers could have had a perfect record if they had not lost to the PAC-12’s Arizona. The final score on that game was 31-21. By the way, the Tigers were a 45-point underdog in that game. Grambling led the contest 21-3 at the half, making that loss extra tough. A major highlight was when the Tigers beat Southern, the team with the second best record in the SWAC, 52-30.
The Tiger offense is averaging 42.0 PPG. One reason for this is QB DeVante Kincade. Kincade, who transferred from Ole Miss, has tossed 28 TDs and just three interceptions. With a mark of 171.6, he’s third in passing efficiency in the FCS. Also on offense, the Tigers feature return man and running back Martez Carter. He’s capable of posting over 300 total yards in a game. The Grambling defense is holding opponents to an average of 16.3 PPG.
2016 Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Free Pick
NCC has never beaten Grambling. The teams have met three times. The Tigers first one against the Eagles occurred on Dec. 2, 1972. That was in the first Pelican Bowl at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. The Tigers won convincingly 56-6. In 1986 and 1986, the Eagles and Tigers met at Yankee Stadium. That was in the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Football Classic. Grambling won the first contest 45-14 on Sept. 21, 1985, and they took down the second one 32-24 on Sept. 20, 1986.
In making our 2016 Force Reserve Celebration Bowl free pick, we see that the Tigers are favored by 15.5 points. We’re going to go with the Grambling Tigers.
The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl will be played at noon on Dec. 17 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It will be broadcast on ABC.