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2022 Celebration Bowl: North Carolina Central Eagles vs Jackson State Tigers - How To Watch, Preview, Prediction

The Eagles and the Tigers will meet in the Celebration Bowl to crown this year’s HBCU National Champion.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Cricket Celebration Bowl - South Carolina State v Jackson State Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Time and date: Saturday, December 17 at Noon ET / 11 AM CT
  • Network: ABC
  • Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA

For the second consecutive year, Jackson State find themselves in the Celebration Bowl.

This time, though, the Tigers are hoping for a much better ending after last year’s ended with South Carolina State hoisting the trophy. Deion Sanders has built a powerhouse with JSU, but Sanders is on his way to Colorado soon and will be coaching in his final game with the Tigers on Saturday when they take on MEAC champs NC Central.

Both the Eagles and the Tigers have prolific offenses that can score seemingly at will. The scoreboard will light up often come Saturday in Atlanta.

The Quick Hits

Jackson State compiled a perfect 12-0 record behind a scary good offense that’s riddled with talent capable of playing at the next level. The SWAC title was theirs to lose all season and they took it easily from Southern a couple weeks ago. The future for JSU seems like it could be up in the air with Sanders leaving and likely taking a lot of talent with him but right now there’s still unfinished business to handle.

The Eagles claimed their first MEAC title since 2016 with a 9-2 overall record. Their only loss in league play came at the hands on last year’s champs SC State (barely) with their other defeat coming against Campbell, a team that lost to JSU this season. NC Central enters this game as a heavy underdog but they have a head of steam with four straight wins. They’ll be looking to pull off a stunner this weekend.

The Coaches

SWAC Championship - Southern v Jackson State Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Deion Sanders has been the talk of college football lately with the recent announcement that he’ll be leaving Jackson State at the conclusion of this season to coach in the Pac-12 next fall. JSU has already promoted from within and has named former assistant T.C. Taylor to succeed Sanders when Saturday is over. In his three seasons with the Tigers, Sanders has elevated the team to new heights, winning the SWAC title in each of the last two seasons and compiling an overall record of 27-5. He finished seventh in voting for the Eddie Robinson Award this fall.

On the other sideline will be NC Central head coach Trei Oliver, who has been with the team since 2019. In that span, Oliver has strung together a 19-15 overall record (11-7 MEAC) and has two winning seasons under his belt. Before coming over to the Eagles, he was an assistant with North Carolina A&T, Grambling State and Delaware State. Oliver came in 10th in the Eddie Robison Award voting this year.

NC Central Offense vs Jackson State Defense

The Eagles have a high-powered offensive attack that puts up 442 yards and 38 points per game and will need it to be clipping at full capacity if they are to keep pace with JSU’s vaunted offense. Quarterback Davius Richard has thrown for 2,486 yards and 24 touchdowns this season but has had some trouble with interceptions (10). He will need to be wary of standout freshman DB Travis Hunter.

Richard will look to wideouts E.J. Hicks and Devin Smith often. Hicks leads the Eagles with 529 yards on 30 catches and has seven touchdowns while Smith is right behind him with 496 yards and six scores. Each averages just over 48 receiving yards per contest and have proven to be difficult for most opposing defenses to handle.

Jackson State’s defense will be led by senior linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr. who is a force to be reckoned with over the middle. Miller has four games this year in which he’s notched double-digit tackles and has totaled 106 stops this fall. His 11 tackles for loss lead the team and he even has two PBUs. Getting to Richard will be important and will fall largely on his shoulders.

The aforementioned Hunter is as scary as any in the secondary as he has two interceptions and nine defended passes this year. Hunter and sophomore safety Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig have combined for 75 stops this year and have two fumble recoveries between them. They will likely be tasked with covering Hicks and Smith.

The NC Central rushing attack is no joke either. Led by junior running back Latrell Collier and Richard, the Eagles average over 200 yards on the ground per outing and have 31 touchdowns by way of the run. Collier has 611 yards on on 121 carries while Richard has called his own number 108 times and rumbled for 691 yards and 13 scores.

Again, Miller will play a big role here. He and fellow linebacker Davis Jurriente will need to plug up gaps to slow down the NC Central runners. Jurriente has 52 total tackles (34 solo) and 7.5 tackles for loss this year. Up front, Jackson State will lean on big boys like Justin Ragin to get it done on the line. Ragin has 10 sacks this year to lead the team.

Jackson State Offense vs NC Central Defense

Florida A&M v Jackson State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

As has been the case all season, the JSU offense will go as signal-caller Shedeur Sanders goes. The standout sophomore... last year’s Jerry Rice Award winner... is one of the FCS’ best passers with 3,409 yards and 36 touchdowns along with only four interceptions. He has also rushed for 175 yards and five scores.

Running back Sy’veon Wilkerson is also an engine that makes the offense go. He’s ran for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns this year. Wilkerson is a big-play threat when he has the ball in his hands and is capable of putting up big time numbers. He ran for 214 yards against Texas Southern earlier this season and has three 100-yard games.

Linebackers Max U’Ren and Jaki Brevard will need to bring their best against Sanders and Wilkerson. The duo has accounted for 96 total tackles this fall along with 14.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Thwarting JSU in the backfield is a lot easier said than done but NC Central is going to have to find a way if it wants any hope of pulling the upset.

It wont just be the Eagles front, though, that will need to be attentive. The secondary will as well because the Tigers have weapons on the outside also. Shane Hooks is dynamite when Sanders looks his way as he leads the team with 705 yards on and 10 touchdowns on 59 catches. Dallas Daniels is on his tail with 60 catches for 666 yards and nine scores.

The good news for NC Central is that Khalil Baker is one of the best defensive backs in the nation. Baker has five PBUs and four interceptions this year along with 51 tackles. He had a stretch of four straight games this season with a pick and has even recovered a fumble. He and fellow DB Kole Jones will have their hands full but should provide a solid matchup on the edges.

The Special Teams

Jackson State scores a lot and, even though they don’t kick a lot of field goals, kicker Mata Alejandro is always there to deliver when needed. Alejandro has connected on 12 of his 13 field goals (92.3%) and has made all but one of his PATs this year. Junior Sam Johnson will handle punts. He has booted the ball 42 times this year and averages just over 35 yards per punt. He has pinned opposing teams inside their own 20-yard line 12 times.

In the return game, JSU will have Willie Gaines take punts and Isaiah Bolden do kickoffs. Neither has made a house call yet this year but Gaines has 169 total return yards while Bolden averages 26 yards per runback.

On the other side, NC Central punter Juan Velarde will need to have his head on a swivel because Jackson State has blocked two punts this year. Velarde has not had a kick blocked and has booted 30 away for an average of 41.7 per kick. Kicker Adrian Olivo has made 11 of his 13 field goal tries (84.6%) and is 48-of-50 on his PATs.


Both of these squads bring a lot to the table on offense and this game will likely be a shootout. Whoever plays a cleaner game in terms of penalties and turnovers is likely walking out the winner. The Tigers have an overall better defense than NC Central and that is probably what will make the difference here. With two offenses that can move the ball around the field, the game winning plays will need to be made elsewhere and that’s what JSU does best.

The Eagles are a very talented team and have had a season to write home about but Jackson State is unbeaten for a reason. Throw in the fact that they’re still stewing over losing this game a year ago and it spells bad news for NC Central.

Score: Jackson State: 37 - NC Central: 31