SWAC and MEAC Teams Gearing Up for Celebration Bowl Run

Celebration Bowl May Soon Enjoy Parity
Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst

As the North Carolina A&T Aggies prepare to participate in their fourth Celebration Bowl, and Alcorn State Braves get ready for their third, the rumblings around the HBCU landscape is that there is no parody with regards to the HBCU football elite, at least at the FCS level. However, this assessment would be wrong and is strictly based off looking at the current participants, and not into the individual conferences.

There are other teams coming and the question could quickly become, “Is this enough?”

Yes, while A&T has represented the MEAC in four of the five Celebration Bowls, it could have easily been a different team.

In 2015, the conference title was split between the Aggies, Bethune-Cookman, and North Carolina Central. A&T won the tiebreaker that allowed them to represent the MEAC. After a one-year hiatus, thanks to NC Central, the Aggies were back, bringing an undefeated record with them heading into the bowl game. In 2018, it took a win over NC Central, and a Florida A&M loss to Bethune-Cookman in the annual Florida Classic, to get A&T back to Atlanta for a second consecutive year.

This season, the only reason the Aggies are representing the MEAC in the Celebration Bowl, is because FAMU, who has the best record of any D1 HBCU, is on a self-imposed, one-year postseason ban. So, as a result, A&T won the conference title because of their 22-20 victory over South Carolina State. And to the larger point, had the Bulldogs been able to pull of that victory, they would’ve have represented the MEAC in Atlanta this weekend!

Although this is the third appearance for Alcorn State, the road to Atlanta has never been easy for the Braves. Fellow SWAC frontrunner Grambling, has been the conference representative twice. Last season, the Braves barely squeezed by a Southern team that was hungry to make their first Celebration Bowl appearance.

What has been impressive for both the Braves and Aggies during this era of the Celebration Bowl, is that they’ve done it with two separate Head Coaches. Jay Hopson led Alcorn State to the inaugural game back in 2015, and after he left for the Southern Miss job, Alcorn alum Fred McNair took over, bringing his squad to two bowl games. While in Greensboro, legendary head coach Rod Broadway took the Aggies to the inaugural game, and led them to the 2017 game as well; which was his last as a collegiate coach, retiring afterwards. Current Aggies head coach Sam Washington took over an experienced squad in 2018, leading them to the Celebration Bowl, defeating Alcorn and is hoping to repeat the same feat on Saturday.

Contrary to popular belief, the MEAC and SWAC have always been highly competitive conferences. And while there has been a little luck involved with A&T and Alcorn’s consistent presence in the Celebration Bowl, others challengers are coming.

The MEAC is a grinder. There are legitimately 4-5 teams that can win the conference every season. FAMU has no intentions of going backwards with Head Coach Willie Simmons leading the way. South Carolina State, with legendary Head Coach Buddy Pough, was just knocking on the door this season. And Head Coach Terry Sims at Bethune-Cookman is always hovering, proving to be a constant nuisance to both A&T and Florida A&M. North Carolina Central knows what it takes to get there, having played in the game 3 years ago and 2nd year Head Coach Trei Oliver had an impressive 1st season at his alma mater. Norfolk State Head Coach Latrell Scott has quietly developed a solid program, and his Spartans took both FAMU & South Carolina State to the brink this season. Also, don’t sleep on the Morgan State Bears, who are a sleeping giant in the conference, with Tyrone Wheatley at the helm, building a bully in Baltimore; And Delaware State is in good hands under Head Coach Rod Milstead, who has done fantastic work on the recruiting front for the Hornets.

The SWAC has definitely been wide open and now with Southern, under Head Coach Dawson Odums, and Prairie View A&M, with Head Coach Eric Dooley, joining Broderick Fobbs and Grambling as legitimate contenders in the West Division, as well as Alabama A&M, who has the Top QB in the SWAC, Aqeel Glass, who is also an NFL Prospect, returning next season. Quietly, Jackson State, along with Alabama State, continues to get better in the East Division and played with a lot of youthful talent in 2019, will make getting to Atlanta in 2020 a daunting task for Alcorn St.

There is no doubt that the Celebration Bowl has resulted in improved competition in both conferences. The additional national exposure gives FCS HBCU teams ammunition to use in the recruiting wars. That has allowed these teams to be more visible to recruits, and is going to continue to raise the profile and talent level of these teams.

So if you are tired of seeing North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State in this bowl game, then you might want to simply enjoy it this year, because there’s a good chance you won’t see these two again in 2020.

Questions? Comments?

Twitter: @geneclemons


The Celebration Bowl is a Success

HBCU Post Season Soiree is a Hit
Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst

When the SWAC and MEAC agreed to create the Celebration Bowl, which would essentially serve as an HBCU National Championship Game, you could understand why the decision was so divisive. There were logical points on both sides of the topic. 

For those who did not support the move, they pointed to the limitations of just one bowl game. It’s only an award for two teams, despite the fact that multiple teams might be worthy of some type of post-season play. Others wondered why HBCUs would eliminate the opportunity to play in the FCS playoffs. It is already difficult enough to garner the same level of respect as Predominantly White Institutions on the field, this bowl game essentially eliminates the chance to play PWIs in the FCS and prove their equality.

People who supported the move, pointed to the irrelevance of HBCU football programs.

In years prior to the Celebration Bowl, the SWAC or MEAC, would never advance in the FCS playoffs. It was almost as if they were consider an ‘automatic victory’ for their 1st round opponent. The last HBCU to advance past the first round of the playoffs, was Tennessee State back in 2013. But, Tennessee State is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, which isn’t an HBCU conference. The thought process behind creating the Celebration Bowl, was to create an event that could celebrate everything people love about HBCU football, which would yield better postseason notariety nationally. After all, it is the only championship game on that day. Plus there are the financial ramifications of playing the game which is a much needed influx of money into both conferences.

Over the past five years, despite some of the same teams representing (North Carolina A&T ’15, ’17, ’18, ’19 and Alcorn State ’15, ’18, ’19), the Celebration Bowl has been a huge success. The attendance in the inaugural game was over 35,000 fans. In 2016, the attendance was 31,000, proving that year one was not just an anomaly. The following year, in 2017, saw the attendance dip to 25,873. But in 2018, that number was back over 31,000. These numbers dwarf the average SWAC or MEAC home game attendance combined! The 1.6 rating the game received last season, according to, drew over 50% more viewers than the FCS National Championship Game.

So as for now, the initial idea of, and the actual game, is a success. There are butts in the seats and eyes glued to televisions, and it’s not just to watch the bands perform. The question now becomes, will this be enough for HBCU programs? As they begin to grow stronger, what will be the next thing that’ll allow them to mature back toward the level of PWI programs on the field?

Will an HBCU team ever want to test themselves against the very best that the FCS has to offer?

That question remains unanswered.

Questions? Comments?

Twitter: @geneclemons


CFB Playoff Picture Already Taking Shape

FBS Playoff Picture Looks Crystal Clear
Gene Clemons

Recently on September 20th, fellow Football Gameplan colleague Chris James tweeted, “Sorry college football fans, if your team isn’t Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma or OSU… you have a 0% chance to win the title!”

It is a statement that can be disputed but can’t be taken lightly. A quarter of the way through the season, 6 teams seem poised to make a run at the title and five of them are on James list. An with respect to all other teams, the drop off to the next tier is not slight.

Unless Something Crazy Happens!

You can pencil in Clemson and Oklahoma unless something crazy happens. Clemson’s sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence is experiencing a slump to begin the season, and it hasn’t phased the Tigers. In fact, losing a bevy of defensive talent to the NFL doesn’t seem to phase them either. They just keep rolling along. Unless NC State or Wake Forest are able to catch them slipping or looking forward to their rivalry game with South Carolina, they will not be challenged for a seat at the proverbial playoff table.

Oklahoma has the top offense in the FBS… again, with a third different QB. But this time Jalen Hurts brings championship DNA and an ability to overcome adversity to the conversation. They will most likely not be challenged in Big 12 play, and that includes a Texas squad that continues to underachieve despite every advantage known to man. The offense is just too deadly with Hurts, and their defense has improved enough to punch their ticket.

Big Ten is a Big Two!

With respect to undefeated Penn State and Iowa, this conference is a two-horse race. Both the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes control their own destiny, but that destiny includes a date with Ohio State for Penn State and a matchup with Wisconsin for Iowa. Neither team seems likely to emerge victorious.

That leaves the Buckeyes and the Badgers left to duke it out in the Big 10 Championship Game, with the winner claiming their bid to the CFB Playoffs. Both teams’ offense have been impressive, but the defenses have looked like the difference. Both are mature, fast and nasty. The difference will be which offensive superstar will carry his team into the playoffs: Ohio State’s QB Justin Fields or Wisconsin’s RB Jonathan Taylor?

In the SEC, there can be only one!

We get it, the SEC is good, again! But if the scenarios I laid out above play out, there is no room for two SEC teams this season. So, despite having so many undefeated teams in the conference, one loss spells doom unless everyone loses. LSU and Alabama seem to have what it takes to represent the conference when the smoke clears.

Both teams look better than Auburn, Florida, and Georgia, who are also undefeated, but have looked beatable so far. Besides, these teams will likely cannibalize themselves by the time the selection committee has to pick the four.

The concern for Bama is the run game, as it has not looked as dominant as it has looked in past seasons. That has a chance to improve over the season as the offensive line gels, and as the running backs get more confidence.

For LSU, the concern looks to be defensively. With multiple starters sidelined, they don’t seem to be able to shut down opposing offenses. This has led to QB Joe Burrow putting up video game numbers, because they are unable to sustain a big enough lead to tap teams out with the run game.

The deciding game could be when the Tigers and Tide meet on November 9th in Tuscaloosa. It could essentially be the playoff play-in game.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons


The Specialness of Andrew Luck is up for Debate

First and Forever: Is Andrew Luck Really Special?
Gene Clemons

Another year for the Indianapolis Colts begin with questions about their quarterback’s health. This is now the fourth straight year that Andrew Luck has had injury concerns. This is in stark contrast to his predecessor Peyton Manning, who went and incredible 16 consecutive years without missing a start. National media throw up signs for concern when discussing the idea of Luck missing games. They make statements like, “The team has been built around Luck.” 

My question is why?

What is so special about Andrew Luck?

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When Luck entered the draft in 2012, he was heralded as one of the greatest quarterback prospects ever! His size, speed, arm strength, intelligence, poise under pressure, and leadership ability was supposed to make him a hybrid of Cam Newton and Peyton Manning. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said that Luck was, “The best player I’ve ever graded. He is expected to win multiple Super Bowls. He is expected to be a Hall of Famer.”

That is high praise for a guy who couldn’t lift his team to a Pac-12 championship.

The truth of the matter is that Luck has not lived up to the hype thrown his way by Kiper or any other scout that heaped unearned adulation on him. In fact, Stanford won PAC-12 championships in three out of the next four post-Luck seasons. Even digging back into his high school career at Stratford High School, his sophomore season was the only one that produced a state championship. And he was not the focal point of that team. The two seasons when he was the focus, they failed to win the chip. 

Is Luck that much different than a QB who faces far more scrutiny in Jameis Winston?

Winston has been scrutinized for being seemingly jittery in the pocket at times; so has Luck. He has been criticized for throwing untimely interceptions; so has Luck. In Luck’s first four seasons, he accounted for 101 passing touchdowns, 12 rushing touchdowns, 55 interceptions, and 32 fumbles on a team that was ready to win immediately. Winston tallied 88 passing touchdowns, nine rushing touchdowns, 58 interceptions and 38 fumbles on a team that was in full rebuild mode. Both seem to be turnover prone, but Luck has always been afforded time and excuses.

If we’re being completely honest and unbiased here, Luck has not even been the best quarterback in the class of 2012. That distinction goes to Russell Wilson, who has not only won a Superbowl, but lead his team to another Super Bowl appearance. He also boasts a higher completion percentage and 20 less interceptions, despite playing a full season more than Luck. WIlson has never enjoyed the shine of Luck, he has been constantly questioned throughout his career, even when it came time to pay him. The Colts just dropped a bag of money in Luck’s lap without giving it a second thought.

Probably the biggest indictment of Luck, is how completely normal he becomes in the games that matter the most.

In eight playoff games, he has only completed 56.4% of his passes and has more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Those types of numbers would have many other cities looking for an upgrade at quarterback, not looking to double down.

“Is this your king?” Is this the golden child touched by the football gods? Or is this just another good, not great quarterback compiling regular season stats? What makes him different than Matt Stafford, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, or a slew of other quarterbacks to come through the NFL and do nothing more than be ‘good’ in the regular season, build up their team’s hopes, collect large sums of money, and let them all come crashing down upon
the discovery that he is not enough?

There’s no doubt that Luck has talent, but there are many talented quarterbacks. 
Everyone told us that Luck would be special. When presented with the history, we should have known better than to believe them. How many times have we been fed the same lines about quarterbacks? Forever! You think we would have learned our lesson by now. The Colts will more than likely back the Brinks truck up again and drop another truckload of money on Luck’s doorstep.

And that is what’s special about Luck.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons



Alabama’s Greatest Show on Turf

Campus Kickoff: Alabama’s Offense Has the Potential to Explode in 2019
Gene Clemons

When Nick Saban introduces his 2019 version of Alabama football, many of the questions will surround star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. While many will focus on whether Saban will add to his legacy, or if Tagovailoa will become the first Tide quarterback to win the Heisman trophy, both storylines will heavily depend on the Alabama unit that is the new Greatest Show on Turf: the receiving corps.
This group of Tide receivers may be the most talented collection of receivers on one team…ever! With all due respect to the ’96 Florida Gators, ’99 Florida State Seminoles, ’00 Miami Hurricanes, and the ’12 Clemson Tigers, who all had ridiculously good receiving corps, the Tide possess a level of depth, aptitude, and refined skills that has never been seen in college.

This unit is led by 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, who has proven worthy of consideration for the top pick in the 2020 NFL draft. He has everything you need in a franchise receiver: size, speed, agility, explosion, and hands. His fluidity in and out of routes is something to admire and he also has big-play ability. His 63 receptions for 1315 yards and 14 touchdowns were also good for consensus 1st Team All-SEC and All-American honors.

Fellow junior, Henry Ruggs III, hauled in 11 touchdowns and 741 yards last season. Ruggs possesses first-round potential and is most likely using this season as a coming out party, similar to Jeudy and Tagovailoa after 2 quality seasons for the Tide.

The third immensely-talented junior pass catcher is Devonta Smith, who introduced himself to the world in the 2018 National Championship game when he caught the 41-yard touchdown pass that made Tagovailoa a household name. He followed that touchdown up with a sophomore campaign that amassed 693 yards, on 43 receptions and six touchdowns.

Despite the talented pass-catching options in front of him (including tight end Irv Smith Jr), sophomore Jaylen Waddle earned quality time on the field and earned Freshman All-American honors. He was second on the team in receiving yards (848) and third on the team in receiving touchdowns (7). He also proved to be a weapon on special teams, averaging 14 yards per punt return and scoring one touchdown.

Adding to the unit’s depth are two intriguing redshirt sophomores in Chadarius Townsend and Tyrell Shavers. Townsend made his mark as a special teamer last season, but has s good mix of receiving and running ability and could be in the mix to spell the top four pass catchers. Shavers is a 6’6 athlete who could mature into a great possession guy and jump ball specialist.

Pushing those two is true freshman (and Canadian import) John Metchie. Metchie is a highly-touted prep receiver who enrolled early at Alabama and flashed signs that he may be a factor sooner, rather than later during Alabama’s spring game where he had one deep grab in traffic and several other catches that kept the chains moving. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Nick Saban in his time at Bama, is that playing time is a meritocracy and he doesn’t mind playing freshmen.

It is an embarrassment of riches for Tagovailoa and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. There’s a good chance that this group will produce three first round NFL selections and five selections in the first two days of the draft. That would be a feat that would put them above the rest, helping make the case for them being the best receiving corps that has ever existed in college.

Stay tuned because the “Greatest Show on Turf” opens August 31st in Tuscaloosa against Duke and will only be available for a limited time. Enjoy it while you can.

Questions? Comments?


Tweet: @geneclemons

FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings

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FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Running Backs


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FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Slot Receiver Prospects


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FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Defensive End Prospects


FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Defensive Tackle Prospects


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FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Inside Linebacker Prospects


FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Outside Linebacker Prospects


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FBGP Scouting’s 2019 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Defensive Backs

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