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Stan Becton | | December 15, 2021

Everything you need to know about this year's Celebration Bowl

2021 Celebration Bowl preview: Jackson State vs. South Carolina State

The 2021 Celebration Bowl is almost here. The HBCU football game has sold out days in advance and excitement is as high as it has ever been for the latest edition. Before the action on the field starts, here's what you need to know.

Everything you need to know about the Celebration Bowl

How the Celebration Bowl works

Since 2015, the MEAC and SWAC conference champions face off in a postseason football clash known as the Celebration Bowl. In the Celebration Bowl, two of the premier HBCU football programs in a particular year at the FCS level meet to determine who is the best. Traditionally, the game is in Atlanta, Georgia, a hub for HBCU culture. The Celebration Bowl celebrates great football and HBCU tradition on a national stage.

2021 Celebration Bowl: The latest news and live updates for the 2021 Celebration Bowl

How are teams decided?

The winner of the SWAC championship game gets one bid to the Celebration Bowl and the MEAC regular-season champion gets the other. In the event of co-champions in the MEAC, tiebreaker procedures are used to determine who receives the Celebration Bowl berth.

Celebration Bowl history

Here's the list of all-time Celebration Bowl champions. The MEAC leads the SWAC in the all-time series 4-1. North Carolina A&T has the most Celebration Bowl victories with four.

Year Champion Score Runner-Up Site
2019 North Carolina A&T (MEAC) 64-44 Alcorn State (SWAC) Mercedes-Benz Stadium,
Atlanta GA
2018 North Carolina A&T (MEAC) 24-22 Alcorn State (SWAC) Mercedes-Benz Stadium,
Atlanta GA
2017 North Carolina A&T (MEAC) 21-14 Grambling State (SWAC) Mercedes-Benz Stadium,
Atlanta GA
2016 Grambling State (SWAC) 10-9 North Carolina Central (MEAC) Georgia Dome,
Atlanta GA
2015 North Carolina A&T (MEAC) 41-34 Alcorn State (SWAC) Georgia Dome,
Atlanta GA

2021 Celebration Bowl

When is the 2021 Celebration Bowl

This year's Celebration Bowl will be at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 18 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Who's playing in the 2021 Celebration Bowl?

In the 2021 Celebration Bowl, Jackson State will represent the SWAC and South Carolina State will represent the MEAC. Both programs won their conference championships.

Here's how the two programs stack up:

Jackson State 2021 STATs South Carolina State
11-1 (8-0) Record (Conf) 6-5 (5-0)
No. 14 FCS Coaches rank NR
29.0 Points per game 24.36
13.5 Points allowed 27.64
349.8 Yards per game 353.1
254.67 Pass yards per game 210.18
95.1 Rush yards per game 141.9
255.9 Yards allowed per game 353.4
156.42 Pass yards allowed per game 222.18
99.5 Rush yards allowed per game 131.2
Shedeur Sanders
3056 yards (29 TDs, 6 INT)
Passing leader Corey Fields Jr. 
2144 yards (14 TDs, 12 INT)
Peytton Pickett
435 yards (5 TD)
Rushing leader Kendrell Flowers
637 yards (9 TD)
Keith Corbin III
897 yards (6 TD)
Receiving leader Shaquan Davis
769 yards (5 TD)
Aubrey Miller Jr.
100 total tackles (11.5 TFL, 6.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, )
Defense Chad Gilchrist
70 tackles ( 7 TFL, 1 SK, 2 FF)

2021 Celebration Bowl Coaches

Jackson State is led by head coach Deion "Coach Prime" Sanders. Sanders was named FCS Coach of the Year and SWAC Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to an undefeated season against FCS opponents. 

AWARDS: Deion Sanders wins the 2021 Eddie Robinson Award

South Carolina State is led by head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough. The longtime veteran is making his first Celebration Bowl appearance after earning MEAC Coach of the Year honors. Under Pough's leadership, South Carolina State won its conference-leading 18th MEAC title.

Top players in the 2021 Celebration Bowl

Jackson State

  • QB Shedeur Sanders
  • WR Keith Corbin III
  • DL James Houston
  • DL Antwan Owens
  • LB Aubrey Miller
  • LB Keonte Hampton
  • S Shilo Sanders
  • RS Isaiah Bolden

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders won the 2021 Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS. His top target all season has been wide receiver Keith Corbin III, who leads the team in catches and receiving yards. 

TOP PLAYS: Here are the top-five plays from Shedeur Sanders' freshman year

The Jackson State defense features elite players across the board, led by James Houston. Houston's 21.5 tackles for loss lead a Tigers defense that has four players with 10 or more tackles for loss this season. Behind a dominant front seven is safety Shilo Sanders patrolling the secondary.

In the return game, Isaiah Bolden is one of the best in the nation. His kick return for a touchdown in the SWAC Championship was a turning point in the game.

South Carolina State

  • QB Corey Fields Jr.
  • RB Kendrell Flowers
  • DL Jablonski Green
  • LB Chad Gilchrist
  • LB BJ Davis
  • CB Decobie Durant
  • DB Zafir Kelly

Kendrell Flowers powers the South Carolina State offense. He leads the team in rushing and provides a steady pace to the offense's rhythm. 

ALL-HBCU: The top players, by position, in the 2021 HBCU football season

On defense, Jablonski Green is one of the top sophomores in the country. Behind him are tackling machines in Chad Gilchrist and BJ Davis. As good as that trio is, cornerback Decobie Durant steals the show after being named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. When Durant doesn't make a play on the ball in the Bulldog secondary, it's probably because Zafir Kelly made one instead. 

Keys to the game

Defense and turnovers

The keys to what team will win the 2021 Celebration Bowl will be defense and turnovers. Jackson State has one of the top defenses in the FCS, while South Carolina State has the best defense in the MEAC. Either team's defense could impose its will in this game, giving the latest edition of the Celebration Bowl a chance to be an old-school defensive slugfest.

MORE HBCU FOOTBALL: See all that's happened in the 2021 HBCU Football season

Moreover, whichever defense can create the most turnovers has a great chance to win the game. As great as Shedeur Sanders has been for Jackson State, he's still a freshman that struggled in his last outing, throwing an interception and completing just eight passes. South Carolina State quarterback Corey Fields Jr. has 12 interceptions this year. Fields taking care of the football will be vital to the success of the Bulldog offense.

Under the radar Celebration Bowl MVP candidates

Jackson State

  • Peytton Pickett
  • Malachi Wideman
  • Silmon-Craig, Cam'Ron

In the last game, Peytton Pickett carried the Jackson State offense through its struggles, rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The Jackson State rushing attack often flies under the radar, but a strong follow-up performance from Pickett could see him take home Offensive MVP.

Elsewhere, two impact playmakers, wide receiver Malachi Wideman and defensive back Cam'Ron Silmon-Craig, could be the unheralded stars of the Celebration Bowl. Wideman is only a freshman, but he leads the team in receiving touchdowns after gaining comfortability in the offense as the season has progressed. Silmon-Craig is tied for the team lead in interceptions and could win MVP if he can force turnovers under the bright lights.

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South Carolina State

  • WR Will Vereen
  • WR Shaquan Davis
  • DL Patrick Godbolt

The South Carolina State wide receiver duo of Will Vereen and Shaquan Davis are candidates to win Offensive MVP in this year's Celebration Bowl. It's likely the Bulldogs will have to pass to win the game so a big day could come from either wideout.

On the other side of the ball, defensive lineman Patrick Godbolt has 11 tackles for loss this season to show his ability to make plays in the backfield. Yet, it's what Godbolt does on special teams that could get him Defensive MVP honors. Godbolt's two blocked kicks lead the team; with more game-changing plays like that on Saturday, Godbolt could win the award.

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