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SWAC bets big on the Celebration Bowl

(The Undefeated)
Questions. Questions. Questions.
There were lots of them coming out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama. Some were no-brainers, while others garnered raised eyebrows.
  • Is Grambling State quarterback DeVante Kincade the right choice for the SWAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Award?
  • Is Jackson State defensive end Keontre Anderson the right man as SWAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year?
  • East Division defending champion Alcorn State was named the preseason favorite to capture the division. What do Alabama State (selected to finish second with 66 points), Jackson State (59), Alabama A&M (45) and even Mississippi Valley State (20) have to say about that?
  • And, in the West, SWAC champion Grambling State was chosen as the overall favorite after amassing a conference-best 85 points in the voting by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
And fans and media alike had questions about the Celebration Bowl, the postseason game that was started in 2015 that features the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the SWAC. The reason is simple: When commissioner Duer Sharp decided to discontinue the SWAC championship game after the upcoming season, it put the spotlight squarely on the ESPN-owned bowl game as the marquee game of football for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The Celebration Bowl, whose title sponsor in its first two years was the Air Force Reserve, will be played in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 16 and broadcast on ABC. If the game does well — in attendance, national TV viewership, sponsorship and marketability — everybody wins.
“We’re rolling all our chips into the Celebration Bowl, and it’s going to be big,” said Grambling State University coach Broderick Fobbs, whose Tigers defeated North Carolina Central 10-9 in last December’s Celebration Bowl, anointing Grambling as the best HBCU team in the country just a few years after the Tigers went 1-11. Fobbs continued: “All 10 of our schools here in the SWAC conference and also in the MEAC conference, we’re considered FBS programs now. So when you’ve got an opportunity to play in a game of that magnitude on national television, with the benefits that it brings, it’s huge for all teams involved.”
Alabama A&M coach James Spady admitted to not being thrilled about the decision to drop the championship game but said he believes the SWAC and MEAC need to make the most out of being the only FCS conferences with a postseason bowl game.
“We have to throw ourselves behind the Celebration Bowl,” Spady said. “It makes us unique in college football. We’ll be able to do that as well at this level. It’s a great recruiting tool.”
Nobody knows that better than former North Carolina A&T State running back Tarik Cohen. The diminutive running back rushed for 295 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in the inaugural Celebration Bowl, putting his name — and his school — on the national stage. Although the days when HBCUs routinely churned out future NFL greats such as Walter Payton, Steve McNair and Michael Strahan are past, the nationally televised bowl is an opportunity for a few players to showcase their talents on a stage that players of yesteryear never had. Cohen parlayed his performance into a fourth-round pick by the Chicago Bears in this year’s NFL draft.
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