The last week of the MEAC regular season is upon us and it’s full of intrigue, just as it was a year ago. Not so much in the SWAC where one championship game participant had been determined and the other is on the verge of clinching. Here’s what’s in store this week.
One year after crowning an unprecedented five co-champions, the MEAC is headed for what could be a somewhat similar situation this year. Headed into this week’s five-game MEAC schedule, three teams could come out as co-champions though only one can represent the conference in the new Celebration Bowl vs. the SWAC champion on Dec. 19 in Atlanta. North Carolina A&T controls its own destiny as it relates to this year’s championship.
The Aggies are 9-1 overall and, most importantly, 7-0 in league play headed into their final game showdown at home Saturday (1 p.m.) vs. the rival North Carolina Central Eagles. The 7-3 NCCU Eagles are 6-1 in MEAC play, one game behind the Aggies, as is 8-2 Bethune-Cookman who closes out its season Saturday at the Florida Classic vs. Florida A&M (1-9, 1-6).
A year ago, A&T was similarly in a position to claim the outright title and what was then an automatic FCS playoff berth in its final game against NCCU but lost 21-14. Coupled with several other final-day results, five co-champions were crowned. Co-champion Morgan State represented the league in the FCS playoffs while the other four co-champs stayed home. This year, an A&T win gives the Aggies the title outright and means they will represent the league in the inaugural Celebration Bowl. If the Aggies fall however, a host of tie-breaking procedures come into play based on the outcome of the 2:30 p.m. B-CU/FAMU game.
With senior quarterback Kwashaun Quick likely sidelined because of injury, A&T will rely on two freshmen under center. Redshirt freshman Lamar Raynard (55-122-1, 632 yards, 7 TDs) has played in all ten games while true freshman Kylil Carter (8-22-0, 133 yards, 2 TDs) has played in only the last two and was a difference maker in wins over South Carolina State and Delaware State. Both have rushed for one touchdown. The Aggies feature the conference’s leading rusher and scorer in Tarik Cohen (1,136 yards, 113.6 ypg., 12 TDs). Junior wideout Denzel Keyes has 33 receptions and eight receiving TDs.
The NCCU offense is led by junior quarter back Malcolm Bell (112-215-8, 52.1%) who has thrown for 1,381 yards and eight touchdowns. Reshirt freshman running back Dorrell McClain is the second leading rusher in the conference with 791 yards (79.1 ypg.) and seven TDs. Armani Lanier is the Eagles’ top receiving threat with 31 receptions for 359 yards and six TDs. The teams appear nearly even on paper, with both at or near the top in several statistical categories.
An NCCU win and B-CU loss would leave A&T and NCCU tied for the MEAC title with 7-1 records. The Celebration Bowl berth would then go to NC Central by virtue of its head-to-head win over A&T. If both NC Central and B-CU win, there would be a three-way tie for the MEAC title as NCCU, B-CU and A&T would all have 7-1 league records and would have similar 1-1 records in games between each other.
The MEAC tie-breaker that would then come into play is non-conference wins vs. FBS or FCS opponents. NCCU would be eliminated based on no non-conference FBS or FCS victories while A&T and B-CU would remain tied. A&T defeated Elon of the FCS and B-CU defeated FCS and SWAC member Grambling State. The next determinant, according to MEAC tie-breaking procedure, is college football ratings compiled by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. Currently, A&T is ranked 137th while B-CU is ranked 175th. If it comes down to this ranking, A&T would represent the MEAC in the Celebration Bowl if it does not fall below B-CU following a loss to NCCU.
Grambling State’s 49-31 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff Saturday clinched the West Division championship and spot in the Dec. 5 SWAC Championship Game for the Tigers (8-2, 8-0 SWAC W). The G-Men have just one game remaining against Southern on Nov. 28 at the New Orleans Super Dome’s Bayou Classic. Alcorn State (6-3, 5-2 SWAC E) clinched at least a share of the East Division crown with its 65-13 thrashing of Texas Southern. The Braves can win the outright division title and a spot opposite Grambling in the championship game with a home win this Saturday vs. Alabama A&M (3-6, 3-4 E) or a win in its season-ending date next week at Jackson State.