Even while the SWAC has grown and the MEAC dropped in membership, the former just can’t seem to win the annual Celebration Bowl between the two FCS conferences composed of HBCU programs.

Florida A&M, which departed the MEAC for the SWAC in 2021, hopes to take matters into its own hands on Saturday. The SWAC champion Rattlers and MEAC champ Howard will square off in their first appearances in the eighth renewal of the season-ending bowl.

The MEAC leads 6-1 in the bowl, winning five straight times since Grambling State posted the SWAC’s only triumph in 2016. In each of the past two years, SWAC champ Jackson State was upset as a double-figure favorite.

Following is a preview capsule of the Celebration Bowl. The winner is usually recognized as the HBCU national champion.


Cricket Celebration Bowl: Howard (6-5) vs. Florida A&M (11-1)

Kickoff – Noon ET Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta (ABC)

Series – Florida A&M leads 27-11 (last meeting: FAMU won 39-7 at home on Nov. 16, 2019)

Coaches – Howard: Larry Scott (14-21, fourth season; 18-23 overall); Florida A&M: Willie Simmons (44-13, fifth season; 65-24 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Howard: QB Quinton Williams (178 of 298, 2,158 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs; 110 rush yards, 5 TDs), LT Anim Dankwah (6-foot-8, 362 pounds; two-time All-MEAC first team), S Kenny Gallop Jr. (58 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery); Florida A&M: QB Jeremy Moussa (195 of 339, 2,604 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INTs), LB Isaiah Major (100 tackles, 11.5 TFL, INT, fumble recovery, 5 QB hurries), DE Anthony Dunn Jr. (43 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 8 QB hurries)

Notable – Ten of FAMU’s 11 wins are by 10-plus points; Howard is more accustomed to tight finishes, going 3-3 in games decided by seven or fewer points. Each team boasts a strong defense, with SWAC champ FAMU ranked second in the FCS in both fewest points (14.2) and yards (267.3) allowed per game, and MEAC champ Howard No. 1 in fewest passing yards per game (129.5). Howard, though, is 0-4 when it’s allowed 175+ rushing yards, so the Rattlers will use runs by Terrell Jennings (605 yards, nine TDs) to try to set up passes by Moussa (SWAC offensive player of the year) to Marcus Riley (832 receptions, 570 yards, five TDs) and Jah’Marae Sheread (46-441-2). Williams has 7,547 career passing yards, but the Bison want to try to establish the run with Jarrett Hunter (602 yards, eight TDs) and breakaway threats Eden James and Ian Wheeler. Gallop and Major won their respective conference’s defensive player of the year award. The special teams could be just that: Howard’s Aaron Bickerton is 8-for-8 on field goals and has gained fair catches on 16 of his 39 punts (40.9-yard average), while FAMU’s Trey Wilhoit (punter) and Sheread (punt returner) are past All-Americans. FAMU is +5 in turnover margin (20 gained, 15 lost); Howard +1 (eight, nine).

Prediction – Florida A&M 29, Howard 20