GAME PREVIEW: Alcorn State vs. North Carolina Central (MEAC/SWAC Challenge)

TV: ESPN (Streaming)

644 days… That’s how long it will be between games for NCCU when the Eagles take the field on Saturday against Alcorn State in the Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

This will be NCCU’s and Alcorn State’s second appearance in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. NCCU suffered a 40-24 defeat to Prairie View A&M in 2018, while the Braves’ contest at Bethune-Cookman was suspended in the second quarter due to weather conditions.

Alcorn State has won all five meetings with the NCCU Eagles between 1970-76. The last match-up was on Sept. 25, 1976, a 23-17 home victory by the Braves. In Alcorn State’s Black College National Championship year of 1974, Alcorn beat NCCU 14-12 in a tightly-contested contest.

Alcorn State’s last game played was in the 2019 Celebration Bowl on Dec. 21, 2019, a loss to North Carolina A&T in a 64-44 shootout.

ALCORN STATE: In four seasons, Fred “Air” McNair (Alcorn State, 1992) has coached the Braves to four SWAC East Division titles and a pair of SWAC Championships. The two-time SWAC Coach of the Year winner brought the Braves to the Celebration Bowl in both 2018 and 2019. He is the original “Air McNair” and the older brother of the late Tennessee Titans quarterback and 2003 Co-Most Valuable Player, Steve “Air II” McNair. McNair hoists a 22-8 SWAC record after four seasons, and 30-19 overall. He became the first SWAC Coach of the Year winner at Alcorn since Cardell Jones in 1992.

NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL: Head coach Trei Oliver (N.C. Central, 1998) is in his second season as a college head coach. With 22 years of college coaching experience that includes five conference championships and three black college football national titles, Oliver returned to his alma mater as North Carolina Central University’s 24th head football coach in December 2018. A native of Yorktown, Virginia, Oliver earned all-conference and all-region honors as a defensive back and punter during his four-year playing career at NCCU from 1994-97. The 1998 graduate later returned to NCCU as an assistant coach from 2003-06, helping the Eagles to back-to-back Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championships in 2005 and 2006.

When we last saw the Eagles in 2019, NCCU boasted the top pass defense in the MEAC, allowing just 170.0 passing yards per contest (11th in FCS). NCCU’s 14 interceptions, good for second in the MEAC, were the most picks by the Eagles since 2013 (14).

The Eagles secondary is anchored by DB Steven Stokes (Baltimore, Md.), who in 2019 finished with 62 tackles (46 solo), including 7.0 hits for a loss and a pair of fumble recoveries in 2019. He placed third on the team and 10th in the conference with eight passes defended (2 interceptions, 6 pass break-ups).

As a freshman in 2019, NCCU QB Davius Richard achieved the sixth-best passing performance in school history versus Norfolk State (Nov. 9, 2019), amassing 384 passing yards with three touchdowns, completing 30 of 46 throws. Only NCCU hall of fame quarterback Earl “Air” Harvey (1985-88) has thrown for more passing yards, as he holds the top five single-game passing efforts in school history.

PREDICTION: NCCU 23, Alcorn 19