Jackson State football vs. South Carolina State in Celebration Bowl: Our score prediction

Khari Thompson
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Jackson State football has a chance to win its first HBCU national title since 1996 in the 2021 Celebration Bowl (11 a.m., ABC) on Dec. 18 in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

To capture Deion Sanders' first bowl game win as a coach, the Tigers (11-1) will have to take down South Carolina State (6-5), which has the most MEAC championships with 18. 

Historically, the MEAC has dominated the Celebration Bowl, winning four of the five games.

However, all the MEAC wins came from North Carolina A&T which has since moved on to the Big South conference.

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The only SWAC team to win the Celebration Bowl was Grambling in 2016. 

Jackson State and South Carolina State are making their first appearances in the game, which began in 2015. 

Will the Tigers bring a national title back to Jackson? Here are three things to watch and a score prediction for the game: 

Prime opportunity for Shedeur Sanders to bounce back

Freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders went 8-for-16 passing for 85 yards in the SWAC title game against Prairie View A&M.

He didn't get as much protection as usual from his offensive line, as he was sacked three times. But it still was a performance far below his standard. 

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Now comes the big stage. A nationally televised game in Atlanta, where JSU coach Deion Sanders — the quarterback's father — began his NFL career.

It's a chance to see how the star freshman responds after an off game. With 29 passing touchdowns, he needs three to break the single-season JSU record.

Chances are, he'll have a good game. South Carolina State has given up 30 points or more in six of its 11 games.

South Carolina State QB Corey Fields Jr. prone to interceptions

South Carolina State quarterback Corey Fields Jr. has thrown almost as many interceptions as touchdowns. 

He's 169-for-333 passing for 2,144 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, 

And this week he takes on the most ferocious pass-rush in the FCS. Jackson State leads FCS with 53 sacks, which is 15 more than any other team. 

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SWAC Newcomer of the Year James Houston had a critical interception against Prairie View that put the SWAC title game away. He and Aubrey Miller, who recently passed 100 tackles, should have a major impact on the game with their pass-rushing abilities. 

Deion Sanders vs. Buddy Pough: Coaches of the year square off

Deion Sanders takes pride in being named SWAC coach of the year. He calls himself COTY at press conferences now. 

This week, he gets to test his coaching ability against South Carolina State's Buddy Pough, the back-to-back MEAC coach of the year who has won eight conference titles in 20 years. 

It's a seasoned coach against an NFL legend with one college coaching season under his belt. 

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On paper, with a defense loaded with Power Five transfers, a star-in-the-making at quarterback and a perfect record against FCS teams, Jackson State appears to have an advantage in talent. But they have to show up ready to play and respond to the right calls. Those are Deion Sanders' responsibilities. 

Celebration Bowl 2021 score prediction

Jackson State 35, South Carolina State 17: Jackson State will cruise to its first national title in a quarter century. Jackson State has held all but two opponents to 17 points or less, and this game should be no different. A strong bounce-back performance from Shedeur Sanders will lead the Tigers to victory in Deion Sanders' return to Atlanta.