North Carolina Central University is likely headed to the postseason following this week’s regular-season finale — but it remains to be seen whether that is the Celebration Bowl or the FCS playoffs.
NCCU, 8-2 and ranked no. 14 in the FCS Coaches Poll, fell from pole position in the race for the MEAC title and Celebration Bowl on Saturday when it suffered a humiliating defeat to Howard University on the road.
Howard is now in the driver’s seat in the MEAC race and can clinch the conference title AND Celebration Bowl slot with a win over Morgan State on Saturday. Meanwhile, NCCU will have to take care of business against Delaware State and if Howard wins, it will head to Atlanta while NC Central will be looking at a playoff spot.
“It’s like just just like any other week, just like any other game, we’re going to prepare the exact same,” Oliver said. “It’s not about Delaware State, but it’s about us catching the ball, it’s about us tackling., It’s about us communicating in the back end and not giving up cheap points. It’s about us. That’s what it’s about. And we have to get back to who we are. And we did not look like the number seven ranked team in the country Saturday night.”
Whether North Carolina Central goes to the Celebration Bowl or the FCS playoffs, its health will be a question mark. Oliver said many of his players were dealing with a post-homecoming bug and several are likely done for the year. Quarterback Davius Richard suffered a painful injury during the game, which he played through.
“Davius, he’s a great player. And he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around. He dislocated his finger during the game and it took a while for him to get to reduce it. They finally popped it back in and he continued to fight. But he is what he is.”
North Carolina Central has been to the Celebration Bowl twice, losing in 2016 and winning in 2022. It has never been to the FCS playoffs. The school’s most recent playoff appearance took place in 2006 as a member of Division II with Oliver on the staff as an assistant.
“You know, it’s a blessing when you are the talk of championships or the opportunity to go to the playoffs,” Oliver said. “So we have an opportunity to go to playoffs. And if we do get in, it’ll be great to host the game. But we don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. Get in there and just get up, knocked out the first round. We want to represent our institution as well as our conference. That’s what it’s about.”