Southern’s game against No. 7 Georgia at 11 a.m. Saturday is potentially the biggest mismatch of the weekend in college football.
Mostly it’s an opportunity for the Jaguars to make $650,000 and for the Bulldogs to have a useful but not overly challenging exercise before returning to Southeastern Conference play next week against Alabama.
But it has additional meaning for nine Southern players from Georgia, most of whom are from the Atlanta area, less than an hour from Georgia’s campus in Athens.
They grew up in the shadow of Sanford Stadium and one of the biggest football programs in the country. They had varying levels of allegiance to the Bulldogs, who didn’t offer any of them scholarships.
But Saturday, for three hours or so, they and their teammates will be in Sanford Stadium, playing “between the hedges” competing at the highest level of college football.
“We realize this is a nonconference game, but we’re going into the SEC to compete,” said nose tackle Gabe Echols, who’s from Decatur, Georgia. “Everybody doesn’t get this opportunity, especially being a (Southwestern Athletic Conference) school.”
When Rocky Balboa first entered the ring against Apollo Creed, he accepted that going the distance, regardless of the outcome, was a realistic and worthwhile goal.
Similarly, the Jaguars’ goal is to perform their best and come as close to playing a perfect game as they can — “Be disciplined, do the little things, play our ball and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” guard Anthony Mosley said.
If they do that, they’ll be OK with however it translates on the scoreboard.
“It’s always exciting when you get a chance to go home, so they’ve definitely been talking about it, they’re excited about it,” coach Dawson Odums said. “The team wants to play well for them. I think that’s what it’s all about, and I think they’ll really have a great time. Some have never been to that stadium. Some (teammates) have never been to the state of Georgia. I think it will be exciting for our team. It’ll be a good trip for us, and we’re going up there for business as usual.”
Wide receiver Bradley Coleman, who’s from Norcross, said he has been to Sanford Stadium “five to seven times” as a spectator.
“That stadium gets loud,” he said, “but I think it will be a good experience for everybody to go and play in that kind of environment.”
Southern opened the season against another Football Bowl Subdivision program when it visited Louisiana Tech — and lost 62-15. Every year, the Jaguars play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on national TV when they face Grambling in the Bayou Classic.
The past two seasons, they have played in another NFL stadium — NRG Stadium in Houston — competing for the SWAC championship, winning two years ago and losing last season.
But this is different.
“The environment is going to be great. The atmosphere is going to be great,” Echols said. “I’m looking forward to playing in that stadium. It’ll be the biggest stadium I’ve ever played in. We’re just looking forward to going up there to fight, play hard and have fun. We’re looking forward to competing and seeing where our ability to compete is.”
Echols said the game also is an opportunity to show the Bulldogs “what they missed” by not recruiting him.
Southern wasn’t competitive against Tech and has lost games against four FBS teams in the past four seasons by a combined score of 235-55.
But within these games are opportunities for individual accomplishments: Tech challenged cornerback Danny Johnson, and he came away with two interceptions.
“It’s a great chance to make a name for yourself, show everybody what you want to show them and get your name out there,” he said. “You have to play against the best to be the best. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to put your talent on display.”
Mosley, from Cairo, Georgia, said he has been “dreaming about playing Georgia” since he signed with Southern three years ago and saw it on the schedule.
“Now it’s here,” he said, “and we’re ready.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.