The Southern football team is reversing roles this week.
Last week, the Jaguars were the ones going on the road to play a team from a higher classification, at least in part to land a significant payday.
Southern took home $250,000 for the short bus trip to play Louisiana-Lafayette, losing 45-6 to the Sun Belt Conference favorite Ragin’ Cajuns.
Now the Jaguars play their home opener Saturday against Central Methodist, an NAIA school that will receive $50,000 for its 13-hour bus trip to play the defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champions.
It’s common in college football, especially in late August and early September, for teams from a lower classification looking for a much-needed payday to find a match with a team from a higher classification looking for an opponent that doesn’t figure to be as taxing on them as the conference foes that lie ahead.
Those matchups often feature opponents with some sort of familiarity with one another, but this pairing is one that hasn’t happened before.
It happened in part because the Jaguars are playing a 12th game for the second consecutive season for the first time in school history and needed to find an extra nonconference opponent. In addition to playing UL-Lafayette, Southern plays Northwestern State next Saturday.
When Athletic Director William Broussard went looking for an opponent to fill the Sept. 6 slot, CMU wasn’t immediately on his radar.
“Obviously for us, if you want to play a Division II or an NAIA team, you start with the most recognizable brands,” Broussard said. “You want to bring in somebody with some familiarity. So you start looking around.”
Broussard looked to Tyler, Texas, for an HBCU opponent in Texas College. He also looked at Virginia University of Lynchburg, Lincoln University, Concordia College Alabama and the University of Faith, all of whom have a SWAC opponent this year and are familiar to SWAC programs.
“As I went down the list,” Broussard said, “lots of them had openings, but none of them had an opening for Sept. 6. Lots of them had openings for Oct. 18.”
Southern has an open date on Oct. 18, but neither Broussard nor coach Dawson Odums wanted their initial open date to come that early in the season, especially with the second coming Nov. 22, the Jaguars’ traditional break a week before the Bayou Classic against Grambling.
“We really wanted to put someone in that opening game (at home),” Broussard said. “It was just difficult to find someone.”
Broussard essentially placed a want ad on FootballScoop.com, a website routinely used to announce coaching and scheduling vacancies.
“We posted an announcement on there to see who would respond, and we got about a half-dozen responses,” Broussard said. “We put the guarantee out there, and they were willing to come for the guarantee.”
And just who are they?
Central Methodist is a private university affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It’s located on a 55-acre spread in Fayette, Missouri, a rural community with a population of fewer than 3,000.
The university was founded in 1855 but was closed from June 1861 to June 1868 because of the Civil War. The Battle of Fayette, which took place 150 years ago this month, concluded on what is the campus’ current location.
As for sports, the Eagles are an NAIA program and as such have 24 scholarships to hand out. They’re a member of the Heart of America Athletic Conference.
CMU has been playing football since 1896 but has never played in a postseason game. The Eagles’ cumulative record is 340-580-28. Last season, they were 4-7 overall and 3-6 in their conference, finishing seventh.
Among the other teams on CMU’s schedule are Evangel (no, not the one in Shreveport) and Baker (no, not the one in East Baton Rouge Parish), though the Eagles enrollment of 1,185 — their largest ever — is more in line with those two high schools’ than that of Southern (nearly 7,000).
The Jaguars coaching staff has spent this week getting up to speed on the football team, including standouts in receiver Paul Stevens, defensive tackle Hunter Kelley and cornerback Brandon Justin, but the team is as much of an unknown commodity as the university because it has not played yet this season.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.