Southern enters the Bayou Classic against Grambling knowing it can’t win the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
Grambling enters Saturday’s regular-season finale in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome knowing, no matter what happens, it will play for the SWAC title a week later in Houston.
But the coaches of both teams said Monday that neither the absence nor presence of a title shot will interfere with the rivals’ task at hand.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re not playing for the championship,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said during the weekly SWAC coaches teleconference. “But we understand the value of the opportunity to play in the Classic. We get to play for the state of Louisiana championship on national television. Nobody else gets to do that.”
While Southern knows its season will end Saturday, the Tigers hope to be playing well into December. A victory against Alcorn State in the SWAC title game would send Grambling into the inaugural Celebration Bowl against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina A&T on Dec. 19 in Atlanta.
“At the beginning of the season, our goals are to get double-digit wins, win the conference and win the Bayou Classic,” Tigers coach Broderick Fobbs said. “This is a chance to accomplish one of our goals. We’re here to win every ballgame and to play the same way — the right way — every week.”
Alcorn headed to title game
Grambling isn’t the only team with another game to play before it competes for the championship.
Defending SWAC champion Alcorn State, which secured the spot as Grambling’s opponent when it beat Alabama A&M on Saturday, plays at Jackson State on Saturday.
Last season, the Braves were 7-1 and headed to the SWAC title game when they lost to their in-state rival 34-31. Alcorn coach Jay Hopson said he thinks that loss helped the Braves, who beat Southern 38-24 in the title game.
“We were kind of on a roll,” he said. “You never want to lose a game, but sometimes a loss does refocus your team, and I think that loss last year probably helped us a little bit.”
More Hebert headlines
Former Glen Oaks running back Johnta’ Hebert finished his Prairie View career with a bang.
Hebert rushed for 212 yards and touchdowns of 19, 76 and 7 yards in a 56-14 victory against Jackson State on Saturday.
He is one of two players in the nation who averages 200 all-purpose yards per game, and he is the only player in the nation with at least 500 or more yards rushing, receiving and kick returning.
Also Monday, Hebert was named one of 25 finalists for the FCS Stats Offensive Player of the Year award.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Panthers first-year coach Willie Simmons said. “He’s a dynamic weapon who can score every time he touches the football. Selfishly, I wish I had him for another year or a few more years. He has had as complete a year as anybody at any other level.”
Awards and more
Four others from the SWAC were named finalists for FCS Stats yearend awards.
Fobbs was one of 15 finalists for Coach of the Year; his quarterback, Johnathan Williams, joined Hebert among the offensive finalists; and Mississippi Valley State safety Marquis Green, who played at Landry-Walker, and Texas Southern receiver Derrick Griffin were among 20 finalists for Freshman of the Year.
The SWAC Defensive Player of the Week was Prairie View linebacker Raleigh Johnson, the Special Teams Player of the Week was Alabama State punter Trevor Vincent (who’s from Youngsville) and the Newcomer of the Week was Alabama State quarterback Ellis Richardson.
Prairie View stays home
Simmons said he thought Prairie View, which lost only to Grambling and FBS squad Texas State, deserved an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, but the selection committee disagreed Sunday.
“We lost one game to a ranked team and one game to an FBS team, and we’re sitting home,” Simmons said. “There are four- and five-loss teams going. I talked to the team and told them, as an athlete, you focus on what you can control. We don’t know the search committee’s criteria. We’ll move forward and use this as motivation.
“Our goal was to win the SWAC championship, and we missed that opportunity on the field. We’ll start doing what we have to do now so hopefully we won’t miss that opportunity next time.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.