During the first Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches teleconference of the season Monday, Southern’s Dawson Odums was asked about the Jaguars’ infamous bus ride to their season opener last year.

The bus’ departure was delayed while university officials tried to academically certify several players, and eventually five starters were left behind. The team arrived at the University of Louisiana aty Lafayette just 45 minutes before kickoff.

Odums was asked if he was confident that there won’t be a similar occurrence for this year’s opener at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

“I’ve learned as a head coach that it’s something different every year,” Odums said. “Whether the bus ride is good or not, you’re going to encounter some problem or adversity. You just take a breath of fresh air and move on.”

One reason Southern doesn’t have to fear an exact repeat is that the team is leaving Friday because Ruston is about 150 miles farther away from the Jaguars campus than Lafayette is.

SWAC celebrates new bowl

Defending SWAC champion Alcorn State will be the first SWAC team to open when they visit Georgia Tech on Thursday night. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.

Braves coach Jay Hopson was equally excited about the last SWAC game of the season, which will come Dec. 19 in the Georgia Dome when the SWAC champion and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion meet in the inaugural Celebration Bowl.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for every team in our conference and in the MEAC,” Hopson said. “It’s something else we can sell, and we’re the only FCS conferences that can do that.”

UAPB coach to be honored

The early season bragging rights between the SWAC and the MEAC will be on the line Sunday when Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina State meet in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Orlando, Florida.

As part of the festivities, four individuals, including UAPB coach Monte Coleman, will receive The Legends Award for their contributions to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Coleman will be honored along with the late L.C. Greenwood, who played at UAPB and was a six-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Pittsburgh Steelers; former South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame; and Donnie Shell, who played at South Carolina State and was a five-time Pro Bowl safety with the Steelers.

“When they called and told me I would be one of the recipients, I was dumbfounded and speechless,” Coleman said. “I have (three) Super Bowl rings and a SWAC championship ring, and being presented with the Legends Award ranks with all the other awards I’ve received.”

Stepping up in class

Six of the SWAC teams open against FBS opponents this week, including Alabama A&M, which visits Cincinnati, and Grambling, which visits Cal.

“I like where we are,” A&M coach James Spady said, “but I’d like to have about three more weeks to prepare for Cincinnati, which is a national powerhouse, if you ask me.”

Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs noted the primary difference between FCS and FBS schools: the FCS schools’ 63-scholarship limit, which is 22 fewer than that for FBS schools.

“The kicking game is the area where that discrepancy normally happens,” Fobbs said. “One key is that we can’t have any blocked punts, and on offense and defense we have to play mistake free.”

In addition to the Southern-Louisiana Tech and Alcorn-Georgia Tech games, Mississippi Valley State visits New Mexico, and Jackson State visits Middle Tennessee State.

Texas rivals open together

There’s one SWAC game this week as Prairie View visits Texas Southern in the annual Labor Day Classic on Saturday night.

“It’s so important for so many different reasons,” first-year Prairie View coach Willie Simmons said. “First and foremost, it’s a rivalry, meaning you have two schools that don’t like each other. A lot of families are split over their loyalties. A lot of alumni look at this game as a barometer for this season.

“They’re also a division rival, so we understand if we want to win our division and have a chance to play for a championship, we have to go through Texas Southern.”

Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.