Southern and Louisiana Tech have never played each other in a football game.

But going into their first meeting Saturday night in Ruston, they have a lot in common:

Both teams won a division title before losing their conference’s championship game last season.

Both teams are expected to be championship contenders again this season and both will enter conference play on a short week as both play road games next Thursday.

But first they must contend with each other in a season opener that won’t affect their conference fortunes but will provide a gauge of where they’re at heading into their quick turnarounds.

“It’s different between practicing against our own guys and going against somebody else,” Jaguars quarterback Austin Howard said. “I think if we go out there and just handle our business we’re going to be all right, but this season opener is going to determine what kind of team we’ve got.”

Southern, which was picked to finish second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West (two points behind Grambling) in the preseason poll, visits Mississippi Valley State in its second game.

Tech, picked to win the Conference USA West, visits Western Kentucky next.

Homecoming of sorts

Southern has a handful of players with ties to north Louisiana who will be returning close to home.

Defensive back Andrea Augustine is from Monroe; wide receiver Nico Talbert is a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, safety Dionte McDuffy and offensive lineman Alex McKee are from Shreveport, and punter Taylor Merritt is from Arcadia.

McDuffy said he expects a dozen relatives and friends to be at the game. “The most ever to come to one of my games,” he said.

Familiar names

Tech has even more players with ties to the Baton Rouge area.

Place-kicker Jonathan Barnes played at Woodlawn High School; defensive end Deldrick Canty and linebacker Donald Freeman played at Scotlandville; offensive lineman Shane Carpenter played at Walker; offensive lineman Clayton Landry played at Live Oak; running back Boston Scott played at Zachary; defensive end Domonique Williams is from Gonzales; defensive end Matthew Ydarraga played at Catholic; and offensive lineman Derek Edinburgh is a transfer from LSU.

Stadium dos and don’ts

Louisiana Tech sent out a news release advising fans of procedures and rules at Joe Aillet Stadium for Saturday’s game.

Backpacks or bags larger than 12-by-12 inches are prohibited and all bags are subject to search at the point of entry. Other items prohibited from the stadium are:

Coolers, ice chests, bottles, cans, cups or containers of any kind; outside food and drinks; umbrellas; artificial noisemakers; and pets (except for service animals).

Re-entry to the stadium is not allowed, fans may be subject to search and confiscated items will not be returned. Any items left near the stadium will be collected and discarded.

The ticket office opens four hours prior to kickoff and the gates open 90 minutes prior to kickoff.

Home sweet home

When Southern running back Lenard Tillery was being recruited at McKinley High School, he had a brief interest in Tech.

“Coming out of high school they were a school I was definitely looking at, so I know a lot about them just from that standpoint,” Tillery said. “They were a running football program. They always have a great running back — they have Kenny Dixon right now — and a great engineering program as well.”

Tillery, who started at Southern as an engineering major before switching to business management, made a trip to Ruston to check out the campus.

“I saw it was in the middle of nowhere and I decided, no, I’m good,” Tillery said.

Staying close to home at Southern “made a huge difference” in his choice of schools, Tillery said.

Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.