Southern has reached significant milestones in Dawson’s Odums two-plus seasons as head coach.
It won its first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 10 years last season.
It repeated as West Division champion this season for the first time in that same time frame.
Now it has a chance to win its first black college national championship in 11 years if it defeats Alcorn State in the SWAC title game Saturday in Houston.
That would require the Jaguars doing something they haven’t done under Odums because they have lost all three games against the Braves since he took over as head coach.
But given the way Southern has bounced back from those losses, that streak might be in jeopardy Saturday.
The Jaguars have won seven consecutive games since a 56-16 loss at Alcorn State on Sept. 27. Last season they won five straight, including the SWAC title game, after a 44-38 overtime loss to the Braves.
“This season has been just like last year,” Odums said. “Now let’s see if it has the same outcome.”
Odums’ first loss as interim coach came against Alcorn (20-17) in 2012. Although the Jaguars went just 2-4 after that, they did win their first post-Alcorn game handily, 34-7 against Texas Southern.
“I haven’t beaten them,” Odums said, “but I can’t remember the last time a lot of stuff happened.”
Southern’s 52-45 victory against Grambling in the Bayou Classic last Saturday extended a season that began with more than a half-dozen starters sidelined by various academic issues and hit bottom in the loss at Alcorn before several key players started getting reinstated.
“It’s a resilient bunch,” Odums said. “They’ve been able to stay together and stay humble and we reached our final destination.”
Though Southern didn’t look like a team that would wind up in the SWAC title game after the loss at Alcorn, several players said a potential rematch was on their minds.
“That was always the plan,” offensive lineman Zach Brown said. “We never doubted for a second that we would get back to the championship game. We had a bad game, but were confident we would come back.”
The Jaguars came back initially with a 51-36 Homecoming victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 4.
“We started out in October talking about going 1-0,” Odums said.
Then the victories started to mount. Southern overcame a 20-point third-quarter deficit to beat Alabama A&M 35-34 on the road and after an open date, played its most compete game to date in beating Jackson State 42-28.
“I think we got hot at the right time,” Odums said. “I think you’ve got to be playing your best football at the end of the year if you want a chance to do great things. We got to November and talked about making it a November to remember.”
The Jaguars took advantage of a three-game home-stand in November by beating Alabama State (28-21), Texas Southern (30-20) and Mississippi Valley State (44-13) in succession.
“If you want to reach the SWAC championship,” Odums said, “there’s not a lot of room for losses but definitely when you get to the middle of October all the way through the end of November you’ve got to be playing exciting football.”
The most exciting game of all came in the Bayou Classic with the West Division title on the line.
“We looked at the Grambling game as the semifinals because the winner goes to the championship,” Odums said. “I really like coming out of a big game and going into another big game.”
The Braves, who stumbled in a 34-31 loss to Jackson State in their last game two weeks ago, wrapped up the East Division title three weeks before the West was decided.
“We didn’t know how it was going to unfold,” linebacker Brian McCain said, “but we knew that we had to work to get there and we worked hard, we persevered, overcame a lot of adversity and we get to see them again.”
Now Southern will be spending the first Saturday in December the same way it spent it last year — in Houston playing for the SWAC title against a team that beat it earlier in the season. Last year the Jaguars avenged a 19-14 loss to Jackson State with a 34-27 win in double overtime.
“We’ve been meshing really well together to play good football at the end of the season,” offensive lineman Dewayne Houston said. “We have a lot of players that were there last year so there won’t be as much nerves. They can always help out the freshmen and the newcomers with advice on how to approach this game.”
Odums said the team’s approach has changed dramatically in his short tenure as head coach.
“You’ve got so many players that have been part of a championship that they just think this is what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “They’re supposed to play football and go play for championships. I’m like, ‘Wait, you were here three years ago. Where did that attitude come from?’
“But I think winning breeds that. Winning breeds that confidence and you like that. I don’t think that’s being arrogant. I think that’s understanding that we’ve created a mindset around here that says, ‘We’re Southern, we’re supposed to win and we’re supposed to play for championships.’ ”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.