RUSTON — As a practical matter, Southern’s season opener was a lot like an NFL preseason game.
Think about it.
The outcomes of preseason games are meaningless because they don’t count in the standings.
Even though the Jaguars 62-15 loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday night counts in the won-lost record, it doesn’t count in the Southwestern Athletic Conference standings. Southern is seeking a third consecutive SWAC West division title and a second conference championship in three seasons.
Ultimately, how it measures up against those goals will determine how successful or unsuccessful this season is, regardless of what happened in the nonconference opener.
And let’s be honest, the outcome Saturday was a foregone conclusion for virtually everyone outside the Southern football program. This game was scheduled for one reason and one reason only: to collect the $350,000 check Tech guaranteed the Jaguars for making the relatively short trip to help the Bulldogs tune up for Conference USA play.
Sure the coaches and players embraced the massive challenge assigned to them and prepared their best to try to win the game — and no doubt believed they could win if they were virtually perfect for 60 minutes.
But the lopsided margin — which could have been worse if Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz hadn’t started pulling his starters in the first half the way an NFL coach would in a preseason game — was a far more likely outcome than a Jaguars victory.
That’s almost always what happens when a Football Championship Subdivision team plays a Bowl Subdivision team. The FBS teams can grant 22 more scholarships than their FCS counterparts, leading to far superior depth.
More importantly the ability to compete at the highest level of college football attracts a higher level of talent to FBS schools.
Then there’s the money. It’s easy to say the guarantee check Southern receives for a game like this isn’t worth the probable beat-down that accompanies it. The past four Jaguars season openers have come against FBS teams — midlevel programs, not power five programs — and yielded losses by an average score of 57-14.
Alcorn State, the defending SWAC champion and a clear-cut pick to repeat, lost to Georgia Tech 69-6 after the Yellow Jackets took a 34-0 first-quarter lead and looked like they might threaten their historic 222-0 win against Cumberland College in 1916.
Grambling, the preseason pick to unseat Southern in the West, lost to Cal, a Pac-12 bottom feeder, 73-14.
These outcomes and others are an embarrassment to the FCS programs but can be seen as a necessary evil, much like NFL preseason games. How else are NFL teams going to make the necessary personnel evaluations and otherwise get ready for the regular season. And how else is Southern going to get $350,000 for one night’s work?
The money disparity was driven home for the Jaguars during their visit to Joe Aillet Stadium, where the Bulldogs proudly unveiled their new $22 million Davison Athletic Complex. Southern, on the other hand, is more than a month behind in trying to complete its construction of a functional practice field.
NFL teams spent the early part of Labor Day weekend completing the evaluations of their preseasons, deciding which players to keep and which to discard to give them the best chance to compete in the regular season.
On Sunday, Southern coach Dawson Odums and his staff were back in the office, evaluating the mismatch against Tech, figuring out which players competed as best they could under difficult circumstances and trying to learn which give them the best chance to compete in the SWAC, beginning Thursday at Mississippi Valley State.
Meanwhile, fans search for hope with autumn closing in.
New Orleans Saints fans can rationalize a winless preseason by emphasizing that they will be 0-0 when they visit Arizona for the season opener Sunday.
And Southern fans can rationalize Saturday’s whipping by emphasizing that the Jaguars are no less likely to compete for the SWAC championship now than they were before they went to Ruston.
Maybe that’s being Pollyannaish.
But it beats the alternative.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.