About 20 miles from the northwest outskirts of Houston, on a quaint, picturesque college campus just off U.S. 290, two college football teams will square off Saturday in a high-stakes affair.
Prairie View and Alabama A&M have worked all season for an opportunity like this. Now it’s here.
“It’s going to be a tough, tough game,” A&M coach Anthony Jones said, “because both teams have everything to play for.”
For the Panthers and Bulldogs, it’s this simple: The winning team clinches a division title and a berth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship game Dec. 10.
Of course, the title scenarios don’t stop there. Not in the Western Division, anyway.
Here’s the breakdown on both races:
The East has come down to Alabama A&M and Alabama State - but Alabama State has completed its conference schedule.
So Reggie Barlow waits.
If his Alabama State team had simply held off Southern last week, Barlow might be picking out sites for their pregame meal in Birmingham on Dec. 10. Instead, the Jaguars scored with nine seconds remaining to claim a 26-23 upset. That re-opened the door for Alabama A&M, which lost last week to Jackson State.
If Alabama A&M wins this week at Prairie View, the Bulldogs win the East. They go to the championship game, and Alabama State will pack it up until spring practice.
“It is what it is at this point. We’re going to focus in and try to get ready for Tuskegee,” Barlow said, referring to ASU’s nonconference finale in the Turkey Day Classic.
If Prairie View defeats Alabama A&M, however, then Alabama State wins the East by default.
Can you say “back door”?
On the other side, Prairie View can clinch the West with a win over A&M - quite a feat, considering the fact that Prairie View has lost three of its past four games.
Sure, the Panthers could’ve wrapped up the division awhile ago. But that stuff’s in the past, coach Heishma Northern said.
“Just say, for instance, we win the championship. Nobody will remember what our record was,” he said. “Nobody remembers what Green Bay’s record was when they won the championship last year. Nobody remembers what the Giants’ record was when they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. All they know is who the championship team is. That’s what I’m trying to get my guys to focus on.”
So Doug Williams waits.
He and Grambling have won five consecutive games, roaring back to life after a 1-4 start. The Tigers are idle this week before they face Southern in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 26.
If the Panthers beat A&M, they eliminate Grambling from the championship picture. If the Panthers lose, however ... well, it makes the Bayou Classic that much bigger.
If that happens, Grambling can clinch the West with a win over Southern.
“I think what we’ve done over the last five weeks is put ourselves in a position to know that at least we’re going to have a winning season - and an opportunity, hopefully, to play to go to the championship if that happens,” Williams said. “But if not ... we feel pretty good about what these guys have done.”
Finally, there’s Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which wraps up the regular season with a home game against Texas Southern.
UAPB can still win the West, but it needs a little good fortune.
Specifically, it needs to finish in a four-way tie for first place with Prairie View, Grambling, and Southern, who would all be 5-4 in conference play if Alabama A&M beats Prairie View and if Southern beats Grambling. In that scenario, UAPB would hold the tie-breaker, with a 2-1 record against the other three tied teams and a head-to-head victory over Prairie View.
First, however, the Golden Lions have to defeat Texas Southern at home.
“Of course, we love playing at Golden Lion Stadium,” coach Monte Coleman said. “But the thing we’ve got to do is go in and play.”