Reciting them from memory, one by one, Southern University football coach Stump Mitchell listed the first four games of this year’s schedule, barely stopping long enough to blink.
“After that, I don’t know,” he said.
You’ll have to forgive the man for not looking too far ahead.
Mitchell’s pivotal second season at SU could hinge on how well the Jaguars navigate their way through a rock ‘em-sock ‘em September schedule, which goes like this: Tennessee State, Alabama A&M, Jackson State and Florida A&M.
No fluff. No filler. No breaks.
If the Jaguars somehow thrive in those first four games, they’re in for a great year.
If not ... well, remember how last season went?
Let’s begin with the season opener. It’s Sept. 3 in Nashville, Tenn., at LP Field, against a team that’s strikingly similar to Southern.
Tennessee State, now in its second season under coach Rod Reed, lost its final six games and finished 3-8 last season - nothing special, to be sure, but still slightly better than Southern’s 2-9 record.
Simply put, this is a matchup of two teams that desperately need a feel-good win.
A week later, Southern plays its Southwestern Athletic Conference opener, at home, against Alabama A&M.
Remember last year’s game? Mitchell does.
“They handled us pretty well,” he said.
That they did. In a 34-14 win that was much more lopsided than the final score, A&M completely dominated the line of scrimmage. It was the first true sign that the Jaguars’ season was in serious trouble.
This year’s game will offer one of two things: payback, or more of the same.
The following week, Southern hosts Jackson State.
No pressure there.
The SU-JSU rivalry is always piping hot. This year’s meeting, however, will be unique. Both teams are banned from the SWAC Championship game, an offshoot of their problems with the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
The big difference is that Jackson State is considered one of the top teams in the conference this season; picked to finish first in the Eastern Division, despite the championship ban.
Southern was picked to finish last in the West.
If all that weren’t enough, the Jaguars wrap up September with a super-duper doozy - a neutral-site game in Atlanta against Florida A&M, a renewal of one of the most explosive rivalries in black college football.
The Rattlers are 25-9 over the last three years. They expect to contend for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.
As for Southern, “Camp Stump: The Sequel” is in full swing. The coaching staff is knee-deep in things like fortifying the offensive and defensive lines, streamlining the secondary, fixing problems with special teams.
This year’s team looks better. The cruel truth is, after the first month of the regular season, the Jaguars might not have a better record to show for it.