The feeling was back. The game was back. All across the region, on college football’s opening weekend, Southwestern Athletic Conference teams were sprinting through pregame warmups, energized by crowds, marching bands and fresh, clean uniforms.
Then, quickly, the pregame high disappeared. The games got under way, and most of them weren’t pretty.
It was hardly the SWAC’s finest hour.
Southern got thumped by Tennessee State. Arkansas-Pine Bluff lost to Langston, an NAIA team. Jackson State may have cruised to a 42-2 win over Concordia, but JSU coach Rick Comegy said his team didn’t play to its potential.
Then there were the head-to-head matchups between SWAC and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams.
Alabama A&M blew a 17-0 lead and lost to Hampton, 21-20.
And with ESPN cameras rolling, Prairie View got demolished by Bethune-Cookman, 63-14.
This was not the way Heishma Northern, the former SU safety and Glen Oaks High School graduate, planned to start his head coaching career.
“It’s a rough day coming into work and getting embarrassed on national TV. ... It’s not indicative of what we are as a program,” Northern said.
Where’s the restart button?
And based on what we saw last week, can we already assume it’s a down year for SWAC football?
Not necessarily, Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones said.
“I wouldn’t evaluate the SWAC or the MEAC based on two football games,” Jones said. “(MEAC teams) got the better of us that weekend, so congratulations to the MEAC on that. But I don’t think that ... you can talk about the state of the conference based on two games.”
Especially when one of those games was very, very tight, as Jones was quick to note.
Alabama A&M had more passing yards, more first downs and more sacks than Hampton last weekend, and as time ran out, the Bulldogs lined up for a potential game-winning field goal. It was blocked.
In other words, that MEAC-SWAC showdown came down to one play.
“I mean, we had some opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. ... I have no idea how Hampton will fare, as far as the MEAC is concerned - nor do I know how we’re going to fare, as far as the SWAC is concerned,” Jones said. “But that was a very competitive football game.”
Comegy said he was somewhat surprised by Tennessee State’s dominance of Southern - a team that nearly upset JSU last season, falling in a 49-45 thriller. “Football’s a funny sport. You have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day,” said Comegy.
As for the rest of the league, the news was not all bad. More encouraging signs could come soon, as well.
Texas Southern, the reigning champion, was idle last week. The Tigers host Prairie View at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Alcorn State and Grambling kicked off their SWAC schedule in soggy conditions, and both teams proved they can win with defense (Grambling outlasted the Braves 21-14).
What’s more, Alabama State, which won the Eastern Division last season, proved it might be even stronger this season. In a 41-9 win over Mississippi Valley, the Hornets forced seven turnovers, and new quarterback Greg Jenkins threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Perhaps, Comegy and JSU can strike a blow for the SWAC this weekend. At 7 p.m. Saturday, they host Tennessee State, which dominated Southern.
“We’ve got our hands full,” Comegy said.