2020-21 Bayou Classic Southern vs. Grambling

Southern coach Dawson Odums encourages his team prior to their 49-7 win Saturday over the Grambling Tigers in the 47th annual Bayou Classic was played at Independence Stadium at Shreveport, La., April 17, 2021. Photo by TOM MORRIS

Southern coach Dawson Odums and his SWAC colleagues are in agreement that the spring season comprised the toughest circumstances they’ve faced, but there were some silver linings.

Playing in the spring, when Power Five and Group of Five conferences were on the sidelines, afforded FCS leagues to get some otherwise unavailable exposure. Southern played three times on ESPN platforms, including the main one on April 3 when it showed out with a 34-14 thumping of Deion Sanders’ Jackson State team.

Southern even got some run in the FCS rankings. The Jaguars debuted at No. 25 in the ADCA FCS rankings two weeks ago and moved up to No. 21 last week. It was the first time Southern has been ranked in that poll since 2007.

There was also an outside possibility of Southern being invited to the FCS playoffs, which begin Saturday. Southern was available because it had been eliminated from the May 1 conference championship. In the fall, the first weekend of the playoffs usually falls on the same day as the Bayou Classic.

Odums seemed intrigued at the possibility even though it would mean putting off preparation for the fall season one more week.

“We didn’t make it, so we don’t have to entertain that one,” Odums said on Monday’s Zoom conference. “It would have been something our players would have probably … I would have to ask them what their take is. From the administration standpoint, we would get everybody in to make that decision. It’s not a decision I would have made by myself.

“I understand the strain that was put on our program. I would have left that up to the decision-makers.”

Odums did recognize the spinoff from making the rankings for Southern and the conference. There was a boost in response from recruits and alumni.

“It does wonders for the SWAC as a conference, goes to show people recognized us. Having those games watched on TV gives us a chance to show we have a good product,” he said. “I gave the kids opportunities. We get recruiting and alumni emails from all over — people who haven’t been able to see us play, telling us how much they appreciate the program, how it's run, how the players represent the institution. It wouldn’t happen without the TV exposure.”

Time to heal

Odums estimated his program has “at least 12 surgeries” for players before the end of the semester and said he wants to see his players focus on academics with finals two weeks away. Recruiting will take some precedence in May and he’d like to have players available for conditioning in early June.

“We’ll get together as we go into May, organize recruiting and set our schedule,” he said. “We’re trying to get ready for the next phase, getting our guys strong in the classroom. Normally in the fall your grades drop a little when you add football to the equation. Hopefully this spring we come out with the right mindset on grades.

“We’d love for the guys to come back the first week of June until fall camp. We don’t know if that’s possible from a financial standpoint. It’s going to be tough if those guys are not here. It will take 12 weeks to strength and condition and recover for fall. If you don’t, these guys will get seriously injured in the fall. And you think 12 surgeries in the spring, that number will double in the fall. They won’t be physically ready to play every week for 11 weeks.”

Who’s in

Southern played the spring season with an experienced roster of 47 fourth- or fifth-year players and it didn’t count against the players’ eligibility per the NCAA waiver. That means the fall promises another experience heavy roster.

Odums said he expects some players to enter the transfer portal and leave while others might simply graduate and move on with their lives. But he expects that to be the exception rather than the rule.

“We’ll sit down with everybody and figure out who is coming back,” Odums said. “We have a good situation regarding the transfer portal. We don’t have that many guys in the portal. Not many guys want to leave. The decision will be tough. We have incoming freshmen, but we went through it in the spring and have an idea who we’re bringing back. A majority of the guys in the spring will probably be back in the fall.”