Heading into its second season under Stump Mitchell, the Southern football team was picked to finish last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division.
Lest anyone forget, the Jaguars went 2-9 last season.
The NCAA hit them with a postseason ban, along with scholarship and practice limitations.
Facing all this, the team gets its season under way at 6 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., against Tennessee State in the John Merritt Classic.
As kickoff approaches, is there any chance Mitchell might play the good old us-against-the-world card?
No. Not with the kind of fan support Southern still receives.
“I can’t ever use us-against-the-world, because the (Jaguar) Nation is going to be there,” he said.
“We’re taking a lot to Nashville, in terms of money to that city, people traveling. So we deserve to win, if we just go play the type of game we’re capable of playing.”
If the Jaguars do win, this trip could serve as a handy blueprint for the rest of the season.
Southern plays only four games at A.W. Mumford Stadium this season, beginning with the Sept. 10 conference opener against Alabama A&M.
The other seven games are away from Baton Rouge.
Four games are on rival campuses, and three are at neutral sites (Saturday’s opener is technically a neutral-site game; though it’s happening in TSU’s hometown of Nashville, it’s at LP Field, the Tennessee Titans’ stadium).
“In order for us to be successful - especially with the schedule we have this year - we have to be successful on the road,” Mitchell said.
That might not be all bad. As the second-year coach astutely noted, he and his staff have a chance to monitor players more closely on road trips, with the ability to enforce curfews and hold study sessions.
“Right now, if you’re playing a home game and you’re in the FCS, you cannot stay off campus at this point in time,” Mitchell said.
Green ready, able
Senior receiver Jared Green, who missed parts of training camp with a groin injury, should be ready to play Saturday - and play relatively well.
Mitchell said the one knock on Green, who transferred this summer from Virginia, was his hands.
“But being one of the primary guys here, he’s had a lot of repetitions catching the ball,” Mitchell said. “When he catches it, I mean, he’s explosive. So we’re looking to get the ball in his hands and giving him a few opportunities.”
In three years at Virginia, Green had 35 catches for 363 yards and two touchdowns. He is one of Southern’s top four receivers, along with senior LaQuinton Evans, junior Charles Hawkins and junior Mike Berry.
Mitchell also said he’s been pleased with sophomore Lee Doss, a high school teammate of Hawkins at St. Augustine.
The 6-foot-2 Doss joined the team during spring practice.
TSU: striving for balance
During his first year in charge of the Tennessee State program, coach Rod Reed earned a reputation for pounding the football; his Tigers averaged 190 rushing yards per game.
Reed made it clear this week that while he still wants a rugged ground game, he’d like to see his offense be a little more balanced.
“I think our running game spoke for itself last year,” the second-year coach said. “But we have to throw the football, so they can’t put eight men in the box and take that away from us.”
TSU quarterback Jeremy Perry was a first-time starter last season, completing 54 of his passes for 1,469 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Last year, we couldn’t ask him to win a football game for us,” Reed said of Perry, who’s now a fifth-year senior. “But this year, I want to see where he’s progressed, to see where he is.”
Please, no more flags
Time after time last season, Mitchell has lamented his team’s lack of discipline.
The proof came in the form of yellow flags. Lots of them.
Southern led the nation with 104.1 penalty yards per game.
It’s been a focal point during preseason practice, and though the team was far from perfect, it drew progressively fewer penalties in its three scrimmages.
Asked about penalties this week, Mitchell offered a short, blunt reply.
“I don’t want to talk about penalties,” he said.
Does that mean his team will draw fewer flags this season?
“I don’t want to talk about penalties,” he repeated, with a thin grin.
Southern said it still has tickets for Saturday’s game. For information, call the SU ticket office at (225) 771-3171. ... The team plans to wear white jerseys and Columbia blue pants. ... Saturday’s game will stream live on OVCsports.com, the website of the Ohio Valley Conference, for a one-time payment of $5.95. For information, visit the website.