Despite inexperience at key skill positions on the offensive side of the ball, Southern University is expected to have one of the most dynamic offenses in the Southwestern Athletic Conference this season.
The senior quarterback-receiver combo of Dray Joseph and Lee Doss should put the SWAC on its heels, even if the running back situation is filled with questions, and Doss continues to be Joseph’s predictable target. But a couple of things happened over the offseason that should have Jaguars fans encouraged.
Southern head coach Dawson Odums, hired in December after taking over as interim coach last September, assigned his assistant coaches to hit every corner of Louisiana to hone in on the local talent. The past two recruiting classes before 2013 totaled just nine in-state recruits.
This year, Southern boasts 17 homegrown products out of their 26 signees. That effort allowed the Jags to scoop Chuck Baker – a Slidell wide receiver ranked by ESPN as the nation’s 205th best player in the class of 2013, who’d previously committed to LSU.
Baker is going to be the guy that SWAC teams initially overlook, since Southern returns 15 starters from the 4-7 squad of last year. However, joining Doss tightens up Joseph’s receiving corps, and he’s someone who would have likely suited up in Death Valley, so the talent influx is significant.
Southern isn’t lacking for confidence after taking down rival Grambling in the Bayou Classic last season. For the uninitiated, that’s like the bowl game for HBCU football. Except a team can have a losing record going into it, like Southern did last year, and still come out of it with their swag on a million.
That’s what we have with this Southern football team, finishing the season with exclamation mark, like champions in their own eyes. It led to an active offseason, one that many are calling the most enthusiastic from players in a long time.
With those 15 returning starters, nine of which are on defense, most of the guys stuck around for the summer taking classes and making sure they were equipped for the conditioning test that was just implemented before the start of last season.
The expectation is to hit another level of success, and not just fist pumping after the Bayou Classic. Southern opens the season against the University of Houston, an FBS squad joining what’s left of the Big East Conference after realignment. The Cougars will likely wipe the floor with the Jags, but you can bet that the Sept. 7 matchup against Northwestern State will be a dogfight.
It’s the last non-conference statement Southern can make before opening SWAC action at home against Prairie View. Road games against defending SWAC champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 19, then Alabama State on Nov. 9th are likely must-see games.
Southern could still be as up-and-down as they were a year ago. But with a little more stability at head coach and a growing level of familiarity and expectation of putting in the necessary work, no reason why they can’t be better than the group that came back from down 14-0 to win the 2012 Classic.