It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen when Southern takes on New Mexico this weekend.
There’s a Lobos squad that has won just three games in the past three years, making it one of the worst programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But with a new coaching staff led by former Notre Dame skipper Bob Davie, there’s hope for a turnaround.
Then again, Davie spent the past decade as an analyst, so who knows how successful he will be?
And it’s hard to know what the Jaguars will look like either, coming off two dismal seasons under coach Stump Mitchell but hoping for — and expecting — a much-improved performance.
The two teams barely did any game-planning for each other. New Mexico aims to control the game by virtue of being the bigger, more talented program. Southern wasn’t sure what to prepare for because of the new staff.
And then there’s the matter of the weather, which cut off SU’s preseason scrimmages and all but eliminated practices and meetings this week.
That equals a lot of uncertainty, and Saturday will basically amount to a blind date between a bad team with a maybe-bright future from the top division and a bad team with a maybe-bright future from a lower division.
Sports books rarely set gambling odds for games between teams from different divisions, and the Southern-New Mexico line of “off” is especially fitting.
But it also doesn’t matter.
Of course, no player or coach would dare violate former NFL coach Herman Edwards’ legendary order of “You play to win the game,” but the final score of this one truly doesn’t matter.
In the grand scheme, this is little more than a preseason game. A loss would be embarrassing for UNM, and an FBS win would be a boost for Southern, but the only important outcomes are whether the Jaguars can use the game to get better and avoid injury.
Dray Joseph needs to build confidence at quarterback, the running game has to find some traction, and the defense needs chances to face an offense other than its own and work on tackling.
Do all of that and stay healthy, and this weekend is a win for Southern.
The real games begin on Sept. 13, the Southwestern Athletic Conference opener against Mississippi Valley State, and that’s the real goal here.
What would be more beneficial? A 35-point Southern win marred by injuries to key players, or a 35-point loss where everyone stays healthy and puts together a handful of efficient, productive drives?
Scenario B is the better one for the big picture. Just ask Sam Houston State, which pulled the FBS upset over UNM last year, whether that win or reaching the national title game was its crowning achievement in 2011.
Regardless of the score, SU simply has to use this game to improve, especially since the Jaguars lost so much practice time to bad weather.
Southern will surely take the field intent on a win, but in this case, Edwards’ philosophy needs a tweak: You play to get better, then play to win the games that matter.