For the second week in a row and the third time this season, Southern will face a team that, based on recent results and performance, it should beat.
Yet the Jaguars are 0-2 in those games so far, with losses to Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State.
Why? Well, there’s one explanation that’s frequently trotted out by teams with a history of success, and SU is certainly part of that group. Southern interim coach Dawson Odums used it this week when talking about Saturday’s opponent, Texas Southern, saying the Tigers’ 1-5 record doesn’t matter.
“We know at Southern that we’re going to get everybody’s best,” Odums said.
There is an element of truth to the idea that struggling teams without much motivation will show up more focused when playing a powerhouse.
Think back to any level of athletics you’ve ever played. No matter how bad your winless Browns team was in Pop Warner football, when you played the Cowboys (who were inevitably stacked with the best players), you had a little something extra in the tank.
Every competitive person gets added motivation in that kind of situation, and it will certainly be the case for Texas Southern, which comes in with a postseason ban that has now been stretched to three years and has nothing to play for other than ruining SU’s homecoming.
But there’s another side to this line of thinking.
Teams get excited for a shot at the Alabamas of the world because they’re winners, and while there are lapses where David beats Goliath, Goliath became Goliath by repeatedly smashing Davids.
That’s what the Jaguars used to do, and the fact that they aren’t this year isn’t because Valley and Alcorn woke up, looked at the schedule and morphed from doormats to juggernauts.
Southern lost those games because it played poorly. Against MVSU, it played poorly for an entire game, save for the defense. At Alcorn, the struggles came at different times. The offense was lacking for the majority of the contest, while the defense wavered a bit before collapsing at the end.
And now comes an almost identical test.
Just like Alcorn, Texas Southern opened the year with a surprising win over a team that was expected to challenge for the SWAC West (Prairie View). The Tigers have since gone on a losing streak and come in off a 45-0 spanking from Alabama State.
Alcorn had just been crushed by ASU as well, and to strengthen the opinion that everyone plays Southern tougher, the Braves abandoned the ultra-sloppy style they had shown a week earlier.
TSU may do the same, but the common theme in the Jaguars’ disappointing losses hasn’t been an opponent rising to a challenge, it has been SU stumbling.
Saturday is one of few should-wins left. If Southern loses, it won’t be because its reputation lent Texas Southern an unfair advantage.
It will be because, once again, the better team didn’t live up to its legacy.