There is never any shortage of parity in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and a prime example lies in Pine Bluff, Ark.
The Heritage Sports Radio Network’s poll named Arkansas-Pine Bluff its historically black Football Championship Subdivision national champion last season following a 10-2 year in which the Golden Lions beat Jackson State 24-21 in the SWAC title game. Subsequently, UAPB was the preseason favorite to win the conference’s Western Division in 2013.
Yet Pine Bluff enters Saturday’s contest against Southern winless in conference play at 0-4 and in search of its first victory of the season at 0-6.
The year started off rocky: Just before kickoff of the season opener, coach Monte Coleman learned he would be without at least 13 players because to eligibility concerns, including preseason first-team running back Justin Billings.
When the Jaguars travel to Pine Bluff on Saturday, the Golden Lions will be without multiple starters.
“I’ve got nine starters that are out,” Coleman said. “They’re either academically ineligible or waiting for waivers or they’re not on the field. That’s the big difference for our team. The year before, we had our team set, and we knew who we were. This year, we had it set, then all of a sudden guys became ineligible because of various reasons.”
Coleman also pointed out the losses to graduation of key players from last season — including offensive lineman Terron Armstead, a third-round selection of the Saints in April’s draft and the only player from the SWAC drafted.
The attrition has most affected the defensive front. UAPB ranks last nationally — out of 122 FCS teams — in stopping the run, allowing 332.5 yards per contest.
“We have one guy on our defensive line that was with us last season,” Coleman said. “Everyone else is either a walk-on or a freshman.”
Pine Bluff still has quarterback Benjamin Anderson, the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year and an all-conference first-team selection in 2012.
Anderson ranks third in the conference in passing yards per game (236.0) and second in total offense (280.3 yards).
“Ben has really matured a great deal since his freshman year,” Coleman said. “Each year he is getting better and better. ... Right now he is doing an outstanding job for us.”
Coleman said Southern presents a challenge unfamiliar to what his defense has faced thus far.
“Southern has thrown the ball a lot more than the rest of the teams we have played,” Coleman said. “I don’t know what their game plan will be Saturday, considering our inability to stop the run, but they’re more of a pass-oriented team. They throw the ball extremely well.”
Despite his team having its best week of practice leading up to its game against Texas Southern last week, Coleman said his team played flat in the 41-28 defeat. Yet Coleman is confident that last week’s effort will not carry over, and he foresees a much better effort this weekend.
“Last week is behind us,” he said. “We understand the importance of the next game. We have homecoming this week, and homecoming is always a game the kids get up for. I don’t think we’ll have a problem this week of being (unenthusiastic).
“It’s a game where we are going to do everything we possibly can to get a win.”