Step aside, Oregon and Stanford. You too, Baylor and Oklahoma.
Yeah, you’re the marquee television matchups Thursday night, with the second-ranked Ducks and sixth-ranked Cardinal meeting, and the fifth-ranked Bears and 12th-ranked Sooners going at it.
But for the folks in and around the Southern football program, the Thursday night game between Prairie View and Alcorn State in Lorman, Miss., is far more intriguing.
The Jaguars have the luxury of scoreboard-watching because that game doesn’t conflict with their game at Alabama State on Saturday or their preparation for it.
They can sit back and wait to see if the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division championship falls into their laps, which will happen if Alcorn State wins.
Southern coach Dawson Odums said his staff usually watches football on Thursday night, and he’ll keep track of the game while he “fine-tunes” the game plan for Saturday afternoon.
Though the game isn’t being televised, a bunch of Jaguars will be keeping tabs on the Internet.
“We definitely understand what’s at stake,” Odums said.
Southern (5-4, 5-2 SWAC) has a one-game lead over Prairie View (5-4, 4-3) and has the tiebreaking edge by virtue of its 62-59 victory against the Panthers on Sept. 14 in A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Alcorn State (7-3, 5-2) has plenty at stake as it’s mathematically alive to win the East Division.
“Of course everybody is going to want to (follow) the game,” Southern wide receiver Justin Morgan said. “But at the same time, we’ve just got to stay focused and get our minds ready to play against Alabama State.”
Thursday’s game is the first of four games that could provide the clincher for Southern. If Prairie View beats Alcorn, the Jaguars can still win the West by beating Alabama State. Southern also could clinch if Prairie View loses at home to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 23 or if Southern beats Grambling in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 30.
“It’s not really about what (the Panthers) do,” quarterback Dray Joseph said. “You don’t want to hope for another team to lose; you just want to go out and control your own destiny.”
Though clinching the West would be a major accomplishment, the Jaguars have other significant goals in their sights. They need two wins in their final three games to clinch their first winning season since 2009.
Additionally, Saturday’s game, the Bayou Classic and the nonconference game against Clark Atlanta in the home finale Nov. 16 provide opportunities to improve and be at their best when — and if — they play in the SWAC title game Dec. 7.
Safety Omar Cook said he’ll have his eyes glued on something other than the Prairie View game Thursday night.
“I’ll be watching Alabama State film,” he said, “getting ready for that game.”
He added: “I’m not really focused on (the Prairie View) game, whether they win or lose. It doesn’t matter to me, because Saturday we’re still going to go out and try and win the game to the best of our ability. If they lose, that’s just (a bonus).”
Southern’s fifth-year seniors have endured three straight losing seasons and two coaching changes.
But Cook, a fourth-year junior, said this year’s team has operated with a much more positive attitude than the others, which helped after lopsided losses to Houston (62-13) and Northwestern State (55-14) to start the season.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity as a team,” Cook said. “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to have a good season, but we just haven’t been able to capitalize on it. This season, I just feel like everybody has had a positive attitude, and finally we see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Joseph said there’s more reason to keep tabs on the Prairie View game than just the title implications.
“It’s not only an important game for us, it’s going to be a great game,” he said. “Both those guys have winning records. They’re great teams and it’s going to be a great game altogether.”
Defensive end Kadeem Lewis said he never thought he’d have to wait until his fifth season to have the opportunity that the Jaguars have. He was a freshman when Southern’s last winning team essentially fell out of title contention when a lost fumble at the Prairie View 6-yard line sealed a 16-14 loss with 17 seconds remaining.
“That’s what’s been fueling my fire this whole year, because I watched so many great players come in and go out,” Lewis said. “I just want to do it for them because they made me who I am today.”