You probably saw recently where we ran a series ranking the Sun Belt Conference coaching positions in terms of desirability for a coach who is seeking a job, and then soon we'll run another showing how our individual Sun Belt writers ranked those teams. PARTIAL SPOILER: the Jaguars were ranked as the eighth best job in the conference in the initial article series, and our individual staff ranked them anywhere from 7th to 10th.
I was one of the two people who ranked them 10th, and that's after I was talked into raising their ranking. See, this team is a bit of a mirage.
South Alabama posted yet another average-ish season last year (5-7, after consecutive 6-6 seasons), though that was due in large part to luck; a 4-1 record in one-possession games and a talent transfusion from temporarily defunct UAB to offset the graduation of a substantial number of starters.
I'm unconvinced, unlike my fellow writers, that what the Jaguars have accomplished thus far is truly sustainable in any way, and I wanted to share a bit about why I was so harsh in my ranking.
Support for the team is even less existent than you think
It makes sense that pretty much everyone in the state of Alabama - not literally, but a sizeable majority - are black-and-white Alabama or Auburn fans. It's only been 20 years since UAB arrived as the first option for native Alabamians to watch FBS football that wasn't the Tide or the Tigers. That said, traction has been minimal for Jaguar football here in Mobile.
It's one thing to slowly build a following. It's another thing to be entering your eighth season of football and still have essentially zero following. Last year the Jaguars best-attended game saw a little over 21,000 tickets sold when NC State came to town. That is a good-but-not-great sized crowd for Ladd-Peebles Stadium; it also represents the fourth-largest announced attendance in the team's history, and just the second time attendance reached 19,000 or more since the Jaguars moved to FBS before the 2012 season.
In three seasons at the FCS level, the Jaguars averaged 18,000 fans and cleared 20,000 in attendance seven times in 20 home games; even with the random sellout when Mississippi State came to town, the Jaguars average attendance has gone down since the move to FBS, averaging about 16,000 fans over 24 home games.
Some of that can be related to USA being so new as a team - to the point that there's not even a generation of kids whose parents are Jags fans and who are old enough to root themselves - but not all of it. The apathy is still palpable.
I still vividly remember attempting to attend a game last season where I knew I would arrive late. As I was walking up to the stadium, I saw people who were sitting in the parking lot tailgating, grilling, and watching the Auburn game - in the second quarter of the Jaguars game going on inside the stadium!
How rough must your gameday experience be that people are willing to pay the money for a parking lease so they can tailgate, but would rather keep tailgating and watch other games than come into the stadium to watch yours?
Ladd-Peebles Stadium is a sloppy mess that isn't going away anytime soon.
You really cannot truly appreciate just how bad the Jaguars' current home stadium is until you have attended a game there. This stadium has some obvious drawbacks, considering that it will be 70 years old soon and has only seen $10 million worth of renovations, only $2.2 million of which has occurred in the last 20 years. (I know it was 1997, I'm rounding, shut up).
It looks, feels, and sounds like you are at a high school football stadium. Lots of concrete and metal, concession stands that sell food you could get in a high school cafeteria. I have told numerous people that L-P Stadium would be the worst stadium I've ever been in were it not for a visit to Legion Field in Birmingham. I'm fairly sure that the only difference between them is that Legion is 20 years older and twice as big.
This all should not be surprising given the stadium's history. Here's the list of tenants other than an annual round-robin of high school football prior to the formation of USA's program:
- Alabama once per year (1948-1968)
- Auburn once per year (1948-1955)
- Southern Miss not quite once per year (1950-1974)
- Senior Bowl (1951 - now)
- GoDaddy Bowl (1999 - now)
- Gulf Coast Classic (1974-2008)
- Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic (HS showcase game) (1988-2010)