Game Time: Sunday, September 3, 2017, 2:35 p.m. ET
Location: A. W. Mumford Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Where To Watch: ESPN2/WatchESPN
Betting Odds: South Carolina State -2, O/U 47
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
The MEAC/SWAC Challenge will take college football’s center stage on Sunday afternoon. The Southern University Jaguars and South Carolina State Bulldogs will square off with conference bragging rights on the line. The MEAC has dominated the series with a 9-2 record since its inception back in 2005, but the two SWAC wins came from Southern and the Jaguars have yet to lose in this showdown. This will be the first time the MEAC/SWAC Challenge has been played on a campus and not a neutral site.
The Bulldogs’ 2016 campaign was derailed by a nightmare of a schedule. South Carolina State didn’t play at home until October 22 and its second home game wasn’t until November 12. The non-conference schedule was made up of three different FBS opponents in guarantee games and all three were blowout losses. SC State would have had a winning record if it scheduled a patsy itself, but instead finished 5-6 on the season.
Southern had one of the best offenses in the country, but couldn’t stop anyone on defense. That led to a lot of shootouts and while the Jaguars ended up on the winning side of most, that killed them against Grambling and their two FBS opponents.
Reasons to Like South Carolina State
SCSU has the MEAC’s best defense by a considerable margin. The Bulldogs have an outstanding front seven led by last year’s MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, Darius Leonard. Leonard had a knack for disrupting offenses and led the team with 124 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2016. Two of the Bulldogs’ five wins essentially came from him last year as he picked off two passes and returned one of them for six in a win over Howard and tallied 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack against Bethune-Cookman.
The strength of the offense is up front in the line, particularly the right side. Center Victor Ishmael, right guard Robbie Stephenson, and right tackle Justin Evans were all preseason All-MEAC selections. That’s a scary thought for a Southern defense that allowed 6.1 yards per play last year.
Reasons Not to Like South Carolina State
The Bulldogs don’t have a quarterback they can rely on. Dewann Ford was the team’s third option at quarterback last season and wasn’t very impressive. He’s not particularly accurate and wasn’t a good runner either. If it’s any indication how desperate things are at the position, wide receiver Mykal Moody saw some action at quarterback last year and might be in the mix yet again.
Reasons to Like Southern
Southern has a very good quarterback in Austin Howard. Howard threw for 29 touchdowns last season and would have been the best quarterback in the SWAC if not for Grambling’s DeVante Kincade. He is a four-year starter with plenty of experience and a big arm to boot.
The defense returns its two stars from last season and should be very much improved. Danny Johnson was a third-team FCS All-American last season for his fantastic work in the secondary and Aaron Tiller stuffed the stat sheet. Tiller was a first-team All-SWAC selection and racked up 17.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
Reasons Not to Like Southern
For the past three seasons, Southern has been hammered by NCAA penalties due to its poor APR and has not been able to conduct offseason practice as a result. The Jaguars have been playing catch-up this past month as they were only able to start practicing just a month ago.
That time would have been particularly valuable this season with what they have to replace. Southern’s all-time leading rusher and all-time leading receiver both graduated at the end of 2016 and there are major questions about who will be the team’s primary running back and go-to receiver.
This offensive line is going through growing pains too. Southern loses three linemen who were All-SWAC selections in 2016 and 70 percent of the depth chart is made up of underclassmen.
Additionally, Howard has had accuracy issues when he has played good defenses. South Carolina State won’t give him easy throws and that could be a problem.
Points will be at a premium in this game. This has all the trappings of a low-scoring affair, but there’s no question that the Bulldogs have the better defense. It might take some time for SCSU to put points on the board, but they will do enough to get the win.
Final Score: South Carolina State 20, Southern 14