The 2022 SWAC championship goes down on Saturday afternoon in Mississippi with Deion Sanders’ undefeated Tigers playing host to Eric Dooley’s 7-4 Jaguars. While Jackson State has set the precedent in the HBCU world as of late, Southern will have revenge on their mind with the thoughts of their 35-0 loss at the hands of these Tigers back in October still looming large. No one has been able to knock off JSU yet this year, but the Jaguars get their second shot at it this weekend. It isn’t just a SWAC title that’s on the line either, but also a trip to the coveted Celebration Bowl.
Jackson State Preview
JSU, last year’s SWAC, champion is the odds-on favorite to take the crown again this time around thanks in large part to head coach Deion Sanders. Sanders has led the Tigers to the best season in school history with the program’s first ever 11-0 record. With an offense that’s capable of scoring almost at will to a hard-hitting defense that knows how to generate turnovers, Jackson State is the full package.
The Tigers offense will go as quarterback Shedeur Sanders does. Sanders is one of the FCS’ best passers this year with 3,083 yards and 32 touchdowns but his skill goes well beyond his passing abilities. Sanders has also rushed for 158 yards and five touchdowns on the season. He has a completion percentage of 70.3% (281-of-400) and has six games in his career in which he’s tossed at least four touchdowns.
When Sanders isn’t running the ball, Sy’veon Wilkerson probably is. Wilkerson leads the team in rush yards with 1,054 on 196 carries. He gets the ball more than twice as any other back on Jackson State’s roster and also has eight touchdowns this season. Wilkerson has seen the bulk of the ground work lately with five straight games of 20 or more carries (21 against Southern on October 29).
13 different pass catchers have hauled in touchdowns for the Tigers this year but no one has more than Shane Hooks (8). Hooks averages 11 yards per reception and is tied with fellow wideout Dallas Daniels with 52 catches. Daniels leads the team in receiving yards (597) but Hooks isn’t far behind with 574. The duo makes the JSU offense difficult to defend but they’ll have to contend with a Southern defense that gives up less than 200 pass yards per game.
Travis Hunter has also been making a splash for himself and living up to the hype that surrounded him last offseason. The freshman phenom has seen snaps on both sides of the ball this year. He’s caught 13 passes for 142 yards and two scores but has also grabbed two interceptions on defense, one of which he took back for a touchdown, and picked up a fumble. Hunter can do it all and probably we again be asked to on Saturday.
If JSU does what they're supposed to they should be alright. Across the board they've got NFL-caliber talent and with a Hall of Fame head coach to boot, they're built for big games just like this.
Southern will be making its first appearance in the SWAC title game since 2019 and will be looking to win it for the first time since 2013. Coached by first-year head man Eric Dooley, the Jaguars are coming off a seven-win season and looking to get revenge on a Jackson State for the loss earlier this year. Southern boasts one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country and can hurt opponents in a flurry of ways on offense.
No team in the entire FCS is better at scoring defensive touchdowns than the Jaguars. Five different players on the defense have all taken interceptions back for scores this season including standout defensive back Corione Harris who has four picks. When Harris gets his hands on the ball he might be the biggest threat on the field to go the distance as he averages 40.5 yards per interception return.
On the other side, quarterback Besean McCray will be running a lot. The sophomore signal caller has thrown for 1,619 yards this year but also leads the team in rushing with 642 on the ground. He has totaled 20 touchdowns but has also taken 17 sacks this year. McCray will need to be wary of a JSU defensive front that has brought down opposing QBs 42 times this year.
The good news for Southern? They’re the one team that’s actually ahead of Jackson State in total sacks in the FCS with 43. The Jaguars tenacious front is headlined by studs including Tahj Brown who leads the team with 6.5 sacks. Right behind him is standout freshman Ckelby Givens with 5.5. The last time they played JSU the unit brought down Sanders twice for a total of 17 lost yards.
Karl Ligon will line up alongside McCray and handle a good portion of the run duties as well. Ligon has 541 rush yards and five touchdowns on 119 touches this year. McCray doesn’t pass a ton but when he does he likes to look for Cassius Allen. The sophomore receiver has 26 catches for 407 yards and three touchdowns, all of which are team highs.
Southern has their work cut out for them in this one and will need to play a near-perfect game to have a chance. The defensive front needs to apply pressure on Sanders and make life uncomfortable for him or it'll be a long afternoon whereas the offense needs to capitalize on every opportunity it gets.
This game is Jackson State’s to lose and they’re a heavy favorite for a lot of reasons. Deion Sanders has been offered jobs up in the FBS but right now it’s all business for him and his alma mater. Last year the season ended on a sour note in the Celebration Bowl and the romp through the SWAC this year shows that it didn’t sit well with the team. Southern probably won’t get blanked again but it’s hard to see them pulling off the win given all that JSU can throw at them.
Prediction: Southern 14 - Jackson State 31
The game kicks off at 4:00 PM (ET) on ESPN2.