Lose that one, and the 2008 Bayou Classic — rather than propelling GSU to its fifth Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game of the decade — would have been a meaningless exercise.
GSU won, of course, against Prairie View then against Southern — avoiding a coin-flip option since Grambling would have shared one conference loss with Southern as well as PVAMU.
Even so, that memorable scenario — and a brutal first month’s slate for Grambling — set up the 2009 rematch against the Panthers as a turning-point moment in the upcoming campaign.
For his part, Rod Broadway, starting his third fall camp at GSU this week, isn’t looking too far forward — or too much into the past.
“The thing we’ve got to do is stay humble and stay hungry,” Broadway said. “Last year doesn’t help you a bit this year. You’ve got to go out and perform in the moment.”
What’s become clear to Panthers’ coach Henry Frazier, meanwhile, is that Prairie View will have to sweep both the Baton Rouge-based Jaguars and the Tigers of Lincoln Parish to claim a Western Division crown, and thus a chance at the Panthers’ first SWAC title since 1963-64.
“Louisiana is a tough one,” said Frazier, named to multiple coach of the year honors in 2008. “(Southern) Coach (Pete) Richardson and (Grambling) Coach (Rod) Broadway are first-class guys who do a great job. We know what we are up against.”
Result: 2008 was another bitter pill to swallow in a run of extraordinary success for what once was a downtrodden Prairie View program. Grambling has beaten the Panthers every year dating back to the late 1980s, but never have those losses meant more than over the last few seasons.
Prairie View, in ascent under the talented Frazier, has managed to knock off both Southern and Jackson State over that span — but not GSU. As such, for all of the awards and national notice garnered for Frazier’s remarkable rebuilding project, he hasn’t claimed a championship.
“There ain’t going to be no more splitting,” Frazier admits, talking about Southern and Grambling. “You have to win both of those games. That’s going to be the goal.”
Grambling is set up nicely for just such an upset this year. In fact, the Tigers could arrive for this annual neutral-site game at Dallas in an emotional hole.
And, worse still, maybe 0-4.
In its initial quartet of games, GSU faces black college power South Carolina State (Sept. 6), Southland Conference foe Northwestern State (Sept. 12), SWAC East champ Jackson State (Sept. 19) and then former Top 10 Oklahoma State (Sept. 26)
“This is no slap against anyone,” Broadway told me, “but our first four games are tough. We could be a better football team and not win as many games because of the schedule.”
SCSU, under head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, compiled a 10-3 overall mark — most since 1994 under Willie Jeffries — and went undefeated in league player on the way to a MEAC crown in 2008.
Northwestern’s Bradley Dale Peveto, former co-defensive coordinator at LSU, promptly collected Rivals.com’s top-ranked FCS signing day class. He led the defense for the Demons under the school’s winningest head coach, Sam Goodwin, as NSU captured the Southland in 1997-98, going 19-7.
Jackson State is 1-3 against Broadway, but memorably offed Grambling in the 2007 SWAC Championship Game.
Oklahoma State shot out of the gate in 2008, starting 7-0 and earning a No. 7 spot in the AP poll, though the Cowboys then slipped to 9-4 and No. 16. A loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl concluded OSU’s 2008 season.
Grambling could, and this is no stretch, lose them all.
All of a sudden, Prairie View matters. Not just for the Panthers, looking to turn the corner, but to GSU — looking to repeat as champions.
Grambling’s defense, which masked so many of its offense’s shortcomings early on last season, will still be a work in progress in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. Northwestern is resurgent under a former LSU assistant. Jackson State will have homefield advantage and a score to settle after losing to Grambling in the ’08 SWAC Championship Game. And then there is Oklahoma State.
None of this comes as a surprise to the Grambling players, but that awareness — even coupled with steely resolve — doesn’t level their awfully steep climb.
“Preparation is the key,” said quarterback Greg Dillon, who led Grambling to eight straight wins and the 2008 conference title after securing the starting role on Oct. 4 of last season — against, yes, Prairie View.
“We’re trying to get back to where we were, back to championship game,” Dillon told me. “We know it’s going to be hard, but that’s what we are working for. We are going to have to make some good things happen early. That’s a big focus.”
If they can’t, Prairie View could very well be the turning point of the 2009 season for Grambling.