The Bayou Classic in-state rivalry game always means something to the fans at Southern and Grambling. This year, with a shot at a record seventh appearance in the SWAC Championship Game on the line for Grambling, it means a little bit more.
That Grambling (6-4 overall, 5-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) is in this position at all, after a 1-4 skid to open the season, only adds to the game’s multi-faceted storylines. The Tigers, under first-year returning coach Doug Williams, somehow bounced back to position themselves for that run to Birmingham, Ala. — needing now only to best Southern (4-4, 4-5) to punch their title-match ticket.
Thing is, though, Southern is equally resurgent. After posting a similarly ugly 2-5 record to start 2011, the Jaguars have won two of their last three — including a victory over Alabama State that all but knocked the defending East champs out of the championship game.
For his part, Williams says somewhere along the way his young Grambling team began to buy in to what the new staff was teaching: “I wish I could tell you the remedy. It’s the same team that had us at 1-4. We just didn’t make the plays we were hoping to make early on. We’re making those plays over the last five weeks. The guys are believing in what they are doing. I think that’s the difference. Other than that, there are no secrets; there are no remedies. We didn’t change anything we did. We just kept working hard and the guys finally got it.”
One other thing had to happen, far outside of Grambling’s control, for the Tigers to slip back in the SWAC West’s driver’s seat, though: Alabama A&M, in securing its own spot as the Eastern representatives in the championship game, topped Prairie View. That opened the division race back up on the other side of the bracket. If Grambling wins, the Tigers advance as Western representatives. If Southern wins, however, a set of tiebreakers would push Arkansas-Pine Bluff into the title match.
“It’s a good thing what we are seeing in this conference — a lot of parity,” Williams said. “The fact that it boils down to the last two weeks to determine who goes to the championship game, I think that speaks volumes.”
It also adds a vibrant spice to a neighborhood grudge match that’s always been a bubbling roux of emotion — televised since 1990 to a national audience on NBC from the Superdome in New Orleans.
“We do know for Grambling and Southern, this is the biggest game of the year,” Williams says. “For me, I was fortunate enough to play in the first one — down at Tulane Stadium. From what it meant from that day until today, I think it says alot about the two institutions in Louisiana.”