South Alabama has the best athletic program in the Sun Belt Conference by a fairly wide margin.
But before sports fans in Mobile completely embrace and celebrate that fact, there has got to be success on the football field.
Since becoming a Division I football program in 2012, the Jags have yet to have a winning season. In order, South Alabama has won 2, 6, 6, 5, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 4 games. In 10 seasons, that adds up to a 38-72 record.
That’s not good enough for a program that demands overall excellence and in a state that identifies so closely with football success.
When will consistent success come? There is a growing sense that Kane Wommack’s first season as head coach at USA can produce immediate positive returns.
With 13 Division I transfers on the practice field, confidence is building. Las Vegas oddsmakers have already increased the Jaguars’ projected win total from 4.5 to 5 games.
That number is still too low. The Jaguars’ schedule is backloaded with the toughest competition, so getting off to a good start is going to be critical. Here is a look at the Jags’ 2021 game-by-game schedule.
Prediction: After a soft opening to Hancock-Whitney Stadium a year ago, it’s time to get the full experience of football on campus at South Alabama. If you didn’t attend one of the limited-capacity games last season then you don’t realize what a gem we have in Mobile. There are certainly larger college football stadiums, but I haven’t experienced a better venue than what South Alabama now calls home.
When Wommack was defensive coordinator at South Alabama he used to stand on the ground where the stadium is now located and dream of what was to come for USA football. His debut as head coach will be against his alma mater, which is also welcoming a first-year head coach. Will Hall was a good hire at USM. But I don’t think he inherited or supplemented his roster as well as Wommack.
Even though it’s just the first game, this is probably the most important test of the year as Wommack tries to instill an expectation for success. Worth noting that after opening as a pick-em, oddsmakers have Southern Miss as a 1.5 point favorite.
At Bowling Green
Prediction: Bowling Green is one of the worst teams in the Mid-American Conference. The Falcons’ win total for the year is set at 1.5 games. South Alabama should be in position to pick up a win in its first road game.
Prediction: The Braves went 3-8 last season playing in the lower Football Bowl Subdivision. Programs like South Alabama annually schedule one game they are on paper supposed to lose and one they are supposed to win. This is that expected win.
Prediction: Can you feel the momentum building? Suddenly, South Alabama could be undefeated and hosting a conference foe that will open the season ranked in the top 25 in the country. This game might even make the lineup of games discussed on ESPN’s College GameDay.
At Texas State
Prediction: For six straight years, Texas State has won either two or three games per season. That’s the kind of consistency that is not desirable.
October 14 (Thursday)
Prediction: South Alabama’s best teams and worst teams have struggled against Georgia Southern. Last year’s 24-17 loss was crushing. It’s time to reverse that.
Prediction: ULM is to the Sun Belt as Bowling Green is to the MAC. In other words, this should be another road win.
Prediction: Former Tennessee coach Butch Jones is back as a head coach after rehabbing under Nick Saban. The Jags already won one battle by hiring offensive coordinator Major Applewhite when he was coveted by Jones.
Prediction: For one last time on the college level we get to see former McGill-Toolen stars Jalen Tolbert and Carlton Martial play against each other. The Battle for the Belt goes to South Alabama.
At Appalachian State
Prediction: This could very well be a road game against a nationally ranked team. That’s a tall order.
Prediction: By this point the Vols will be headed toward another losing season. South Alabama has a chance to win in Knoxville, but it’s hard to make that prediction against an SEC team.
November 26 (Friday)
Prediction: The regular season wraps up against perhaps the best team on the schedule. By this point, the Jags will be playing to try to improve their bowl destination.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for The Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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