The heat and humidity are no indicators, but college football is just around the corner. The University of South Alabama kicks off its 2016 campaign in just six weeks.
The Jaguars will open the season Saturday, Sept. 3, at Mississippi State. The contest starts at 11 a.m. from Davis-Wade Stadium and will be shown on the SEC Network.
“Our players are always excited about playing SEC schools and to play in those venues,” said USA head coach Joey Jones, whose squad is coming off a 5-7 finish. “Last year I think we had the toughest schedule in the Sun Belt Conference. And this year I would rate it up there in the top two or three, playing two SEC teams and San Diego State. But it makes us better, we are excited about the opportunity.”
Get your tickets
USA will play six games on the road this year. These tickets are now on sale, starting at $37 for MSU. Other road games will be Sept. 17 at Louisiana-Lafayette ($36), Oct. 15 at defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State ($22), Nov. 5 at Louisiana-Monroe ($27), Nov. 19 at LSU ($32) and Nov. 26 at Idaho ($22).
Limited tickets remain for both the Mississippi State and LSU contests, with an Aug. 11 deadline for purchase. All prices for road games include ticket-processing fees.
For the six contests at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the season-ticket package normally runs $110. However, a special offer through Mix 99.9 FM allows for two seats to be purchased in sections L or M for $99. Seats in the end zone go for $60, while USA faculty and staff receive $20 discounts on the purchase of sideline seats.
The Jags play Georgia Southern — last year’s GoDaddy Bowl winner — on Saturday, Sept. 10, in their home opener. USA comes back two weeks later to host Nicholls State.
On Oct. 1, South will play defending Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State. At halftime of this game, the honorees from the latest USA Sports Hall of Fame class will be recognized.
On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Jags play Troy in the annual “Battle for the Belt” at 6:30 p.m. This will be the second straight year these cross-state rivals play on ESPNU.
Georgia State will be South’s opponent for Homecoming on Oct. 29. The regular season will come to an end Dec. 3 against New Mexico State. Game times for all games besides MSU and Troy will be announced at a later date.
“(The first three weeks of the schedule) will definitely make our summer be more on point because when you’re playing Mississippi State, then turn around and face Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette, you better be ready early in the season,” said Jones, whose team opens fall practice Aug. 2. “It’s much different — it seems that in years past a lot of our tougher conference games were at the end of the season — but it will be good for our players because they will understand they better be ready early to have some success against those guys.”
Tickets can be purchased online at http://JaguarAthleticFund.com/footballtix, or by calling 251-461-1USA (1872).
Several Jaguars have already received attention going into the fall. Senior tight end Gerald Everett, junior cornerback Jeremy Reaves and sophomore running back Xavier Johnson have been placed on preseason watch lists.
Everett has been mentioned for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the most outstanding collegiate tight end. Last year, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Everett led USA with 41 receptions for 575 yards and eight touchdowns. He added four scores rushing and even threw a touchdown pass. He was first-team all-Sun Belt.
Reaves was chosen for the Jim Thorpe Award list. The honor is presented to the nation’s best defensive back. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Reaves had a career-high 96 tackles last year, with two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He made the SBC’s second-team roster in 2015.
Johnson is in the running for the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the most versatile player in college football. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Johnson set school marks with 1,447 all-purpose yards and 956 yards rushing last year. He also average a USA record 31.36 yards per kick return.
The trio are on this year’s preseason all-conference team. Joining Everett and Reaves on the first-team list is safety Kalen Jackson. While playing linebacker last season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jackson finished with a team-best 8.5 tackles for loss and shared the lead with two interceptions. He also had 72 total tackles.
Johnson is on the second-team preseason squad for USA with defensive lineman Tre Alford and place-kicker Aleem Sunanon. Roman Buchanan is a third-team pick at linebacker. Earning fourth-team honors are wide receiver Josh Magee, offensive lineman Curtis Williams and defensive lineman Jimmie Gipson III.
SBC to add title game
Starting after the 2018 season, the Sun Belt Conference will hold its inaugural football championship game. Details are still to be decided regarding how the two participating teams will be selected.
“I’ve been a proponent of a championship game for the last three to four years,” Jones said. “I felt like it will lift our conference level up to where we need to be by declaring a true champion and it will do nothing but help us to have an additional game on national television. I know that Commissioner [Karl] Benson will make sure that it will be first-class like everything else he has done.”
The SBC membership will soon be changing. The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina University — who just won the NCAA College World Series — joined the conference this month in all sports except football for the upcoming academic year. The CCU football squad is beginning a two-year transition from the Football Championship Subdivision — previously known as Division I-AA — to the Football Bowl Subdivision, where the other Sun Belt teams play.
Just as the Chanticleers become eligible for a bowl game in 2018, Idaho and New Mexico State will be leaving the Sun Belt. This will leave the conference with 10 teams.
With less than a dozen teams, the NCAA ruled in January that a conference can play a football championship game either between division winners after round-robin play in each division, or between the top two teams in the conference standings following full round-robin action between all members of the league.