South Alabama stays competitive in first season as member of FBS
The Jaguars were established in 2009 and placed into the “NCAA unclassified” program as a member of Division I FCS. Here they won their first 17 games (to zero losses) and outscored opponents 734-171.
“We’re committed to making this a great football program,” said head coach Joey Jones, who has been at the helm since the team’s inaugural season. “If you commit early like we did and say, ‘we’re in this thing,’ then you’re on your way.”
In 2011, South Alabama started the two-year transition from unclassified to the Division I FBS. For the first time, it had games televised – including a matchup against North Carolina State.
The Jags finished 6-4 and lost two of their four games by eight points or less. They played two Division I FBS teams and a combination of Division I FCS and Division II teams.
“It all starts with the administration, which has been outstanding,” he continued. “The coaching staff is committed, our great players are committed – we’re making this happen.”
This past year, USA played in its first-ever season as a member of the FBS. And although the record doesn’t show it (2-11), the Jaguars were a surprisingly competitive team in a tough Sun Belt Conference.
South Alabama took conference champ Arkansas State down to the wire, losing 36-29 in Week 7. It held its own against LA-Monroe and Middle Tennessee, and played tough vs. NC State and Mississippi State on the road.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Jones. “We didn’t know what Sun Belt (conference play) would be like. You just don’t know how your players will react, and you don’t know what to expect ‘til you go through it.
“We went through the season and were very competitive,” he added. “I’m proud of how our kids fought hard.”
Jones mentioned how he felt as if his players wore down towards the latter half of games, due to depth issues – the result of fewer scholarship athletes.
He plans to fix that here and now.
“That’s the name of the game – getting guys on the field,” Jones said of his roster situation. “Counting our signees at the midterm and the ones that sign in February, we’ll have eight or nine (junior college transfers), which will be big. Plus the addition of some good high school players – that gives us immediate help, as we’re trying to fill holes.”
South Alabama will return the majority of its team to the gridiron this fall for its first season as a full member of the FBS. This will be needed if the Jaguars plan on keeping up with teams such Tennessee, Kent State and Navy – all non-conference scheduled opponents.
“Coming up this season will be the first time we have some seniority,” said Jones. “They know what it takes to win. …our players are looking forward to it.”
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