When Jackson State (7-4)meets Arkansas-Pine Bluff (9-2) in the SWAC Football Championship Game this Saturday the Tigers will be looking for their first conference title since 2007 and to add to their 16th conference titles. Only Southern with 17 titles and Grambling State with 23 titles have more SWAC titles than JSU.
The number of championships above reflects titles won before the SWAC title game and shared championships for all three teams.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff has not played in the SWAC Championship Game since losing to Alabama A&M 22-23 in 2006. The Golden Lions are looking for their first conference title since 1966 and second overall.
This game will feature the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year against the SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, albeit they will not be going one on one in the game. Jackson State wide receiver Rico Richardson, offense, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff defensive lineman Brandon Thurmond, defense, will be expected to make big plays in this game for their respective team to win.
Richardson was the only wide receiver in the SWAC with over 1,000 receiving yards this season with 1,081 yards. He also led the conference with 56 receptions and 10 touchdown catches while leading the SWAC with 19.3 yards per catch and 98.3 yards per game.
Thurmond terrorized opposing offenses with 63 tackles (including 25 for a loss), 16.5 sacks (led the nation), seven quarterback hurries, three fumble recoveries, one pass break-up, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. Numbers like that made Thurmond an easy choice for defensive player of the year.
Overall Jackson State placed seven players on the first or second All-SWAC teams tying Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff placed 13 players (not surprising since UAPB was the only team in the West with a winning record) on the All-SWAC team.
Both these teams are in the top half of nearly every offensive and defensive statistic in the conference. One difference is Arkansas-Pine Bluff is even in turnover margin and Jackson State is -14. Protecting the ball will be a big priority for the Tigers.
These two teams meet in the regular season with the Golden Lions hosting the Tigers. Arkansas-Pine Bluff won 34-24 in a game dominated statistically by Jackson State but UAPB forced four turnovers in this game.
The Tigers had three 100 yard rushers, over 400 yards of total offense, and over nine more minutes in time of possession. This was the last game JSU lost this season before winning five straight games to end the season.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff''s win over JSU was the start of six straight wins for the Golden Lions to end the season. The only conference loss by UABP was to Alabama A&M (14-10) early in the year, a team JSU defeated late in the season 35-21.
Jackson State lost four fumbles against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in their first meeting and trailed by three points (27-24) with over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. A late touchdown pass by the Golden Lions with 1:39 left sealed the win for Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
I have to believe that if Jackson State cuts down on their turnovers and scores points instead of putting up big offensive numbers without scores, the Tigers should win this game. JSU will have to stop UAPB running back Dennis Jenkins who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting.
This game is being played at a neutral location (Legion Field, Birmingham, AL) so the Golden Lions or the Tigers won't have home field advantage. JSU is 0-1 in neutral field games (losing to Tennessee State) and UAPB is 1-0 in neutral field games (beating Langston a NAIA football program).
I think, Jackson State cuts down on the turnovers and scores points instead of having turnovers and wins this game and their 17th SWAC Football Championship.
JSU 34 UAPB 21
The game can be seen on ESPN U at 12 pm on Saturday (Dec 8).