The more I hear the question, “What is going on with UAPB?” the simpler the answer is to me — even when a lot of things have occurred that have brought the Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team to its current situation.
In a world where winning is everything or the only thing or however you look at it, some are losing faith in the Golden Lions because of two numbers — 0 and 2. (Never mind the 0-4 overall record; the first two games don’t count in SWAC standings.)
Crowds at Golden Lion Stadium are dwindling, and more Football Forecast contestants are picking Jackson State — 3-0 in the SWAC, by the way — over UAPB. Desperate times in Pine Bluff, right?
Well, you won’t get a sense of that among UAPB’s players and coaches.
This is the SWAC, where some teams with four league losses have won championships. Remember Grambling State’s run two years ago?
UAPB isn’t a team that’s 2 1/2 games behind Jackson State for the best conference record. It’s a team that’s six points away from being 2-0 in the Western Division.
So, why aren’t the Lions 2-0? Crucial mistakes they spent all of their bye week fixing. Crucial mistakes that are a sign of their youth.
That’s what I shared with Donal Ware, the host of the national radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row” (9-10 a.m. Saturdays, KUAP-FM 89.7). And if you’ve noticed those factors, you wouldn’t be ready to hit the panic button.
It’s Ware who administers the Boxtorow black college football media and FCS coaches’ polls. I’m a regular voter in the media poll, and what do I often see when I look at recent scores and compare teams each week?
Parity, not just in the SWAC, but all of black college football.
The key for UAPB is to gain an upper hand in the parity. The Lions came close to doing that two years ago, when their fate was sealed in the Bayou Classic, a game they’ve never played in. Grambling State, which owned the head-to-head tiebreaker against UAPB, beat Southern in the regular-season finale to win the West with a 5-4 league mark equaled by UAPB.
Last season, there was no parity in the West. UAPB won the division with two games remaining in the regular season. Jackson State won a close East race, but the Lions beat the Tigers twice for SWAC gold.
This season, there’s parity on both sides of the conference. UAPB is 1 1/2 games behing Prairie View A&M and Southern in the West and has not played a team within that division yet. Three of the five teams in the East — Alabama State, Alabama A&M and Alcorn State — each have one loss. Alcorn State lost to Alabama State, which lost to Jackson State.
Alabama State and Alcorn State were evenly matched opponents of UAPB, and while dealing with the unavailability of several veterans, UAPB had plenty of adjustments to make with young players before, during and after each loss. In each of the last two games, the Lions have done everything to put themselves in position to win, from coming from large margins to leading by nine points in the final minutes.
They just haven’t finished the job. And they know it.
They know they’re going to have similar starting lineups when they play at Jackson State, so the Lions are more comfortable with each other. They played with Alabama State and Alcorn State with a lot of youth, and it speaks to recruiting ability of Monte Coleman’s staff.
They’ll play Jackson State with a lot of youth. The key is to outplay Jackson State. And it can be done, even in Jackson.
The Lions are confident enough.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.