NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As bad as this season got for the Southern Jaguars and first-year coach Stump Mitchell, they could always take heart that a shot at redemption awaited them at season's end.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving means it's time for the annual Bayou Classic between Southern and arch rival Grambling State — a celebrated, nationally televised affair in which the stakes always seem high, regardless of either team's record.
Even both schools' marching bands aim to outdo one other when they march on to the Louisiana Superdome turf during halftime.
"This game to everyone is like the Super Bowl," Mitchell said this week. "I've never had an opportunity to be a head coach in the Super Bowl, so now this is my Super Bowl."
Mitchell, a former running back and assistant coach in the NFL, went to the 2006 Super Bowl as part of Mike Holmgren's staff with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2009, Mitchell was with the Washington Redskins before agreeing to take over at Southern for longtime coach Pete Richardson.
Mitchell's first season at Southern has been a struggle. The Jaguars are 2-8 overall and 1-7 in Southwestern Athletic Conference. Coming off a bye, Mitchell says the team is ready to play its best football of the season.
"This is what it's all about," Mitchell said. "We've had several guys who've played in the game before. They know the magnitude in the importance of the game. They'll come out and be ready to play."
Grambling (8-2, 7-1) is coming off of a heartbreaking overtime loss to Western Division leader Texas Southern that cost the Tigers a chance to play in the SWAC title game next month.
"For me, the most important thing is to win championships," coach Rod Broadway said. "I tried to explain that to people (at Grambling), but they didn't listen to me. I said, 'You don't get rings for winning the Bayou Classic. You get rings for winning the SWAC championship.' But for our fans and our players, this is a big, big thing."
Grambling had a few setbacks before the regular season even began. Projected starting quarterback Greg Dillon was denied a sixth season of eligibility and defensive end Christian Anthony was lost for the season when he was hospitalized with chest pains.
Fortunately for the Tigers, running back Frank Warren was ready to carry the load on offense, averaging 143 yards per game and scoring 16 total touchdowns, leading the conference in both categories.
Now the star senior wants one more memorable performance.
"It's another big game," Warren said. "The first three years I've been here it's been a big game, and this being my senior year is no different. I don't care what the record is. Coach is right. You throw that out the window. It's Southern and Grambling. Everybody comes out to play."