NEW ORLEANS — Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs says he and his players have spent much of the past year thinking about half a yard.
The Tigers were stopped at the half-yard line as time expired in last season's 52-45 loss to Southern University in the 2014 Bayou Classic, and that served as a big motivator for his team all offseason, Fobbs said.
The Tigers (8-2, 8-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) followed that with what Fobbs called "a stellar" season, clinching a spot in the conference championship game against Alcorn State on Dec. 5.
So the conference's West Division championship is not on the line as it was a year ago. But Southern (6-4, 6-2) could still ruin Grambling's bid to go unbeaten in the SWAC when the arch rivals meet Saturday in the Superdome for the 42nd Bayou Classic.
"It's still a huge game," Fobbs said. "It's for bragging rights. It's for recruiting. A lot of the kids that we target are the same kids they target."
This year's edition has the makings of the type of high-scoring affair that thrilled spectators a year ago. Grambling State, behind SWAC-leading passer Johnathan Williams, is second in the conference in scoring at 44.1 points per game and third in total offense. Southern is fourth in scoring (35.8) and fourth in total offense.
Southern, which lost two of three games late in the season — both at home — won't play in the conference title game for the first time in three years. However, the Jaguars are coming off a 57-24 victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff followed by a 46-7 rout of Alabama A&M.
Southern's attack features SWAC-leading rusher Lenard Tillery (1,121 yards, 6.1 per carry) and quarterback Austin Howard, whose completion percentage of 66.4 is the highest in the conference.
"They can really score," Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said of Grambling. "But we're pretty good, too."
Some things to know about the Bayou Classic
TAKING EXCEPTION: Fobbs said he expected Grambling's performance against Southern to be no less "stellar" than the rest of the Tigers' season. When Odums heard that, he responded, "They're confident. They're 8-0. But when you say 'stellar,' I'm thinking you're trying to put on a show or something."
LOST SPRING: Southern did not have spring practice last offseason because of previous Academic Progress Rates issues with the program. Odums implied that his team might have kept pace with Grambling otherwise. "You can't catch up," Odums said of the lost offseason work. "You never get (that time) back."
MORE WITH LESS: The Tigers are second in the conference in scoring although opponents have won the time-of-possession battle, on average by 35 minutes to 25. "Time of possession sometimes is overrated," Fobbs said. "Because we're a fast-paced offense, we score and we score quickly. We possess it when we need to."
NEW HARDWARE: The Bayou Classic has a new trophy of a brushed metal, with a football at the top. The last one was a Waterford crystal football. "The last one was a bit dated, and they came to us with the idea of reinvigorating the award," said Ryan Rivas of Bennett Awards of El Dorado, California, who designed it.
CLASSIC ATTRACTION: In addition to being nationally televised on NBC, the Bayou Classic draws an estimated 250,000 people to New Orleans for the game and related attractions including the "Battle of the Bands," in which both schools' renowned marching bands try to outdo one another. The event, which also includes lectures, seminars and parties for alumni, generates an estimated $200 million in economic activity.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org