Saturday will mark the start of the Southwestern Athletic Conference slate for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions (1-2) as they host the Prairie View A&M Panthers (1-3).
Not only is this the SWAC opener for both schools, but there's an added factor when it comes to Prairie View's coaching staff. They have two coaches on staff who were at UAPB last year, and they're led by Head Coach Eric Dooley, who was considered one of the final three candidates for the same position at UAPB before Cedric Thomas was hired.
Prairie View's Offensive Coordinator, Ted White, formerly held the same position at UAPB, and the same holds for Prairie View's Wide Receiver's Coach Robert Bailey Jr.
During this week's coaches luncheon, Thomas addressed the fact that the Panthers have coaches familiar with a number of the Golden Lions. Also, Thomas made it clear that he's been on top of Prairie View since the start of the season.
"Every game, probably about three times now," Thomas said when asked if he's scouted the Panthers. "I was on Prairie View the first week of the season. It's the first conference game so we're all in. We have game plans ready, counters and adjustments. I've been (up) against Ted for a lot of years and coached against Coach Dooley for a lot of years. We have a notebook full of things."
Prairie View gained their lone win in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge against North Carolina Central by a final of 40-24. In their season opener, they lost to Rice 31-28. Since beating NCCU, they've lost to Sam Houston State 41-32 and the University of Nevada Las Vegas 46-17.
What Thomas sees on film from the Panthers is speed. Their junior running back Dawonya Turner leads the SWAC with 603 rushing yards through their first four games. Prairie View's offense is run on the field by red-shirt junior quarterback Jalen Morton, and his top target is a Division I transfer, junior Zarrian Holcombe.
"Speed, they have a running back who's leading the conference (in) rushing yards rushing," Thomas said. "He had 250 yards-plus against Sam Houston and North Carolina Central. Great running back. They have a big wide out that transferred from Oregon, he's a junior college kid that can stretch the field vertically. He has an athletic quarterback. He's got some guys weapons that can make plays, but we like our match ups. We're looking forward to a great game."
Last week UAPB went to South Dakota State without their top two quarterbacks, so there's been some concern about the status of that position. Starting junior quarterback Shannon Patrick and his backup, freshman Skyler Perry, have both been cleared and given notice by Thomas that they're needed.
"Just talking to Shannon and Skyler, they have the nod, and they have to go," Thomas said.
The Golden Lions lost a heartbreaker in their opener to Morehouse College, responded with a shutout over Cumberland University, and then were just out-matched against South Dakota State. The 90-6 final score from the South Dakota State game, along with the opening loss to Morehouse, has given critics something to talk about.
When asked about the naysayers, Thomas had a clear message.
"Continue to talk," he said. "While you're talking, it's giving us some type of recognition, please don't be quiet. I don't need any conversation to motivate me. That's talk, it's alphabets put together to make words and sentences."
Prairie View and UAPB are set for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Simmons Bank Field on Saturday.