Spring football, and it’s for real
This is an awkward feeling.
Sort of like those first days right after springing forward or falling back with daylight saving time.
Something doesn’t seem right. It’s just all out of sorts.
Your circadian clock must be out of whack again, another calendar stop gone haywire.
But here we are, right on time, according to the gerrymandered schedule, less than a week after the Super Bowl is out of the way, so now, of course, it’s time for the McNeese Cowboys to … start their season?
Yes, we’re talking football.
There was none in the fall, you’ll recall.
But this is spring football and not just another XFL knockoff trying a gimmick or more college practices and scrimmages with an eye on the fall.
Games. Real games. Yes, they count. What’s left of the Southland Conference will keep official standings and everything.
Yes, you may have to keep reminding yourself — these games really do count.
It’s not a novelty act, no matter how much it feels like one.
And if fall pandemic football taught us anything, it’s that scheduling games is no guarantee that they will all get played.
There are still a lot of obstacles ahead.
But the Football Championship Subdivision, FCS to its good friends, will be keeping count for the playoffs at the end of the spring oddity.
The Cowboys, the last FCS team that could have played in the fall, will be the first to play in the spring when they travel to Tarleton State Saturday.
I don’t know what the record-low temperature is for a McNeese State season opener — somewhere in the low ’90s probably, with sticky humidity — but I’m pretty sure it will be shattered in Stephenville, Texas, Saturday night with the forecasted frostbite checking in somewhere between 18 and 30 degrees.
Pack a parka, Cowboys, a fluffy one at that. New-normal football at its best.
Then McNeese, which will have gone 447 days without playing a real game, will get a week off to rest up for the home opener. You know what they say: It’s always tough to play two games in 454 days.
Then it really gets surreal, especially for home games.
There will be no admission fee for the games — as in they’re free — which will be played in broad daylight after Hurricane Laura made off with the light standards (they’re probably in Cameron Parish somewheres).
Hey, might be fun.
At newly turfed Cowboy Stadium, the crowd sizes will be pandemic-limited to one-quarter capacity, which is enough for roughly 4,250 — roughly 3,100 civilian fans after students and families of the players are taken care of.
Plenty of room to social distance.
But wait? Am I reading this right? This will be head coach Frank Wilson’s debut as head coach?
Can’t be. Seems like he’s been hanging around town for four or five years.
It’s just been so long, it’s hard to remember who it was that he even replaced.
‘Bout time he got to work — just kidding; probably no head coach in America has worked harder under more trying conditions with more obstacles and with thus far less to show for it.
It’s a major accomplishment that the Cowboys are even playing anytime, let alone the spring.
So what are we to make of them?
Nobody has a clue.
But give them credit for fielding a varsity.
Yes, all the teams on the schedule have dealt, and are dealing, with the pandemic.
They’re all in the same boat there.
But none of them would have needed a boat to cross their 50-yard line last fall when Cowboy Stadium was well under water.
None of them had two hurricanes strike, which evacuated them and scattered the team as effectively as it did most of Lake Charles’ roof shingles.
They had virtually no weight training in the fall, only vague semblances of any practices.
But their games will count. Keep reminding yourself — this is a real season.
Embrace the difference.
As it stands now, McNeese won’t be eligible for the FCS playoffs due to a one-year NCAA academic ban imposed long before the COVID-19 and the dueling hurricanes. The school is appealing that (and should hear something soon), but if there’s a year to not be eligible, this nutty year is as good as any.
That shouldn’t be an excuse. And I’m sure Wilson doesn’t want any other ready-made excuses from the long list for his lads to latch onto.
If they were to win the appeal and somehow reach the FCS playoffs, they’ll need to make a movie about this team.
That’s not likely on either front.
If I had to guess, I’d think the Cowboys will often struggle this spring.
Wilson doesn’t want to hear this, but, if not an outright spring pass, maybe McNeese football should be graded on the curve just this once.
No, the Cowboys don’t need to treat this spring like an exhibition. Nobody in the Southland is going to feel sorry for them.
There figures to be some rough spots.
But the Cowboys will be better in the fall because they played in the spring.
And so will Lake Charles.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU
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