What next for struggling Grambling, Tech, NSU football programs?

It’s the silly season, now that regular-season college football games have ended on the field. There are no bowls or playoff contests for the local squads.

However, here and all across the land, the games really get intense now. Instead of young men ranging from 18-24 years old competing on (almost always plastic) grass fields 120 yards long, adults of every age try to influence slightly younger men, 17-18 years old, on their college choices.

It’s even gotten sillier, thanks to NIL and the transfer portal. Players who took the field as Bulldogs, Tigers and Demons this fall might be reconsidering where they’ll play next season. Meanwhile, the coaches in Lincoln Parish and Natchitoches are counting on mining the portal to upgrade their 2023 rosters.  It’s the way of the new world in college sports, not an indictment of any of the coaching staffs at Louisiana Tech, Grambling or Northwestern State.

The Name, Image and Likeness payouts available to our local Division I football colleges are quite modest compared to what their counterparts in the SEC or Big XII consider.  But money has been a determining factor in athletes’ college choices for years. Louisiana Tech has 85 football scholarships. Grambling and NSU give out 63. All three schools have 115-man rosters. The decisions often come down to where it’s more affordable to attend college, with scholarship money, Pell grants, cost of attendance, and perhaps, NIL opportunities.

In a couple of weeks, colleges will begin filling in the gaps on their rosters with the early signing day. Transfer twists and turns continue into the start of 2023, and really never stop until kickoff next fall.

Meanwhile, there are inevitably coaching staff shifts. Tech and Grambling brought in all-new crews, led by Sonny Cumbie in Ruston and Hue Jackson four miles west. Brad Laird remained in Natchitoches but virtually his entire staff was turned over from 2021 to 2022. We won’t see that kind of upheaval in our neighborhood this time around, but there will be some departures. There always are, for better or worse.

What to make of what happened this fall? 

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Bulldogs went 3-9 for the second straight year. Cumbie didn’t bring a magic wand or an influx of talent or depth. It wasn’t a meltdown, but an extended evaluation period. How much roster transition occurs this winter indicates if their first-year coach believes these ’Dogs learned new tricks. 

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers earned back the G on the side of their helmets this fall. Jackson stripped it away for a few games until he saw the overall effort desired. The desired wins didn’t materialize. In a bigger, weaker-toward-the-bottom SWAC, the Tigers underachieved at 3-9. Jackson and Cumbie could meet in Simsboro for coffee and commiserate. 

NORTHWESTERN:  The Demons made the most of their four wins, all in Southland Conference action, and front-loaded. NSU didn’t see the upper echelon of the league until its last two games. Bright side – Laird led his team from a horrible opening three-game stretch all the way to playing for a share of the conference title in each of the last two weeks, and 75 percent of the two-deep returns. Other side – that two-deep wasn’t good enough to mount a serious challenge for the championship.

In all three cases, the conclusion is the same. Players who aren’t on campus now will be the pivotal factors in how next season goes.

Despite dropping its last two, Northwestern at least developed some significant momentum and confidence in the second half of this fall. The culture change is obvious.

It’s still very inconclusive at Grambling and Tech.

But for all three programs, 2023 provides the opportunity for long-awaited breakthroughs, if enough strides are made, if they survive the silly season, and actually prosper from it.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com