The University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB) Golden Lions are coming off a 2021 spring season in which they finished with a 4-0 conference record (4-1 overall), making their first SWAC championship appearance since 2012.
They lost 40-33 to the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, the same team that beat the Golden Lions in the 2006 SWAC Championship Game.
The Golden Lions did not seem to impress many in SWAC’s spring season predicted order of finish as they were picked to finish second to last in the SWAC West division.
Why are the Golden Lions being overlooked?
Well, for starters, their division is expected to be much stronger in their first full season back.
The Alcorn State Braves, who sat out the 2021 spring season, will be returning to the field looking to win their third SWAC championship in four years.
Despite UAPB beating the Southern Jaguars in the spring, the Jags are expected to be a serious contender in the SWAC led by potential SWAC Defensive Player of the Year and reigning Buck Buchanan award winner Jordan Lewis.
Prairie View A&M, who the Golden Lions defeated during the spring season on their home field — snapping a seven-game losing streak in the process — will host the Golden Lions on Sept. 30. UAPB has lost four straight games to the Panthers on the road, with their last win coming in 2011.
During the season, the Golden Lions led the conference in penalties averaging 87.2 yards lost per game. Furthermore, they have not finished with a winning record in conference in a full 11-game season since 2012, the last time they won the SWAC championship.
Will the Golden Lions be a contender in the SWAC?
A lot could work in favor of UAPB to see the team make a second straight appearance in the SWAC championship game.
While the Golden Lions were picked to finish fifth in the SWAC West division, they had 11 players selected to the All-SWAC Preseason team, good for the most selections among all teams.
On the defensive end, the Golden Lions led the conference in sacks (21) and interceptions (8). They were one of two teams to score a touchdown off an interception in the spring season.
UAPB led the SWAC in run defense, allowing just 106.4 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry.
They tied for the lead in third-down defense, only allowing their opponents to convert on third down 32.4 percent of the time.
The Golden Lions were also great on special teams scoring the most on returns, including two punt return touchdowns and a kick return touchdown. They were one of two teams to score at least one return touchdown.
If the Golden Lions are able to continue to do what worked well for them in the spring and improve on what did not, it is possible they are able to make a second straight SWAC championship appearance.
Key Games on the UAPB Golden Lions Schedule
Week 3 vs. Alcorn State: The Golden Lions’ week three matchup against Alcorn State will be their first conference game of the season. This will also be the first matchup of these two teams since Alcorn State moved to the SWAC West division. Alcorn State is the only team in the SWAC that did not play a single game in the spring (Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman do not count as they were still members of the MEAC). Alcorn State has appeared in six of the last seven SWAC championship games, winning four, and was picked in the SWAC’s predicted order of finish to win the West division. If the Golden Lions can win this game, it could put them ahead of the curve in a bid for a second straight SWAC championship game appearance.
Week 6 vs. Southern: In the spring season, the Golden Lions escaped with a 33-30 road victory over Southern. This game was a catalyst in the Golden Lions winning the SWAC West as they finished 4-0 in conference play while the Jags finished 4-1. The win for UAPB also snapped a seven-game losing streak against Southern. The biggest difference this time around is that this will be a midseason matchup instead of each team’s first game like it was last season. Going up against a midseason-form Southern Jaguars defense led by Jordan Lewis will be a good test for UAPB. This game is another that could be crucial in crowning a SWAC West division winner.
Week 11 vs. Alabama A&M: In the season’s final game, UAPB will face off against Alabama A&M in a rematch of the spring SWAC championship game. In that game, the Golden Lions had success containing an explosive Bulldogs offense, recording five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss-leading 26-18 at the half. However, Alabama A&M stepped on the gas in the second half outscoring UAPB 22-7 in the second half to take the win. Led by reigning Deacon Jones trophy winner Aqeel Glass, the Bulldogs arguably have the best team from top to bottom in the SWAC. They are being selected by many to win their second straight conference title, clinching a berth in the Celebration Bowl. This game is a great opportunity for the Golden Lions to play spoiler in what could be a preview of the conference championship game.