Eric Dooley had a premonition — before anyone else — that Prairie View would be in a position to play for its second SWAC championship in more than a decade.
In his fourth season as head coach, Dooley knew what he had in a roster that included experience on offense and defense such as All-SWAC offensive lineman Danny Garza, defensive lineman Jason Dumas and defensive back Drake Cheatum.
The veteran coach also realized that he had a potential steal in ex-Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass acquired by way of the NCAA transfer portal.
But the Panthers, who play 10-1 Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi for the conference title on Saturday, were picked to finish fourth behind Alcorn State, Grambling State and Southern and in a new-look SWAC West in the preseason predicted order of finish.
“I felt that we had championship written all over (us),” said Dooley, ” because of who we were bringing back (from the spring). I felt good with what we had lined up.”
Prairie View (7-4, 6-2 SWAC) won seven of its first eight games, knocking off Grambling, Southern and 2021 West Division spring champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff along the way.
Led by Pass, who threw for 2,329 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions as the starter, the Panthers offense ranked third in the conference by averaging 402.8 yards per game.
The defense wasn’t too shabby, either, ranking third in the SWAC only behind Florida A&M and Jackson State in total defense.
Prairie View, though, did end the regular season on a three-game slide, losing to Alcorn State, Texas A&M and 3-win Mississippi Valley State.
The stretch was characterized by Dooley as a “bump in the road” as it prepares to play a mountain of a team in Jackson State that is a 6.5-point home favorite.
“If you got to get someone ready to play in a SWAC Championship game, I don’t think you have the right football team that’s playing,” he said. “So it’s not going to be much that we have to do. Our team will come and be ready to go to work today. No question about it. And we understand that.”
Dooley, who played for the legendary Eddie Robinson at Grambling and was an assistant under Pete Richardson at Southern during the glory days of those programs, has a chance to accomplish two feats if the Panthers can topple the Tigers:
Win the school’s third conference title in 57 years and capture his first as head coach after toiling away as an assistant for two decades.
“I don’t think words could describe that,” said Dooley about leading Prairie View to a possible championship. “It will be huge for Prairie View University. Words can never describe it, but you have to play the game and that’s what we’re going to prepare ourselves to do.”