South Alabama Jaguars
2018 record: 3-9 (2-6 Sun Belt)
Offensive yards per play: 5.26 (T-103rd nationally)
Defensive yards per play: 6.70 (121st)
Turnover margin: minus-4 (T-89th)
Penalty yards per game: 83.5 (130th)
Steve Campbell (3-9 at South Alabama, 63-32 career)
The 53-year-old has 20 years of head coaching experience, but last year was his first at the FBS level when he replaced the only coach South Alabama had known. Campbell has found his share of success. He won an NCAA Division II title at Delta State in 2000 and went 87-22 at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College from 2004-13, including a co-national championship in 2007. He also claimed a Southland Conference crown at FCS-level Central Arkansas in 2017 before taking over at South Alabama last season. An offense-oriented coach, his up-tempo spread attacks at previous stops have been explosive. He averaged more than 34 points per game in his final two years with the Bears.
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Type: Power spread
Coordinator: Kenny Edenfield
Edenfield was the OC for eight years at Troy until he went to South Alabama with Campbell, who was his teammate at then-Troy State in the late 1980s. Troy’s offense was pass-heavy and productive under Edenfield’s watch, finishing in the top 20 four times. He now calls plays and works with the quarterbacks in Mobile. The Jaguars were among the least effective offenses on the ground and through the air last year — their 24.2 points per game ranked 100th nationally — but they clearly leaned more run (40.9 carries per game, 39th) than pass (26.6 attempts per game, 105th).
Coordinator: Greg Stewart
Stewart followed Campbell — his former Troy State teammate — from Central Arkansas to South Alabama and brought with him a reputation for generating negative plays. That didn’t happen in year one, with South Alabama getting 62 tackles for loss (106th) last fall. The transition-season struggles led to finishing among the worst in the country in scoring defense (123rd) and stopping the run and pass. The unit also did its part in making the Jags the most-penalized squad in the FBS. Stewart, 54, is at his fifth coaching stop after spending most of his career working at smaller schools in the Southeast.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cephus Johnson, quarterback: The sophomore beat out a redshirt freshman and a junior college transfer to earn the starting job this week. A year in the system should do wonders for the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Johnson, who has a big arm and decent enough speed. He played intermittently last year, completing 7 of 19 passes for 120 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Tyree Turner, defensive end: One of the few current Jaguars who also came to Lincoln in 2015 is a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt selection and the brightest spot on a veteran defensive line. The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Turner moved to end in the spring after logging 51 tackles (four sacks) during a standout junior season. The former two-star recruit can affect possessions by himself.
THEY SAID IT
“If you asked me, ‘What time would you want to play, Coach?’ Well, let’s pick the hottest part of the day and let’s play them. So we get Nebraska at 11 in front of (90,000) on ESPN. If you could draw it up any way you wanted to draw it up, that’s how you would.” — South Alabama coach Steve Campbell during Sun Belt media day last month.
“Structure-wise, I think (Nebraska’s defense) is something we have prepared a lot for. They have a lot of team speed, and they have size up front. We’re going to have to be smart about being able to get our matchups on them.” — South Alabama offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield.
“We need to learn from some of the things that happened last year. Getting beat by a good Troy team here certainly wasn’t one of our brightest moments. I think they’re doing everything they can to be ready for this one and try not to let that happen.” —Nebraska coach Scott Frost on facing South Alabama.
3.71: Yards per carry by South Alabama rushers last year, which ranked 106th nationally. But the team still ran the ball more than 40 times per game (39th).
130th: South Alabama’s rank, out of 130 FBS teams, in penalty yards per game (83.5) a season ago. The Jaguars were next to last in flags per contest (8.9).
Seven: Previous years as an FBS program for South Alabama, which played its first season of college football at any level in 2009.
Aug. 31 at Nebraska
Sept. 7 Jackson State
Sept. 14 Memphis
Sept. 21 at UAB
Sept. 28 at Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 3 Georgia Southern
Oct. 16 at Troy
Oct. 26 Appalachian State
Nov. 9 at Texas State
Nov. 16 Louisiana
Nov. 23 at Georgia State
Nov. 29 Arkansas State