William & Mary wasn't ready to rejoin the Southern Conference, but it isn't backing down from league competition.
The Tribe of the Atlantic 10 Conference travels to Statesboro to play Georgia Southern on Saturday in a litmus test of top programs from their respective conferences.
Certainly, the winner gives its conference some bragging rights. But more importantly, those bragging rights could become bargaining tools for the winner during the inexact science of NCAA Division I-AA playoff selection.
"In a head-to-head game, there would be some comparisons," said William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock, whose squad is ranked fourth in Division I-AA by The Sport Network.
This matchup could have been an annual affair. Laycock said Southern Conference officials inquired about William & Mary rejoining when the league looked to expand.
The Tribe was a member from 1936 to 1977, before becoming an independent. In 1993, William & Mary joined the Yankee Conference. Ten of those members moved to the Atlantic 10 this season.
"We were contacted (by the Southern Conference), but right now we're tied in with traditional rivalries (James Madison and Richmond) and it would be hard to break that up," Laycock said.
The Tribe, however, didn't mind picking up this one-game showdown with Georgia Southern, even if there was no return game scheduled for Williamsburg, Va. Laycock said scheduling games became harder when an NCAA rule required I-A teams to have six victories against I-A competition to be eligible for bowl considerations. William & Mary would annually play an early-season game against either North Carolina State or Virginia before those schools pulled out of their contracts with the Tribe.
Georgia Southern, however, gives William & Mary a different challenge.
"For us, (playing Georgia Southern) is a good game against a good program," Laycock said. "Georgia Southern will be a very difficult opponent because (the spread offensive attack) is something we don't see very often."
Laycock was pleased with the way his team adjusted to different schemes of Hampton in the season-opener. The Tribe got stronger throughout the game and easily defeated the second-year I-AA program, 31-6.
But that was to be expected from William & Mary, considered to be among the contenders for the Division I-AA crown this season. The Tribe finished 10-3 last season (three losses by a combined 14 points) and advanced to the playoff quarterfinals before losing to Northern Iowa, 38-35.
A strong nucleus is back for William & Mary. Junior quarterback Mike Cook threw for 26 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards last season and senior running back Alvin Porch ran for 1,210 yards. Three returning defensive players - linemen Luke Cullinane and Peter Coyne and linebacker Judy Waddy - earned all-conference honors a year ago.
"Now we'll see how much we can improve from the first game to the second," Laycock said.
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