It’s not like Prairie View University football coach Eric Dooley hasn’t had some good teams in the past, but this season’s group seems to be on a higher level.

Dooley, who isn’t too fond of giving out too many superlatives about his squad during the season, says the difference this year is the drive of the Panthers.

“We see a lot in the games, but you’ve got to see what takes place during the week,” Dooley said. “The intensity, the way that they work, the way that they actually lead one another. I think what has stepped up more than anything this year is the leadership.

“When you have a lot of guys that’s coming back and have played together that makes a difference.”

The Panthers, picked in the preseason poll to finish somewhere in the lower half of the SWAC West, have been the surprise of the conference this season. They are 5-1 overall and sit atop the West Division at 4-0 heading into a big matchup Saturday at the Southern Jaguars.

While Dooley is quick to remind anyone listening that the Jaguars haven’t won anything yet, he is pleased with how they work.

“What makes this team special is what every coach will want to have and that is we are going to play every minute of the game, 60 minutes,” he said. “Regardless of what, we are going to lineup and we are going to play.”

Prairie View has seemed to put it together in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams. Dooley has been known for explosive offenses, but this year the defense has also been a strong point.

With standouts like safety Drake Cheatum, linebacker Tre’Shaud Smith and defensive lineman Jason Dumas leading the way, the Panthers rank third in the SWAC in total defense (allowing 307.8 yards per game) and against the run (122.5 yards per game).

The Panthers offense is also still as explosive as ever with Louisville graduate transfer quarterback Jawon Pass leading the best the top offense in the SWAC (436.7 yards per game). They’ve been balanced with a trio of running backs led by Lyndemian Brooks and Jaden Stewart.

Veteran receivers Antonio Mullins and Jailon Howard have caused major problems for opposing defenses throughout the season, but freshman Tre’jon Spiller had a breakout game during last weekend’s 35-29 win at Bethune Cookman, finishing with 114 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions.

The versatility of the Panthers offense has given Southern coach Jason Rollins quite a bit to think about this week. But unlike past years, the defense is a major concern, as well.

“They are flying around, making plays on the ball,” said Rollins, whose team is 3-3 overall and 2-1 in SWAC play. “They play hard, and they are a physical football team.”