In the FCS Huddle: Southland chasing Sam Houston State again

Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque decided to go to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game after it moved to the Southland Conference's backyard in Frisco, Texas.

He liked what he saw in Eastern Washington's championship win following the 2010 season that he brought along some assistants to take in the atmosphere at last season's championship week.

"It made me say, hey, we're not quite there," Conque remembers, "but we're pretty damn close."

The problem for Central Arkansas, and much of the Southland Conference, for that matter, is one of the participants in the 2011 national championship game was Sam Houston State. The Bearkats rolled through their Southland schedule last year, with their closest game a three-touchdown win over Central Arkansas.

Thus, it was not surprising Tuesday that Sam Houston State's veteran squad was made a prohibitive favorite in this year's title race, picked atop both the conference's head coaches and sports information directors polls which were released at Southland football media day in Lake Charles, La.

Second to last year's national runner-up was Stephen F. Austin. Central Arkansas was picked third in the nine-team conference.

"It gives our conference something to shoot for, no doubt about it. They (Sam Houston State) have a heck of a team coming back," Northwestern State coach Bradley Dale Peveto said.

Behind 19 players on the Southland's two preseason teams, the Bearkats are expected to be dominant again. They finished 14-1 last season - losing only to North Dakota State, 17-6, in Frisco - and their returnees include quarterback Brian Bell and fellow juniors Timothy Flanders (running back) and Richard Sincere (wide receiver), last year's conference player of the year and offensive player of the year, respectively, and senior Darnell Taylor (safety), the reigning defensive player of the year.

The Bearkats' schedule certainly toughens with only three games on campus and road dates against FBS members Baylor and Texas A&M.

"This is a totally new year, this is 2012," Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. "You can't carry (last year's) points into the new year. We just have to concentrate on us getting better. We took a huge step from 2010 to 2011 on offense and defense. I feel like we can play a lot better in the kicking game. We need to develop a little bit more depth at a few different positions. We need to throw the ball more effectively.

"And we've got a veteran team now coming back, so we need to put some wrinkles in our schemes in how we do things to keep feeding these guys some more ways to utilize their talents."

In the two polls, the coaches and SIDs could not vote for their own team.



1. Sam Houston State (7 first-place votes), 49 points

2. Stephen F. Austin (1), 39

3. Central Arkansas, 38

4. McNeese State, 34

5. (tie) Northwestern State, 21

5. (tie) Southeastern Louisiana, 21

7. Lamar, 13

8. Nicholls State, 8

Sports Information Directors

1. Sam Houston State (7 first-place votes), 49 points

2. Stephen F. Austin, 38

3. Central Arkansas (1), 37

4. McNeese State, 35

5. Northwestern State, 26

6. Southeastern Louisiana, 16

7. Lamar, 15

8. Nicholls State, 8


First-Team Offense

QB - Brian Bell, Sam Houston State, Jr.

RB - Timothy Flanders, Sam Houston State, Jr.

RB - Jackie Hinton, Central Arkansas, Sr.

FB/HB - Richard Sincere, Sam Houston State, Jr.

WR - Cordell Roberson, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.

WR - Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.

TE - Nick Scelfo, Nicholls State, So.

OL - Dominique Allen, Central Arkansas, Jr.

OL - Alec Savoie, McNeese State, Sr.

OL - Kaleb Hopson, Sam Houston State, Sr.

OL - Larry Calcote, Northwestern State, Sr.

OL - Dan Jenkins, Sam Houston State, Sr.

First-Team Defense

DL - J.T. Cleveland, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DL - Willie Jefferson, Stephen F. Austin, Jr.

DL - Andrew Weaver, Sam Houston State, Jr.

DL - Gary Lorance, Sam Houston State, Jr.

LB - Seth Allison, Central Arkansas, Sr.

LB - Derek Rose, Northwestern State, Sr.

DB - Darnell Taylor, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DB - Malcolm Bronson, McNeese State, Sr.

DB - Kenneth Jenkins, Sam Houston State ,Sr.

DB - Dax Swanson, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DB - Jamaal White, Northwestern State, Sr.

First-Team Special Teams

PK - John Shaughnessy, Northwestern State, Sr.

P - Cory Kemps, Nicholls State, Sr.

RS - Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.

Second-Team Offense

QB - Brady Attaway, Stephen F. Austin, Jr.

RB - Marcus Washington, Nicholls State, Jr.

RB - Jesse Turner, Nicholls State, Sr.

FB/HB - Mike Brooks, Stephen F. Austin, Jr.

WR - Jesse Grandy, Central Arkansas, Sr.

WR - Dominique Croom, Central Arkansas, Sr.

TE - T.J. Jones, Sam Houston State, Sr.

OL - Jonathan Landry, McNeese State, Jr.

OL - Matt Boyles, Sam Houston State, Jr.

OL - John Steel, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.

OL - Miguel Gauthreaux, McNeese State, Sr.

OL - Corey Howard, Central Arkansas, Sr.

Second-Team Defense

DL - Malcolm Mattox, Stephen F. Austin, Jr.

DL - Preston Sanders, Sam Houston State, Jr.

DL - Pat Williams, McNeese State, Sr.

DL - Matt Hornbuckle, Central Arkansas, Jr.

LB - Ryan Epperson, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.

LB - Darius Taylor, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DB - Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana, Sr.

DB - Bookie Sneed, Sam Houston State, Jr.

DB - Jestin Love, Central Arkansas, Jr.

DB - Robert Shaw, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DB - Josh Aubrey, Stephen F. Austin, Jr.

Second-Team Special Teams

PK - Eddie Camara, Central Arkansas, So.

P - Matt Foster, Sam Houston State, Sr.

RS - Darius Carey, McNeese State, Sr.