To be the best, a team doesn't only have to beat the best opponents.
It can display its might by playing anywhere as well.
Ultimately, Sam Houston State wants to travel 200 miles north to Frisco, Texas, site of the FCS championship game on Jan. 5. To get there, the Bearkats willing to travel farther.
Last year's Southland Conference champion and the eventual national runner-up to North Dakota State will play only three regular-season games on campus in Huntsville. They played that many times at home in the playoffs a year ago, and nine times overall.
But the overwhelming Southland favorite will play only Incarnate Word (Sept. 8) and conference rivals McNeese State (Oct. 20) and Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 3) at Bowers Stadium this season, and two of their road games are at FBS members Baylor (Sept. 15) and Texas A&M (Nov. 17). The hope of the road warriors is that they enjoy another banner season and still get a high seeding in the playoffs. They were the No. 1 seed last year.
Of course, few teams in the FCS have the amount of returning talent to challenge themselves in such a way. Among the Bearkats' returnees are 19 players named to the Southland's two preseason teams, including the 2011 conference player of the year in running back Timothy Flanders, offensive player of the year in wide receiver Richard Sincere and defensive player of the year in safety Darnell Taylor.
"Our motto was to go 1-0 each week. Our guys did a fabulous job of putting the last game in the rear-view mirror and focusing on the task at hand," head coach Willie Fritz said. "We've just got to do that this year. We've got a very challenging schedule and we're going to have to be better and there's no reason we shouldn't be better."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 Southland Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Sam Houston State
2. Stephen F. Austin
3. Central Arkansas
4. McNeese State
5. Northwestern State
6. Southeastern Louisiana
1. SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS (14-1 overall, 7-0 Southland)
COACH: Willie Fritz (20-6 in two seasons at Sam Houston)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Timothy Flanders, Jr. (298 carries, 1,644 yards, 22 TD; 34 receptions, 414 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: WS Darnell Taylor, Sr. (128 TT, 10 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brian Bell, Jr. (143-of-243, 2,069 yards, 20 TD, 7 INT; 86 carries, 266 yards, 6 TD)
RB Ryan Wilson, So. (85 carries, 371 yards, 5 TD)
RB Keyshawn Hill, So. (53 carries, 330 yards, 1 TD)
WR Richard Sincere, Jr. (26 receptions, 485 yards, 4 TD; 129 carries, 979 yards, 9 TD)
WR Torrance Williams, Jr. (33 receptions, 450 yards, 3 TD)
WR/PR Trey Diller, Jr. (14 receptions, 263 yards, 3 TD; 11.8-yard punt return average)
TE J.D. Standley, Sr.
TE T.J. Jones, Sr.
OT Riley Smith, Sr.
OT Kaleb Hopson, Sr.
OT Dan Jenkins, Sr.
OG Matt Boyles, Jr.
OG Chris Rogers, Sr.
DE Andrew Weaver, Sr. (35 TT, 8 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH)
DE Preston Sanders, Jr. (26 TT, 6 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 3 BK)
DT Gary Lorance, Jr. (41 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 4 FR)
DT J.T. Cleveland, Sr. (46 TT, 9 TFL, 1 FR)
DE Jarrett Brown, Jr. (23 TT, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
LB Darius Taylor, Sr. (83 TT, 9 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR)
LB Eric Fielo, Sr. (56 TT, 10 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FR)
CB Robert Shaw, Sr. (67 TT, 10 TFL, 1 INT, 11 PBU, 2 QBH)
CB Bookie Snead, Jr. (63 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INT, 12 PBU)
SS Dax Swanson, Sr. (49 TT, 8 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FF)
FS Kenneth Jenkins, Sr. (95 TT, 5 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 3 FF)
S Mike Littleton, Sr. (62 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 4 FF)
PK Miquel Antonio, Sr. (5-of-12 FG, 28-of-29 PAT)
P Matt Foster, Sr. (68 punts, 40.2 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: OG Chris Crockett
OUTLOOK: Everywhere you turn, people are picking Sam Houston State to win the FCS national title, and rightfully so. The Bearkats didn't lose a game last season until they fell to North Dakota State in the FCS final, and they return 26 offensive and defensive players who have made 390 career starts. One of the overlooked statistics of a great team is rush defense, and the Bearkats ranked first in the FCS in surrendering only 72.9 yards per game. Overall, they were second nationally in scoring defense (14.9 ppg), total defense (279.9 ypg) and turnover margin (plus-1.87 per game). They have to replace their two starting linebackers and a defensive end, but both units rotated players, so there won't be a big drop-off. WS Darnell Taylor was the Southland defensive player of the year and Swanson gave them eight of their 42 forced turnovers on interceptions. Of course, what everybody knows most about the Bearkats is their lightning-strike offense, which gets all of the key pieces back except two linemen. Flanders, a Walter Payton Award finalist, is unstoppable, finishing second in the FCS with 24 touchdowns. Fritz and offensive coordinator Doug Ruse has installed a new no-huddle attack, but what separates the Southland champion is when Sincere moves into the backfield to run the Wild Bearkat, their form of the Wildcat. The offensive weapson must seem endless to opponents. The Bearkats should sweep through their conference schedule again, but they play only three games on campus and face two likely losses at FBS opponents, so their playoff seeding could be hurt a little bit.
Sept. 8 - vs. Incarnate Word
Sept. 15 - at Baylor
Sept. 22 - at Central Arkansas
Sept. 29 - at Texas Southern
Oct. 6 - vs. Stephen F. Austin (at Houston)
Oct. 13 - at Nicholls
Oct. 20 - vs. McNeese State
Oct. 27 - at Lamar
Nov. 3 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 10 - at Northwestern State
Nov. 17 - at Texas A&M
2. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS (6-5 overall, 5-2 Southland)
COACH: J.C. Harper (29-30 in five seasons at Stephen F. Austin)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (10 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Gralyn Crawford, Sr. (72 receptions, 780 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Willie Jefferson, Sr. (29 TT, 15 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brady Attaway, Jr. (299-of-495, 3,181 yards, 27 TD, 22 INT)
RB Jeremy Barnes, Sr. (99 carries, 491 yards, 1 TD)
RB Fred Ford, So. (65 carries, 356 yards, 5 TD)
RB Keith Lawson, Jr. (59 carries, 354 yards, 2 TD)
RB Gus Johnson, So. (45 carries, 194 yards, 3 TD)
WR Cordell Roberson, Sr. (63 receptions, 794 yards, 9 TD)
WR Marquis Mosley, So. (42 receptions, 356 yards, 2 TD)
WR Kris Lott, Jr. (31 receptions, 362 yards, 2 TD)
WR Ryan Gambel, Sr. (28 receptions, 333 yards, 3 TD)
C John Steel, Sr.
LT Ryne Chambers, Jr.
LG Austin Wright, Sr.
RT Andrew Ratliff, So.
RT Corey Dickerson, Jr.
RG Greg Hall, Jr.
DT Corey Hill, Jr. (22 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FR)
DT Trevor Murphy, So. (Colorado State transfer)
DE Malcolm Mattox, Jr. (35 TT, 11 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
DL Ismiah Miles, So. (17 TT, 3.5 TFL)
DL Darren Robinson, So. (31 tackles, 6.5 TFL in 2010)
LB Ryan Epperson, Sr. (113 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
DB Jordan Aubrey, Jr. (97 TT, 5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DB Josh Aubrey, Sr. (97 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DB Caleb Nelson, Jr.
PK Jordan Wiggs, So. (17-of-24 FG, 36-of-38 PAT
BIGGEST LOSS: LB Devin Ducote (97 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: The Lumberjacks, the 2009 and 2010 Southland champs, finished last season on a five-game winning streak following a 1-5 start. The first half of this year's schedule is daunting again, but they feel more prepared for it. Their offense will be exceptional again after averaging 35.7 points per game last season. WRs Crawford and Roberson, last year's Southland receptions leaders, have combined for 341 catches and 48 touchdown receptions in their standout careers. Attaway's comfort level grew under center throughout last season and he not only has plenty of returning wide receivers, but also his top running backs and four starters on the offensive line, led by Steel and Wright. With Jefferson and Mattox leading the way, the defense ranked No. 1 in the FCS in sacks and tackles for loss last season. Except more of the same this season, especially with a solid secondary to lock down receivers. The concern is at linebacker because the Lumberjacks are replacing starters Devin Ducote and Derrick Choice. While SFA is improved, it will have to win some of the early season games to get back to the FCS playoffs.
Aug. 30 - vs. Southwestern Oklahoma State
Sept. 8 - at SMU
Sept. 15 - at Montana State
Sept. 22 - at Texas State
Sept. 29 - vs. Central Arkansas
Oct. 6 - at Sam Houston State (at Houston)
Oct. 20 - vs. Nicholls
Oct. 27 - at McNeese State
Nov. 3 - vs. Lamar
Nov. 10 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 17 - vs. Northwestern State
3. CENTAL ARKANSAS BEARS (9-4 overall, 6-1 Southland)
COACH: Clint Conque (89-51 in 12 seasons at Central Arkansas)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RT Dominique Allen, Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: SLB Seth Allison, GS (110 TT, 15.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Wynrick Smothers, Jr. (29-of-59, 374 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT)
QB Jacoby Walker, So. (Arkansas transfer)
RB Jackie Hinton, Sr. (145 carries, 673 yards, 4 TD; 23 receptions, 165 yards)
RB Terence Bobo, Sr. (74 carries, 276 yards, 4 TD; 28 receptions, 290 yards, 1 TD)
RB Anthony Blackmon, Sr. (71 carries, 302 yards, 1 TD)
WR/RS Jesse Grandy, Jr. (49 receptions, 788 yards, 9 TD; 21.6-yard KO return average)
WR Dominique Croom, Sr. (38 receptions, 518 yards, 7 TD)
WR Brett Soft, Sr. (13 receptions, 163 yards, 2 TD)
WR Dezmin Lewis, So. (27 receptions, 386 yards, 2 TD)
WR Al Lasker, So. (17 receptions, 218 yards, 3 TD)
TE Austin Haywood, So. (Oklahoma transfer)
LT Cole Caruthers, So.
LG D.J. Appe, So.
LG Jon-Mark Holden, Jr.
C Arturo Hernandez, Sr.
RG Corey Howard, Sr.
DE Markeith Gaines, Jr. (20 TT, 4.5 sacks)
DE Devin Hawkins, Sr. (32 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF)
DE Jeremy Jester, Sr.
DT Matt Hornbuckle, Jr. (41 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks)
DT Larry Duvall, Jr. (26 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DT Justin Williams, Sr. (24 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks)
MLB Justin Heard, Jr. (50 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 FR)
WLB Rojae Jackson, Sr.
CB Dominique Brown, Jr. (31 TT, 3 PBU)
CB Marcus Peters, Jr. (29 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
SS Jestin Love, Jr. (75 TT, 5 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
DB Karl Brady, Jr. (26 TT, 1 INT)
FS Radarius Winston, Jr. (injured last season)
PK Eddie Camara, So. (14-of-19 FG, 49-of-51 PAT)
P Kevin Buford, Sr. (59 punts, 36.5 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Nathan Dick (258-of-402, 3,275 yards, 32 TD, 9 INT)
OUTLOOK: UCA is coming off its first appearance in the FCS playoffs, where it defeated Tennessee Tech on the road before falling to Montana in the second round. Conque, though, will find it hard to replace standout QB Dick, whose production, toughness and leadership were pivotal. Smothers, who started against FBS Arkansas State last season but had December surgery on his non- throwing hand, is battling Arkansas transfer Walker, for the top job (Dick was an Arkansas transfer as well). The new signal-caller will have a wealth of offensive weapons at running back and wide receiver, so the unit should be balanced. Allen returns on the offensive line, but the Bears are replacing three seniors. Defensively, there are nine returning starters, with LB Heard facing the tough task of replacing standout Frank Newsome. The strength is the secondary with playmaker Love leading the way and Winston returning from injury. The Bears also return both kickers. The September schedule is quite tough, including conference games against Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin, but the Bears will keep getting better if they replace Dick successfully. They went 5-0 at home last season on their new purple-and-gray striped field.
Sept. 1 - at Ole Miss
Sept. 8 - at Murray State
Sept. 15 - vs. Bacone College
Sept. 22 - vs. Sam Houston State
Sept. 29 - at Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 6 - vs. Nicholls
Oct. 13 - at McNeese State
Oct. 20 - vs. Lamar
Oct. 27 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 3 - vs. Northwestern State
Nov. 17 - vs. Eastern Illinois
4. MCNEESE STATE COWBOYS (6-5 overall, 4-3 Southland)
COACH: Matt Viator (45-20 in six seasons at McNeese)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR Darius Carey, Sr. (41 receptions, 477 yards, 2 TD; 40 carries, 250 yards; 14.1-yard punt return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Malcolm Bronson, Sr.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Cody Stroud, Jr. (172-of-284, 1,883 yards, 9 TD, 9 INT)
TB/KR Javaris Murray, Jr. (19 carries, 74 yards, 1 TD; 23.2-yard KO return average)
TB Marcus Wiltz, Jr. (62 carries, 311 yards, 4 TD)
TB/KR Champlain Babin, Sr. (38 carries, 139 yards, 2 TD; 17 receptions, 183 yards, 1 TD; 21.8-yard KO return average)
FB Tyler Reed, Jr.
FB Kegan Myers, Sr.
WR Wes Brisco, Jr. (17 receptions, 380 yards, 1 TD)
WR Damion Dixon, Sr. (22 receptions, 246 yards, 1 TD)
WR Ernest Celestie, Jr. (22 receptions, 225 yards)
TE Josh Jordan, Sr.
LT Taylor Johnson, Sr.
LG Jonathan Landry, Sr.
C Carson Chaisson, Sr.
RG Arinze Agada, Jr.
G/C Miguel Gauthreaux, Sr. (injured last season)
DE Chris Loveless, Jr. (32 TT, 3 TFL, 6 QBH, 1 FR)
DT Michael Ware, Jr. (21 TT, 4 QBH)
DT Pat Williams, Sr. (40 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 QBH, 2 FR)
DE Everett Ellefsen, So.
LB Deonte Thompson, So. (31 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
LB Joe Narcisse, Sr. (64 TT, 11 TFL, 2 INT, 2 QBH)
LB Hayden Dobbs, Jr. (26 TT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Guy Morgan, Jr. (26 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
CB Seth Thomas, Sr. (38 TT, 3 TFL, 5 PBU)
S Ford Smesny, Sr. (30 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU)
S Terence Cahee, Jr. (23 TT, 5 TFL, 1 FR, 1 BK)
PK Josh Lewis. Sr. (10-of-16 FG, 26-of-27 PAT)
P Jean Breaux, Fr.
BIGGEST LOSS: DE Desmund Lighten (63 TT, 9 TFL, 2 sacks, 12 QBH, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: Although McNeese State took a step back last season, it is a program that has won six of the last 12 Southland titles, and Viaton returns a veteran team, so don't overlook the Cowboys. QB Stroud comes back more seasoned and should be more consistent behind what should be one of the better lines in the conference (Savoie is the anchor). The backfield threesome of Murray, Babin and Wiltz is strong enough for the Cowboys to overcome the loss of Andre Anderson (600 yards, 6 TD last season). There's also a lot back on the perimeter, where Carey is a dynamic player. The defense suffered more losses, but it's particularly strong against the pass. FS Bronson has made the All- Southland first team in each of his first three seasons and is a potential NFL draftee next spring. Lewis has 32 career field goals, including three to win games. The Cowboys expect to be better this season.
Aug. 30 - at Middle Tennessee
Sept. 8 - vs. McMurry
Sept. 15 - at Weber State
Sept. 22 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 29 - vs. Northwestern State
Oct. 13 - vs. Central Arkansas
Oct. 20 - at Sam Houston State
Oct. 27 - vs. Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 3 - at Nicholls
Nov. 10 - at UTSA
Nov. 17 - vs. Lamar
5. NORTHWESTERN STATE DEMONS (5-6 overall, 3-4 Southland)
COACH: Bradley Dale Peveto (10-25 in three seasons at Northwestern State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LG Larry Calcote, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Derek Rose, Sr. (82 TT, 10 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 7 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brad Henderson, Sr. (178-of-289, 1,853 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT; 112 carries, 204 yards)
TB Robert Walker, Jr. (Louisiana-Lafayette transfer)
TB Rumeall Morris, Jr. (82 carries, 296 yards, 2 TD)
TB Sidney Riley, Sr. (59 carries, 159 yards, 3 TD)
FB Brant Legendre, Jr.
WR Louis Hollier, Sr. (32 receptions, 235 yards, 3 TD)
WR/RS Phillip Harvey, Sr. (19 receptions, 279 yards, 1 TD; 27-yard KO return average)
WR Clifton Brown, Sr.
WR Sheldon McClain, So. (Oklahoma transfer)
TE Tucker Nims, Jr.
LT Jeremy Raine, Jr. (Trinity Valley CC transfer)
C Caleb Stanfield, Jr.
RG Isaac Puapauga, Sr.
RT Blayne Cole, Jr.
DE Anthony Gilbert, Sr. (29 TT, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)
DT Damon Medcafe, So.
DT Destry Hesskew, Sr.
NT Lesley Deamer, Jr. (38 TT, 2.5 TFL, 6 QBH, 1 FR)
DE Wade Williams, Sr. (34 TT, 2 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 FR)
OLB Tyler Smith, Jr.
WLB Pat Black, Jr. (23 TT, 2 TFL, 4 QBH, 1 FF)
MLB Reggie Toomer, Sr. (19 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 FF)
CB Temeni Brewster, Sr.
CB Rico Albert, So.
SS/RS Jamaal White, Sr. (59 TT, 4 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FF)
FS Bert White, Sr. (51 TT, 2 PBU)
FS Brashard Booker, Sr. (77 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 BK)
SS Calvin Morton, Jr.
Nickel Cortez Paige, Sr. (28 TT, 1 INT, 12 PBU, 4 QBH)
PK John Shaughnessy, Sr. (14-of-16 FG, 24-of-26 PAT)
P Nic Russo, Sr. (63 punts, 38.3 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: CB Jeremy Lane (43 TT, 1 sack, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: With a veteran team returning, the Demons are optimistic they can take the next step in the Peveto era. The two biggest standouts are on their Purple Swarm defense. MLB Rose, who is a Buck Buchanan Award finalist, and SS White, who is an NFL Draft candidate, are playmakers. Up front, DT Deamer had a breakout season as a sophomore. The offense was sluggish last season, but expects to got a boost from some transfers, including Walker (Louisiana- Lafayette), who impressed in spring practice while he wrestled away the starting tailback job. Henderson, a former junior college transfer, was efficient in his first season as the starting quarterback and will benefit from some faster players in the skills positions. The special teams will be among the conference's best. An especially tough road schedule could set back the Demons, but they think they can have a winning season.
Sept. 1 - at Texas Tech
Sept. 8 - vs. Arkansas-Monticello
Sept. 15 - at Nevada
Sept. 22 - vs. Mississippi Valley State
Sept. 29 - at McNeese State
Oct. 6 - vs. Lamar
Oct. 13 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 27 - vs. Nicholls
Nov. 3 - at Central Arkansas
Nov. 10 - vs. Sam Houston State
Nov. 17 - at Stephen F. Austin
6. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA LIONS (3-8 overall, 1-6 Southland)
COACH: Ron Roberts (first season at Southeastern Louisiana; 47-16 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Brian Young, Sr. (246-of-419, 2,855 yards, 15 TD, 15 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/PR Robert Alford, Sr. (52 TT, 5 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Nathan Stanley, Sr. (28-of-58, 286 yards, 2 TD, 6 INT)
RB Sam Fairley, Sr. (112 carries, 396 yards, 3 TD; 18 receptions, 203 yards)
RB Zeke Jones, Sr. (67 carries, 292 yards, 7 TD)
RB LaTruan Weary, Jr. (69 carries, 290 yards, 5 TD)
WR Dean Johnson, So. (23 receptions, 226 yards, 2 TD)
WR Chris Malott, So.
WR Jerry Anderson, Jr.
TE Hunter Craven, So.
RT Paul Roppolo, Sr.
RG Corey Boothe, So.
C Geremy Wilson, Jr.
LG Marshall Paris, Jr.
LT Gasten Gabriel, Jr.
DE Greg Triay, Jr.
DE Justin Church, So. (24 TT, 3 TFL, 2 QBH)
DE Mario Stovall, Sr. (13 TT, 2 TFL)
NG Traimaine Lucas, Sr. (21 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
OLB Devan Walker, Sr. (51 TT, 13 TFL, 3 sacks, 11 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OLB Tay Alford, Sr. (90 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 BK)
MLB Kaleb Muse, So. (18 TT, 3 TFL)
MLB Ricky Irvin, Jr. (85 TT, 13 TFL, 3 sacks, 11 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Todd Washington, Jr.
Lion Kevin Roberts, Sr. (34 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Rover Marice Sutton, So. (42 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
FS Tyler Stoddard, So. (90 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
PK Seth Sabastian, Jr. (14-of-21 FG, 35-of-37 PAT)
P Ryan Adams, So.
KR Jordan Wells, So. (26.6-yard KO return average)
BIGGEST LOSSES: WR Simmie Yarborough (61 receptions, 778 yards, 3 TD) and WR Brandon Collins (61 receptions, 746 yards, 5 TD)
OUTLOOK: Roberts put together a 47-16 record with four conference titles and a 2010 Division II national championship game appearance during five seasons at Division II Delta State. Now he seeks to revive a Lions program that was 5-17 overall, and 2-12 in the Southland, the last two seasons under the fired Mike Lucas. Young is being pushed for the QB job by Stanley despite ranking third in program history in completions (332) and passing yards (3,867). The offense will be multiple and has two reliable running backs in Fairley and Jones (20 career rushing TDs), but the passing game took a beating with the loss of Yarborough, Collins and Theodore, who combined for 182 receptions and 13 touchdowns last year. Roberts can build around some excellent youngsters, including OLB Stoddard, who tied for the team lead with 90 tackles as a freshman last year, and Wells, who had 1,383 kick return yards a year ago. The Lions also feature the Alford brothers, Robert at cornerback and Tay at linebacker. They'll use a 3-3-5 defense, but last year's unit was porous.
Sept. 1 - at Missouri
Sept. 8 - vs. South Dakota State
Sept. 13 - at UT Martin
Sept. 22 - vs. McNeese State
Sept. 29 - at Lamar
Oct. 6 - at UAB
Oct. 13 - vs. Northwestern State
Oct. 27 - vs. Central Arkansas
Nov. 3 - at Sam Houston State
Nov. 10 - vs. Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 15 - at Nicholls
7. LAMAR CARDINALS (4-7 overall, 2-5 Southland)
COACH: Ray Woodard (9-13 in two seasons)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB DePaul Garrett, Jr. (42 carries, 198 yards, 5 TD in three games; injured last season)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Jesse Dickson, Jr. (51 TT, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 BK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ryan Mossakowski, Jr. (Northwest Mississippi JC transfer)
QB Caleb Berry, So.
RB Mike Venson, Sr. (104 carries, 332 yards, 2 TD; 22 receptions, 151 yards, 1 TD)
RB Herschel Sims, So. (Oklahoma State transfer)
WR/PR Kye Hildreth, Jr.
WR/KR VanLawrance Franks, Sr. (23.2-yard KO return average)
WR Barry Ford, Jr.
TE Payden McVey, So. (17 receptions, 150 yards, 2 TD)
RT Stephen Babin, Jr.
RG Sean Robertson, Sr.
C Kyle Gillam, Jr.
LG Brock Wempa, Jr. (Tyler JC transfer)
LT Justin Brock, R-Fr.
DE Marc Malbrough, Sr. (33 TT, 6 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DE Mark Murrill, Jr.
NG Adren Dorsey, Sr. (23 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 QBH)
NG John Prescott, Sr. (35 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
WLB Jermaine Longino, Jr. (Trinity Valley CC transfer)
WLB Blake Chavis, Sr. (17 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT)
MLB James Washington, Jr. (25 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR; injured last season)
MLB Anthony Beard, So. (58 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 QBH)
SLB Jestin White, So.
CB Branden Thomas, Jr.
CB Adrian Guilory, Sr. (35 TT, 3 INT, 3 PBU)
FS Chad Allen, Jr. (41 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU)
SS Jordan Garrett, Sr. (23 TT, 1 FF)
DB Keinon Peterson, Jr. (23 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 BK)
PK Juventino Sanchez, Sr.
P Kollin Kahler, Jr. (64 punts, 42.3 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSSES: WR J.J. Hayes (53 receptions, 951 yards, 8 TD) and LB Asim Hicks (103 TT, 6 TFL, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OUTLOOK: Lamar didn't have any players on the All-Southland preseason first or second team. Woodard has five new coaches and the Cardinals hope to get some quick results from some transfers. They have 12 former FBS players on their roster. Mossakowski, a JUCO import, emerged from spring practice as the favorite to become the starting quarterback, replacing graduated veteran Andre Bevil. Also gone are the Hayes and Marcus Jackson wide receivers duo, although McVey is an excellent tight end. RB Garrett is the new go-to player after he was injured last season, although Oklahoma State transfer Sims could cut into his carries. Gillam is the anchor on an offensive line that will be improved. Defensively, the Cardinals allowed at least 30 points in nine games last season, so it's not surprising they have switched alignments, going from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4. The defense lost Hicks, its leading tackler, but there's some depth at linebacker with juniors Beard, Washington and Longino. The Cardinals have led the Southland in home attendance in each of their first two seasons (14,443 per game last season). There's a buzz going on in Beaumont.
Sept. 1 - at Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 8 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Sept. 15 - at Hawaii
Sept. 22 - vs. Langston
Sept. 29 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 6 - at Northwestern State
Oct. 13 - vs. McMurry
Oct. 20 - at Central Arkansas
Oct. 27 - vs. Sam Houston State
Nov. 3 - at Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 10 - vs. Nicholls
Nov. 17 - at McNeese State
8. NICHOLLS COLONELS (1-10 overall, 0-7 Southland)
COACH: Charlie Stubbs (5-17 in two seasons at Nichols State)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Marcus Washington, Jr. (125 carries, 565 yards, 4 TD; 23 receptions, 170 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Jordan Piper, Sr. (81 TT, 4 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Landry Klann, Jr. (36-of-57, 377 yards, 2 TD, 6 INT)
QB Beaux Hebert, So. (24-of-44, 254 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT)
RB Jesse Turner, Sr. (15 receptions, 126 yards, 1 TD)
WR LaQuintin Caston, Sr. (93-of-177, 870 yards, 8 TD, 9 INT; 179 carries, 707 yards, 5 TD)
WR Demon Bolt, So (12 receptions, 97 yards, 3 TD)
WR Andrew Wynn, Sr.
WR Jordan Arcement, Jr.
WR Josh Hanberry, So.
TE Nick Scelfo, So. (15 receptions, 189 yards, 1 TD)
RT Ryan Zeller, So.
RG Caleb Cline, So.
C Gerald Gruenig, Sr.
LG Rafe Plaisance, So.
LT Tyler Knowles, So.
DE Darrell Brown, Sr. (48 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DT Fernandez Garner, Sr. (8 TT, 2.5 TFL)
NT Edet Udoh, Sr. (26 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 PBU)
OLB Rashar Knight, Sr. (44 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 3 BK)
WLB Chris Bermond, Jr.
WLB Ryan Bruno, So. (21 TT, 2 FF)
SLB Kerry Guidry, Sr.
LB Dwayne Mitchell, So. (Minnesota transfer)
CB Darvin Butler, Fr.
CB Brian Lewis, Jr. (43 TT, 2 PBU)
S Jordan Hanberry, Jr. (43 TT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)
S Siegan Vergenal, Jr. (65 TT, 3.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 5 FF)
DB Kerry Guidry, Sr. (33 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
DB T.J. Lumar, Jr. (27 TT, 1 INT)
PK Andrew Dolan, Jr. (6-of-9 FG, 24-of-25 PAT)
P Cory Kemps, Sr. (50 punts, 42.8 ypp)
RS Josh Hanberry, So.
BIGGEST LOSS: CB Bobby Felder (49 TT, 4 TFL, 5 INT, 8 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF, 3 BK)
OUTLOOK: With a 10-game losing streak that is the third-longest in the FCS, the Colonels' hope for improvement stems from the return of 52 letter-winners. They were offensively challenged last season, averaging a Southland-low 18 points per game. Stubbs will try to establish more of a passing game by switching run-first QB Caston to wide receiver and handing over the signal- caller duties to Klann, the projected starter, or Hebert. However, Caston will still run out of the Wildcat, having racked up 1,513 yards and 21 touchowns on the ground in his career. Despite their three-wideout look, the Colonels still have running talent in RBs Turner and Washington. The offensive linemen, wrecked by injuries and sacks last season, will start four sophomores. The D- line, on the other hand, features more seniors. In the 3-4, LB Piper enters his senior season with 178 career tackles. Kemps could be a difference-maker, having averaged 42.8 yards per punt to rank No. 6 in the FCS. With South Alabama having moved up to the Sun Belt Conference, the Colonels play three straight FBS teams to open the season. Then after a game against Division II Evangel, the Colonels get the Central Arkansas-Sam Houston State-Stephen F. Austin triumvirate in order. Yikes.
Sept. 1 - at Oregon State
Sept. 8 - at South Alabama
Sept. 15 - at Tulsa
Sept. 22 - vs. Evangel
Oct. 6 - at Central Arkansas
Oct. 13 - vs. Sam Houston State
Oct. 20 - at Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 27 - at Northwestern State
Nov. 3 - vs. McNeese State
Nov. 10 - at Lamar
Nov. 15 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana