HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … Northwestern State.
NORTHWESTERN STATE (4-7)
The Southland (Tied for 6th in SLC)
COACH: Brad Laird – 1st year (0-0)
2017 OFFENSE: 22.7 ppg (66th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 31.5 ppg (100th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: The Demons are an interesting study. They won four games last year in the Southland, and in back-to-back weeks gave two of the league's three playoff teams — Sam Houston State and Nicholls — absolute fits in road games. It makes one feel like this team is just a tick away from being right in the mix at the top. Oh, and the Demons were only down 7 points in the fourth quarter to FBS Louisiana Tech, too. See what I mean? But it's time for Jekyll and Hyde commentary (that's kind of Demonic, right?) — the program also went to overtime with Abilene Christian (before winning) and barely edged out Houston Baptist, so Northwestern State may be one of the most perplexing programs in the league.
So what is back? The defense has some serious talent returning, especially up front. That's a nice building point. On offense, the O-line had a lot of underclassmen last year. While All Southland lineman Chris Zirkle will miss the season because of injury, there is talent back up front, some good skill players, and there's an interesting situation with the QB position — there is more than one talented signal caller to look at here. What are we trying to say? Easy, the talent's here.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Look, the opportunity is there for the Demons to be a massive factor in the Southland. Will it take that next step? Good question. Nicholls, Sam Houston State and McNeese all visit Natchitoches — so hey, Demons fans: You need to be there those weeks and you need to be loud. Grambling also visits NSU, and that could also be interesting. The home schedule is very, very friendly in terms of the toughest teams coming to NSU… so the opportunity is there. The truth is, the chance for the first winning season since 2008 is here, too. I'm going with 6-win potential, and that includes a win or two over what most pundits usually consider "Southland elite".
TOP RETURNEE: DE Obinna Iheoma (11 TFLs, 10 hurries, 34 tackles, 8 sacks)
THE NEXT BEST: RB Jared West (326 yards rushing, 5 TDs); QB Clay Holgorsen (1,240 yards passing, 9 TDs); WR Jaylen Watson (35 receptions, 4 TDs); DB Ryan Reed (69 tackles); DL Zak Krolczyk (8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 40 tackles); DL Jalon Sangster (22 tackles, 5 TFL); OL Frank Boudreaux (two year returning starter).
TOP NEWCOMER: QB Shelton Eppler (JUCO transfer – threw for 1,966 yards and 19 TDs in just 7 games at JUCO, and 71 touchdowns in one season as a high school player)
DID YOU KNOW?: LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, who also was the head coach at Ole Miss in the past, is a product of Northwestern State. He collected 121 tackles, including 17 for loss, in his final two seasons on the defensive line for the Demons from 1980 to 1983, after originally signing with … you guessed it … LSU. He is a member of the Top 100 Demon Players of All Time roster, chosen in 2007 during the Centennial Celebration.
THE QUOTE: "As a coaching staff and team, it's about doing the right things and being the very best we can be. Our goal is to win the Southland Conference championship. That's our focus and it's attainable. There are 11 teams trying and it's a battle. Ultimately, what would make this a successful season? Being as good as we can be and seeing where that is at the end of the run." — coach Brad Laird said about the season ahead
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #ForkEmDemons
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @NSUDemonsFB
— NSU Football (@NSUDemonsFB) July 26, 2018
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