SUM IT UP
(NOTE: Team by team previews in this conference are below)
Sam Houston State has a new quarterback — transfer QB Mike Dare. Jeremiah Briscoe had basically been "the guy" at QB for the better part of three seasons. Does that open any doors for Southland opponents to slip by, considering so much of Sam's success the past few years has run through Briscoe? We think so, if it takes awhile for Dare to get rolling, the bulk of the "hurdle" games for Sam Houston State are in September — that doesn't give the QB situation much time to sharpen up That may open things up for Nicholls, a team that has shown flashes of brilliance the last two years when it was younger, and now is older and more seasoned. Central Arkansas is rebuilding but will still easily grace the top part of the conference standings, while McNeese's defense and experienced quarterback will always keep it in tough ballgames. The coaching change at Stephen F. Austin will be something to keep an eye on, too.
Read on, as we preview the Southland Conference.
Sam Houston St.'s Davion Davis (14) and Nathan Stewart form the nation's top WR tandem (SHSU Athletics)
NAMES TO KNOW
THE NFL PROSPECT: Davion Davis, Sam Houston State
The WR has been rated by one service the No. 30 WR in the 2019 draft class, and an average of 32 receivers have been taken the past 5 years. His stock will rise this year.
THE VETERAN COACH: Vic Shealy, Houston Baptist
Shealy may not feel like it, but his 2013 start makes him the longest tenured in the Southland, just ahead of K.C. Keeler at Sam Houston (2014), though Keller has coached in the FCS much longer (previous stint at Delaware).
TOP PASSER: James Tabary, McNeese
Threw for 2,511 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 8 INTs last year.
TOP RUSHER: David Hamm, McNeese
Was No. 3 in the league in rushing last year with 805 yards and 6 TDs.
TOP RECEIVER: Nathan Stewart, Sam Houston St.
Caught 72 passes for a mind-boggling 1,658 yards and 14 TDs last year as a sophomore.
TOP TACKLER: Hunter Brooks, Sam Houston St.
The linebacker finished with 100 tackles in 14 games for the Bearkats.
TOP SACK MAN: Chris Stewart, Sam Houston St.
The Wake Forest transfer made an immediate impact, nailing down 12.5 sacks for the Bearkats.
TOP INT ARTIST: Raphael Lewis, Houston Baptist
He snagged 4 of them last year, taking 2 back for touchdowns. Alize Ward of Stephen F. Austin also had 4 INTs.
BOUNCE BACK ARTIST: Ronald Ollie, Nicholls
The Last Chance U. star walked away from the game last year, but is on the roster as a senior this fall. Had 41 tackles, 6.5 TFLs in 2016.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Allen Pittman and Sully Laiche, Nicholls
If Nicholls ascends to the "next level" of FCS respect, the defense will need to tighten up — and these two will have a ton to do with it. Count on that happening.
TOP FANBASE (*)
Nicholls takes this spot based on its No. 16 spot in the FCS overall in terms of how many fans have hit its preview. Next up would be Central Arkansas. As far as attendance is concerned, the No. 1 team last year was Stephen F. Austin, followed by Abilene Christian and McNeese.
(*) – Based on fan engagement with our previews this summer.
RANKING THE SOUTHLAND
|RK||HERO SPORTS (BRIAN)||COACHES POLL|
|1||Sam Houston St.||Sam Houston St.|
|3||McNeese (up)||Cent. Arkansas|
|5||SE Louisiana||SE Louisiana|
|6||Incarnate Word (up)||Stephen F. Austin|
|7||Stephen F. Austin||Abilene Christian|
|8||Northwestern St.||Northwestern St.|
|9||Abilene Christian||Incarnate Word|
|11||Houston Baptist||Houston Baptist|
[divider]THE DIFFERENCE: I went back and forth with the No. 1 spot. At first I thought Nicholls, then Sam Houston, then Nicholls, then Sam Houston. I do think the Colonels have the firepower to be a legit Top 10 FCS program this year, but Sam Houston State hung 66 points on Nicholls last year and there were some other head scratching results for the Colonels. Could those hiccups have been a younger team feeling its growing pains by slipping against weaker competition? Possibly — because this talented Nicholls group has given an SEC team fits for two straight years (2016 and 2017 with Georgia and Texas A&M). For the time being, Sam Houston State is No. 1 — narrowly. And if the Bearkats transition nicely with a new QB and offensive attack, watch out.
September is going to settle the Southland Conference, folks. Book that. And it's going to be one of these aforementioned teams, and they'll settle it at Nicholls on Sept. 22 — then we'll watch the winner cruise through the rest of the season. With the difference in opinion of McNeese-UCA, I just feel like UCA is going to have to rebuild a bit more than most people realize — but make no mistake, the Bears are a top flight program and will be back in the playoff discussion soon. Lastly, I like Incarnate Word to be more toward the middle of the pack this year. Yes, they only won one game last year, but they pushed some good teams and nearly the entire team is back — plus some key games are at home. Don't be surprised if they win 3 or 4 league games.
PREVIEWS: The Southland
Incarnate Word | Lamar | McNeese | Nicholls