McNeese State Football enters 2014 at number 8 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 10-3 (6-1) Southland Conference
The Cowboys’ strength was offense in 2013. Sixth in the FCS with 40 points per game, they converted 89.7% of their red zone attempts to points and finished with an overall record of 10-3.
In game one, McNeese State football blew out FBS school South Florida 53-21 in South Florida. Great start. They kept their roll going with wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, West Alabama, and Weber State before their first loss of the season at Northern Iowa week five – a 41-6 blowout that felt doomed from the start. It was another four weeks before the Cowboys lost again, this time a 41-7 drubbing at the hands of Southeastern Louisiana that looked a lot like the UNI game in terms of mistakes and missed opportunities. When McNeese State lost last season, they lost big.
Despite the two big losses, the Cowboys went into the FCS playoffs as the sixth overall seed. They fell in their first game to Jacksonville State, 31-10.
Arinze Agaada OL – Southland Conference Lineman of the Year, Second team FCS All-American
Cody Stroud QB – SLC offensive player of the year, 211/370 (57%), 2,935 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs
Marcus Wiltz HB – 213 carries, 1,316 yards, 11 TDs, 6 YPC
Diontae Spencer WR – 50 catches, 835 yards, 9 TDs (20 punt returns, 1 TD)
Ernest Celestie WR – 31 catches, 565 yards, 5 TDs
Guy Morgan CB – 59 tackles, team-high 4 INTs
Terence Cahee S – 79 tackles, 1 INT
Ryan Bronson S – 60 tackles, 2 INTs
What to Watch For
Carrying the ball – Last season’s leading rusher, Marcus Wiltz, graduated this spring. The two-year starter finished his career with 479 carries for 2,595 yards and 24 TDs. His replacement(s) will be a couple big time transfers – Derrick Milton from Mississippi State and Nate Holmes from Arkansas. Milton saw time in 22 games for the Bulldogs and amassed 234 yards on 47 touches. Holmes was the #37 athlete in the country coming out of high school (ranked by 247Sports.com) and ranked 10th in the SEC in yards per punt return last season. They should thrive under this veteran Cowboy offensive line.
Defense – It’s pretty rare for a corner to lead his team in tackles, but that’s exactly what Sam Aaron did last season. He amassed 84 stops to go along with his 7 pass-breakups and 8.5 tackles for a loss; but Aaron will be the only starter from last year’s defensive backfield to return to the team in 2014. Guy Morgan, Terence Cahee, and Ryan Bronson are all gone. The defense will remain largely intact other than the secondary however, so hopefully more experience will improve what was the 75th-ranked scoring defense in the FCS a season ago.
Head Coach Matt Viator is the winningest head-man in the Southland Conference. His 62-27 record is good for a lifetime winning percentage of 69.7, and McNeese’s 11-3 record last year was their best since 2007. The Cowboys lost six of their 11 All-Southland Conference performers from last season, but managed to retain much of their depth. They also added former Kansas State QB Daniel Sams. The redshirt junior will be eligible to start immediately and should help fans get over the loss of Cody Stroud, and the addition of the former Wildcat will go a long way toward helping the Cowboys challenge for the Southland crown. If there were ever a year for Viator to push his winning percentage into the rarified air of 70%+, this is it.