Welcome to a new series in our summer FCS coverage. We'll take a look at each team who made the 2016 quarterfinals and discuss how its fan base should feel entering this season. Can their team make a further playoff run? Are they a national title contender? Should they be worried about a drop off?
We'll talk about it all each week for the following quarterfinal teams:
Ah, Sam Houston State. The Bearkats are just a weird team to gauge. Are they great? Are they good? Are they average?
Outside of North Dakota State, no FCS team has had more postseason success since 2011. SHSU made the title game in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. 2014 and 2015 saw semifinal appearances and last season the Bearkats were in the quarterfinals.
But how the Bearkats exited the playoffs the last three years has left FCS fans skeptical. And for SHSU fans, they should feel cautiously optimistic for 2017.
And here’s why:
SHSU ended its last three seasons with these losses: 35-3 to NDSU, 62-10 to Jacksonville State and 65-7 to James Madison last year. The team simply got bullied and pushed around in its playoff exits.
During these regular seasons, though, SHSU owned one of the most dynamic offenses in the FCS. Last year, the Bearkats were first in the subdivision with 547.3 yards per game and 49.5 points per game.
Sure, you put them in the Missouri Valley Football Conference or the Colonial Athletic Association and those numbers go down. The Southland Conference isn't known for its defenses. But there's no denying the Bearkats have had some of the best offensive weapons in the country.
2017 will be no different.
Returning is the Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe at quarterback. Around him is an arsenal of weapons unmatched in the FCS. Remus Bulmer (901 yards) and Corey Avery (755 yards) return at running back. Yedidiah Louis (1,152 yards), Nathan Stewart (1,004 yards) and Davion Davis (960 yards) are back at wide receiver.
The question for the 2017 Bearkats won't be if they can score enough points. It's can their defense improve and their offensive and defensive lines get more physical for a long playoff push.
A problem for SHSU in the past has been its weak schedule. An 11-0 regular season record in 2016 only rewarded them a No. 5 seed in the playoffs because its strength of schedule was so poor. The Bearkats can't help how tough their conference is and did their duty last year by whooping everyone.
To start this season, SHSU already has a tougher schedule with a season-opening game against Richmond, who should be a Top 10 team.
That will be a huge game for the Bearkats to show what kind of team they are. Because, realistically, they'll probably win the rest of their games against inferior opponents.
They'll probably have one of the best records in the FCS at the end of the regular season. They'll probably break records offensively. That much should give SHSU fans a lot of reasons to be excited.
But as shown in the past, that won't prove how the team stacks up with the top dogs in the FCS. Even if the Bearkats have a close game or defeat Richmond and then roll through the conference schedule, what seed would they deserve?
They looked unstoppable last season until an embarrassing performance at JMU on national television. One bad playoff exit is one thing. Three in a row is something else.
Is this the year that changes? Along with defensive menace P.J. Hall back, their roster on paper says the Bearkats will be a better football team in 2017. Actually, this very well could be the best SHSU team since the 2011-2012 squads with the likes of Timothy Flanders, Brian Bell and the Taylor brothers.
Is it a team good enough to win a national championship, though? That's what SHSU fans should be wondering all season, even if their team is putting up 50-60 points every week against conference opponents.