The Southland Conference has a lot of moving parts behind Sam Houston State. Central Arkansas was stellar last year until running into the Bearkats, and the Bears won an FCS Playoff game and return several key players from the team. McNeese slipped somewhat after a 10-1 Southland championship season the year before, but comes back very strong. Nicholls nearly upset Georgia with a young team, and nearly got FBS South Alabama, too. Ultimately, Nicholls was 12 points away from being 9-2 instead of 5-6. SE Louisiana is interesting too because it won 7 games and got some great transfers this year, but it got hammered by Central Arkansas last year and didn't have Sam Houston State on the schedule. Basically, after Sam Houston State, this league is quite perplexing.
I guess the question here is this — Sam Houston State will get another FCS playoff spot, that's a certainty. But which team (or teams) will join the Bearkats in the postseason? At least one of these teams will, the question is who will reach up and nab it?
Sam Houston State QB Jeremiah Briscoe shredded the Southland Conference in 2016 (SHSU Athletics)
NAMES TO KNOW
THE NFL PROSPECT: Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State
Teammate P.J. Hall could also fit into this spot. Briscoe nearly signed with Arkansas out of high school, and he's proven he can sling it.
THE VETERAN COACH: K.C. Keeler, Sam Houston State
Keeler's been a head coach since 1993, and led Delaware to a national title in 2003. He's coached in 8 national title games.
TOP PASSER: Jeremiah Briscoe, Sam Houston State
Threw for 4,602 yards last year and an eye-popping 57 touchdowns. Even video game QBs were impressed.
TOP RUSHER: Remus Bulmer, Sam Houston State
Finished with 901 yards and 8 TDs, even while sharing carries with talented Cory Avery.
TOP RECEIVER: Yedidiah Louis, Sam Houston State
He'll slice you and dice you; 76 catches, 1,152 yards, 14 TDs.
TOP TACKLER: Garrett Dolan, Houston Baptist
The nation's top returning tackler posted 135 stops in 2016.
TOP SACK MAN: P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State
This future NFL draft pick posted 11 quarterback sacks last fall.
BOUNCE BACK ARTIST: Antonio McGhee, DL, McNeese
Missed the entire 2016 season to injury after being a solid contributor on the undefeated 2015 team. McGhee was a 3-star recruit in high school.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Hayden Hildebrand, QB Central Arkansas
He's going to be overshadowed by Briscoe, obviously, but he was the No. 7 passer (3,051 yards) in the nation last year and UCA was very strong.
McNeese – With nearly 11,000 per game showing up last year, the Cowboys beat out even national powerhouse Sam Houston State (8,000) in attendance.
DID YOU KNOW?
McNeese — prior to coming to the FCS level — played in six bowl games between 1951 and 1980. In fact, the Cowboys played Syracuse in the 1979 Independence Bowl and actually won the 1976 Independence Bowl against Tulsa. The Cowboys have been historically strong, winning 486 games all time to only 284 losses (63% winning percentage) since beginning the program in 1940.
Sam Houston State's loss to eventual national champion James Madison last year in the playoffs — and the manner in which the game went — is well-known to fans and FCS followers in general. So is the fact that superstar QB Jeremiah Briscoe was pretty knicked up for the game. What people may not remember is that coming into the FCS playoffs, the Bearkats had outscored opponents 380-93 — in the first half alone. That's a pace of scoring 760 points while the defense only gives up 186 — in 11 games. Let that sink in.
McNeese. The Cowboys haven't had a losing season since 2004 and return 8 starters on offense — including stud QB James Tabary — and 8 starters on a very seasoned and talented defense. After going 10-0 in the regular season and winning the Southland title in 2015, things dipped a bit last year at 6-5 — but a lot of these current seniors were a part of that undefeated team two years ago. Central Arkansas is another threat to push Sam Houston State, the clearcut favorite, but we think the Cowboys may have a tad bit more in the tank.[divider]
Sam Houston State is hard to figure when it comes to the national scene, but its dominance of the Southland last year was impressive. Its playoff losses the past two seasons have been real head scratchers, because this is truly a talented team. This year may be the year that it gets past the other elite FCS teams and into the realm of the North Dakota States, James Madisons, Jacksonville States, etc. The offense looks scary on paper, with all three receivers, the QB and the two top RBs back. The defense was very good until the JMU game, when things unraveled. The Bearkats are the clear favorites in the Southland.
Sam Houston State's P.J. Hall (92) has 36 career sacks, 67 TFLs and 10 blocked kicks (SHSU Athletics)
FCS PREVIEWS CONFERENCE BY CONFERENCE
Aug. 15 – The Northeast Conference and The Patriot League
Aug. 16 – Big South and Southern Conference
Aug. 17 – Ohio Valley and Southland
Aug. 18 – Ivy League and Pioneer League
Aug. 21 – CAA
Aug. 22 – SWAC and MEAC
Aug. 23 – Missouri Valley and Big Sky