AP Photo
August 20, 2015
AP Photo

(STATS) - Sam Houston State is one of the leading candidates to win the FCS national championship this season.

Stephen F. Austin brings back a star quarterback from a playoff squad.

Central Arkansas is senior-laden. McNeese State always wins. Abilene Christian is sensing a breakout.

Oops, it shouldn't be this easy to forget Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference. Yet the Lions don't seem to be grabbing headlines leading into the season even though they are the two-time defending league champions.

That could work against the rest of the Southland.

The loss of quarterback Bryan Bennett - the Southland's player of the year in 2013 and offensive player of the year last season - and six other seniors on the all-conference first or second teams last year have made the Lions more anonymous.

But they didn't get to the top of the heap without building talented depth across their roster.

Others might focus on the Lions losing Bennett. What fourth-year coach Ron Roberts points to is new No. 1 quarterback D'Shaie Landor doesn't have to be the next Bennett because the team's many returning running backs and wide receivers will take pressure off him.

That type of support will go a long way with Southeastern.

"We always want to be known as a mentally and physically tough team," Roberts said. "Fundamentally sound and plays the game with passion."

Southeastern shared last year's Southland title with Sam Houston and then lost to the Bearkats in the FCS playoffs. The Bearkats went on to reach the national quarterfinals in coach K.C. Keeler's first season guiding the program.

Their experienced lineup resembles what Southeastern had going into last season. Everybody was taking notice of Southeastern then. Now it's the Bearkats' turn.

"This is about as deep and a talented a team as I've ever coached," Keeler said. "There's competition at every position on our roster and competition makes you a better team. Our players know that if we do the right things, we have an opportunity to do some great things this year."

It might include winning an extra conference game. The Southland is moving to a nine-game conference schedule this year, although Houston Baptist will play only eight because of the odd number of teams (11).

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PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH=

1. Sam Houston State

2. McNeese State

3. Southeastern Louisiana

4. Stephen F. Austin

5. Central Arkansas

6. Abilene Christian

7. Northwestern State

8. Lamar

9. Incarnate Word

10. Nicholls

11. Houston Baptist

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TEAM CAPSULES=

1. SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS

LOCATION: Huntsville, Texas

STADIUM: Bowers Stadium

COACH: K.C. Keeler (11-5 in one season at Sam Houston State; 181-74-1 overall)

LAST SEASON: 11-5 overall, 7-1 Southland (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 19 (9 offense/10 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Keshawn Hill, OL John Trotter, FS Michael Wade

OFFENSIVE STAR: Jared Johnson, QB, Jr., 6-1, 215 (260-for-453, 3,054 yards, 21 TDs, 12 INTs; 214 carries, 999 yards, 6 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: P.J. Hall, DE, So., 6-1, 280 (93 TT, 30 TFL, 12 SK, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 2 QBH, 4 FF, 5 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Donovan Williams, RB, Sr., 6-0, 215; Jalen Overstreet, RB, Jr., 6-2, 210; LaDarius Brown, WR, Sr., 6-2, 215; Yedidiah Louis, WR, So., 5-8, 180; Chance Nelson, WR, Jr., 5-10, 170 (redshirted last season); Donald Jackson III, LT, Sr., 6-2, 280; Brandon DeWitt, OT, Jr., 6-3, 285; Zachary Stevens, C, Sr., 6-1, 290; Bridge Blount, RG, Jr., 5-10, 190; Jacobi Hunter, DT, So., 6-1, 320; Sione Latu, DT, Jr., 6-0, 285; Mouf Adebo, DE, Jr., 6-1, 225; Myke Chatman, LB, Jr., 6-2, 230; Tristan Eche, LB, Sr., 5-10, 215; Trenier Orr, CB, Jr., 5-11, 180; Mikell Everette, CB, Sr., 5-11, 185; Darion Flowers, CB, Jr., 6-0, 195; Eric Agbaroji, S, Sr., 6-1, 210; Luc Swimberghe, PK, Jr., 6-0, 190; Lachlan Edwards, P, Sr., 6-5, 205

OUTLOOK: This is the 100th season of Sam Houston football and it should be special because the Bearkats have enough experience to surpass last year's national semifinal appearance. They are seeking a fourth Southland title in the last five seasons and return 13 players who earned a form of All-Southland honors last season. It's not even a senior-dominated team, either. QB Johnson totaled 4,053 yards and was one rushing yard shy of being a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. Despite the loss of leading rusher Hill, Overstreet (729 yards, 7 TDs) and Williams (658 yards, 9 TDs) will keep the running game going, which will set up WRs Louis (71 receptions, 803 yards) and Brown (45 receptions, 807 yards, 7 TDs). Jackson is an All-America tackle and one of four starters back on the offensive line. On defense, DE Hall is the one opponents fear, but LB Eche and CB Orr (4 INTs, 13 PBU) are outstanding as well. Add in strong special teams - led by the experienced kickers - and the Bearkats are primed to keep the momentum going.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Texas Tech

Sept. 12 - vs. Texas A&M-Commerce

Sept. 19 - vs. Lamar*

Sept. 26 - vs. Houston Baptist*

Oct. 3 - at Stephen F. Austin* (at Houston)

Oct. 10 - vs. Incarnate Word*

Oct. 17 - at Abilene Christian*

Oct. 24 - vs. Nicholls*

Nov. 7 - at McNeese State*

Nov. 14 - vs. Northwestern State*

Nov. 21 - at Central Arkansas*

* - Southland game

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2. MCNEESE STATE COWBOYS

LOCATION: Lake Charles, Louisiana

STADIUM: Cowboy Stadium

COACH: Matt Viator (68-32 in nine seasons at McNeese State)

LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall, 4-4 Southland (Tie/6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Ernest Celestie, OL Antoine Everett, DL Kevin Dorn, DE Everett Ellefsen, FS Aaron Sam

OFFENSIVE STAR: Daniel Sams, QB, Sr., 6-2, 207 (46-for-97, 624 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs; 104 carries, 711 yards, 2 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Brent Spikes, DB, Sr., 6-1, 196 (83 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 SK, 4 INT, 1 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Ryan Ross, RB, So., 5-9, 205; Derrick Milton, RB, Sr., 6-0, 206; Kelvin Bennett, RB/DB, Sr., 5-11, 170; Dylan Long, RB, Sr., 6-0, 221; David Bush, WR, Sr., 5-9, 180; Zach Hetrick, TE, Jr., 6-3, 246; Quentin Marsh, OL, Sr., 6-3, 310; Nick Gorman, OL, Sr., 6-3, 293; Ben Jones, OL, Sr., 6-5, 295; Antonio McGhee, DL, Jr., 6-0, 273; Anthony Yruegas, DL, So., 6-2, 279; Isaiah Golden, DL, So., 6-2, 335 (Texas A&M transfer); Brandon Blackwell, DE, Fr., 6-4, 239; Bo Brown, LB, Sr., 6-1, 232; Brian Hine, LB, Sr., 6-2, 222; Wallace Scott, LB, Sr., 6-1, 211; Dominique Hill, DB, So., 5-10, 177; Gabe Hamner, DB, Sr., 6-0, 190; Jean Breaux, P, Sr., 5-10, 170

OUTLOOK: Hit hard by injuries last season, the Cowboys limped home to a disappointing 6-5 overall record and .500 finish in the Southland. But the majority of the players are back with the goal of contending for the title. Viator has a winning record in all nine of his seasons and is 10 wins away from tying Bobby Keasler as the Cowboys' all-time winningest coach. The running game is one of the deepest in the FCS, spearheaded by QB Sams but including four running backs who gained at least 346 yards (led by Ross with 599) as well as speedster Nate Holmes, who is back from an injury. Four starting offensive lineman return as well, but the one loss was an All-American, Everett. The defense is plugging holes up front, but overall the Cowboys should improve on that side of the ball with the return of three seniors who made the All-Southland preseason first team - LBs Brown and Scott and S Spikes, who had three interceptions in one game last season. Expect a considerable turnaround.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at LSU

Sept. 12 - vs. Incarnate Word*

Sept. 19 - at Stephen F. Austin*

Sept. 26 - vs. Mississippi College

Oct. 3 - at Nicholls*

Oct. 10 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 17 - at Central Arkansas*

Oct. 24 - vs. Northwestern State*

Oct. 31 - at Abilene Christian*

Nov. 7 - vs. Sam Houston State*

Nov. 21 - at Lamar*

* - Southland game

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3. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA LIONS

LOCATION: Hammond, Louisiana

STADIUM: Strawberry Stadium

COACH: Ron Roberts (25-13 in three seasons at Southeastern Louisiana; 72-29 overall)

LAST SEASON: 9-4 overall, 7-2 Southland (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Bryan Bennett, WR/PR Devante Scott, OL Jonathan Braddock, LB Drew Misita, LB Isiah Corbett, DB Tyler Stoddard

OFFENSIVE STAR: Xavier Roberson, RB/KR, Sr., 5-9, 180 (48 carries, 364 yards, 4 TDs; 30.8-yard KO return average)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Harlan Miller, CB, Sr., 6-1, 180 (21 TT, 3 INT, 2 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: D'Shaie Landor, QB, Jr., 6-1, 195; Larry Cutbirth, QB, Jr., 6-5, 215; Rasheed Harrell, RB, Sr., 5-10, 195; Kody Sutton, RB, Sr., 5-7, 200; Eugene Bethea, RB, So., 6-0, 217; Juwaan Rogers, FB, Sr., 6-0, 245; Jeff Smiley, WR, Sr., 5-8, 185; Isaiah Kepley, WR, Sr., 6-2, 210; Aaron Reed, LT, Sr., 6-3, 295; Joe Graves, RG, Sr., 6-3, 320; A.J. Bowen, DE, Sr., 6-2, 320; Herbert Harris, LB, Sr., 6-1, 225; Jordan Batiste, DB, Sr., 5-10, 185; Denzel Thompson, DB, Sr., 6-3, 200; Micah Eugene, FS, Sr., 5-10, 188; Josh Dakin, FS, Sr., 6-0, 185; Will Hines, CB, Jr., 6-1, 190 (Arkansas transfer); Harrison Heim, PK/P, Fr., 5-10, 170

OUTLOOK: The Lions aren't nearly as strong this year as they were going into the last two conference championship seasons, but they will challenge for another playoff bid. The big question is, can they replace standout QB Bennett, most likely with Landor, a good runner who began his college career at Louisiana-Lafayette. The Lions also are replacing three starters on the offensive line, but Harrell, Sutton and Roberson give the Lions a strong ground attack. Miller is an All-America cornerback, and the secondary is among the nation's best with returnees Thompson, Eugene, and Batiste. LB Harris (54 TT) is underrated. Not to be lost in the changes is the Lions' need to tighten up their mistakes after committing 111 penalties last season. Roberts has likely added more transfers during his tenure than what's come aboard at any other FCS program, so he isn't thinking about a drop-off this year. His team will open the season with a conference game for the first time since 1976.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 - at Northwestern State*

Sept. 12 - vs. Florida Tech

Sept. 19 - at Ohio

Oct. 1 - vs. Lamar*

Oct. 10 - at McNeese State*

Oct. 17 - vs. Stephen F. Austin*

Oct. 24 - at Houston Baptist*

Oct. 31 - at Central Arkansas*

Nov. 7 - vs. Incarnate Word*

Nov. 14 - at Abilene Christian*

Nov. 19 - vs. Nicholls*

* - Southland game

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4. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS

LOCATION: Nacogdoches, Texas

STADIUM: Homer Bryce Stadium

COACH: Clint Conque (8-5 in one season at Stephen F. Austin; 113-64 overall)

LAST SEASON: 8-5 overall, 5-3 Southland (Tie/3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (8 offense/4 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Gus Johnson, WR Tyler Boyd, WR D.J. Ward, DE Ishmiah Miles, LB Collin Garrett, DB Keavon Madison

OFFENSIVE STAR: Zach Conque, QB, Jr., 6-6, 237 (249-for-385, 15 TDs, 9 INTs; 154 carries, 626 yards, 13 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Lance Skyler, DT, Sr., 6-2, 285 (43 TT, 8.5 TFL, 6 SK, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Joshawa West, RB, Jr., 5-10, 185; Fred Ford, RB, Sr., 6-0, 212; Cameron Washington, RB, Sr., 5-10, 185; Jabralon Allen, FB, Jr., 6-0, 241; Aaron Thomas, WR/PR, Sr., 6-1, 188; Robert Sylvester, WR, R-So., 6-0, 184; Judah Jones, WR/RS, R-So., 5-11, 180 (Kansas State transfer); Jayson Clements, TE, So., 6-2, 235; Travis Wiggins, LT, Jr., 6-4, 300; Byron Williams, LG, Sr., 6-4, 302; David Dane, RT, Sr., 6-6, 316; Terran Vaughn, RG, Sr., 6-4, 315; Anthony Pullins, C, Jr., 6-3, 296; Donald Bryant, DT, Sr., 6-2, 285; Shayvion Hatten, DT, Sr., 6-4, 300; Kedrick Harrison, DE, Jr., 6-2, 246; Mitchel Zimmerle, DE, So., 6-4, 300; Jamal Allen, DE, Jr., 6-0, 240; Justin Owens, LB, Sr., 6-1, 224; Chance Barney, LB, So., 6-1, 226; Patrick Martin, SS, Jr., 5-9, 186; Demundre Freeman, DB, Sr., 5-11, 185; Hipolito Corporan, DB, Jr., 6-1, 184; Alex Miller, CB, Sr., 6-1, 190; Nick Bruno, P, Sr., 5-10, 200

OUTLOOK: Having posted a five-win improvement in Clint Conque's first season, which ended in the FCS playoffs, the Lumberjacks aren't looking back even though they had key senior losses. They must replace 2014 Southland player of the year Johnson (3,907 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns in career) as well as key seniors at wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back. But the Lumberjacks are strong in the trenches - great starting points - and the offense is in good hands with QB Zach Conque, the coach's son who used his 6-foot-6, 237-pound size to nearly rush for as many touchdowns (13) as he threw (15) last season. Thomas is coming off 53 receptions as a junior, so Conque could look to pass a little more this season. On defense, DT Skyler will provide the pass rush in the middle, but with the loss of seven starters, some new leaders must step forward - and quickly, because there are no easy opponents in the first five games of the schedule.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Northern Arizona

Sept. 12 - at TCU

Sept. 19 - vs. McNeese State*

Sept. 26 - at Abilene Christian*

Oct. 3 - vs. Sam Houston State* (at Houston)

Oct. 10 - vs. Nicholls*

Oct. 17 - at Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 31 - vs. Incarnate Word*

Nov. 7 - at Central Arkansas*

Nov. 14 - vs. Houston Baptist*

Nov. 21 - at Northwestern State*

* - Southland game

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5. CENTRAL ARKANSAS BEARS

LOCATION: Conway, Arkansas

STADIUM: Estes Stadium

COACH: Steve Campbell (6-6 in one season at Central Arkansas; 132-44 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 5-3 Southland (Tie/3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)

Key Losses: QB Ryan Howard, RB Willie Matthews, WR Dezmin Lewis, OL Cole Caruthers, LB Blake Childress, PK Eddie Camara

OFFENSIVE STAR: Jatavious Wilson, WR/KR, Jr., 5-9, 171 (40 receptions, 415 yards, 1 TD; 24.6-yard KO return average, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Jonathan Woodard, DE, Sr., 6-6, 271 (56 TT, 18.5 TFL, 10 SK, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Taylor Reed, QB, R-Sr., 6-3, 215; Hayden Hildebrand, QB, So., 6-3, 196; Dominique Thomas, RB, So., 5-10, 215; Blake Veasley, RB, Sr., 6-0, 205; Courtney Whitehead, WR, Sr., 6-3, 217; Desmond Smith, WR, Jr., 6-1, 201; Justin Dickey, TE, Sr., 6-5, 235; Alec Willis, C, Sr., 6-1, 286; Bryan Manley, OL, Jr., 6-2, 303; Lance Kloker, OL, Sr., 6-5, 288; Kyle Stouffer, RT, Sr., 6-7, 316; Derek Floyd, DE, Sr., 6-2, 248; Dawson Hadnot, NT, Jr., 6-1, 292; D.J. Holland, LB, Sr., 6-1, 229; Ricky Wyatt, LB, Sr., 5-11, 222; George Odum, DB, So., 6-2, 185; Dillion Winfrey, CB, Sr., 5-8, 174; Tre Smith, CB, So., 6-0, 185; Bobby Watkins, FS, Jr., 6-1, 203; Tirell Wellmaker, SS, Jr., 5-11, 207; Jace Denker, PK, Sr., 6-1, 188; Matt Spencer, P, Sr., 5-10, 175

OUTLOOK: Nobody seems to be talking about UCA, which might make the Bears the dark horse of the conference race. They have 24 seniors, including one who is among the top players in the FCS, DE Woodard, an NFL prospect with 25 career sacks. In Woodard (18.5) and LB Wyatt (16.5), they have two defenders who accounted for 35 tackles for loss a year ago. And then there's the offense, whose 40.7 points per game led the conference and ranked fourth nationally. Left-handed QB Reed has played a lot over the last two seasons and earns the top spot after Howard's graduation. Despite the loss of Lewis to the NFL, the trio of WRs Smith, Wilson and Whitehead will provide trouble to opposing secondaries. The 6-7 Stouffer will open holes for RBs Thomas and Veasley, who combined to rush for 674 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. With three straight road games to open Campbell's second season, the Bears face a rugged start.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 - at Samford

Sept. 12 - at Oklahoma State

Sept. 26 - at Northwestern State*

Oct. 3 - vs. Abilene Christian*

Oct. 10 - at Houston Baptist*

Oct. 17 - vs. McNeese State*

Oct. 24 - at Lamar*

Oct. 31 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana*

Nov. 7 - vs. Stephen F. Austin*

Nov. 14 - at Nicholls*

Nov. 21 - vs. Sam Houston State*

* - Southland game

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6. ABILENE CHRISTIAN WILDCATS

LOCATION: Abilene, Texas

STADIUM: Shotwell Stadium

COACH: Ken Collums (19-15 in three seasons at Abilene Christian)

LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 Southland (Tie/6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Demarcus Thompson, TE Jonathan Parker, DE Nick Richardson, LB Justin Stephens, S Angel Lopez, S Justin Stewart

OFFENSIVE STAR: Parker McKenzie, QB, Jr., 5-11, 185 (236-for-365, 3,084 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Sam Denmark, LB, So., 6-1, 225 (77 TT, 4 TFL, 2 SK, 3 PBU, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: De'Andre Brown, RB, So., 5-9, 190; Herschel Sims, RB, Sr., 5-9, 210; Jace Hudson, WR, Sr., 6-4, 210; Cade Stone, WR, Sr., 5-10, 185; Cedric Gilbert, WR, Sr., 6-2, 215; Jonathan Epps, WR/CB/RS, Sr. 5-10, 165; Jamie Walker, TE, Sr., 6-4, 240; Chance Rieken, OL, So., 6-5, 295; Riley Mayfield, OL, So., 6-7, 315; LaMarcus Allen, DT, So., 6-0, 310; A.J. Tolbert, DE, So., 6-0, 235; Rishaad Wimbley, DE, Sr., 6-0, 290; Lynn Grady, LB, Sr., 6-0, 205; Travis Tarver II, LB, Sr., 5-11, 215; Keith Barnett, CB, Sr., 6-0, 190; Nik Grau, PK, Jr., 6-1, 210; Austin Kilcullen, P, Jr., 6-4, 200

OUTLOOK: Last year's 6-6 season was better than average when factoring in the Wildcats beat FBS Troy as well as Central Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin, and played some other key opponents close. This year, the offense will have to carry the Wildcats while their young defense matures. QB McKenzie is their leader and gets back WRs Gilbert (38 receptions, 667 yards, 7 TDs), Stone (38 receptions, 494 yards, 5 TDs) and Hudson (31 receptions, 451 yards, 3 TDs). That is, when McKenzie isn't getting the ball to RB Brown, who fell just shy of 1,000 rushing yards while averaging seven yards a carry as a freshman. But on defense, the Wildcats have lost five of their top six tacklers, including All-Southland pass rusher Richardson. Denmark is emerging at linebacker, but it's a vulnerable defense as Collums tries to keep the momentum going. An impressive eight Wildcats were named to the Southland preseason team.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - at Fresno State

Sept. 19 - vs. Houston Baptist*

Sept. 26 - vs. Stephen F. Austin*

Oct. 3 - at Central Arkansas*

Oct. 10 - at Lamar*

Oct. 17 - vs. Sam Houston State*

Oct. 24 - at Incarnate Word*

Oct. 31 - vs. McNeese State*

Nov. 7 - at Northwestern State*

Nov. 14 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana*

Nov. 21 - at Northern Colorado

* - Southland game

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7. NORTHWESTERN STATE DEMONS

LOCATION: Natchitoches, Louisiana

STADIUM: Harry Turpin Stadium

COACH: Jay Thomas (12-12 in two seasons at Northwestern State; 39-47 overall)

LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 Southland (Tie/6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (8 offense/3 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Zach Adkins, RB Garrett Atzenweiler, DT Deon Simon, LB Marion Chapman, CB Imoan Claiborne

OFFENSIVE STAR: Ed Eagan, WR/RS, Sr., 5-10, 193 (73 receptions, 908 yards, 6 TDs; 23-yard KO return average; 9.6-yard punt return average, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Adam Jones, ROV, Jr., 6-3, 205 (76 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 SK, 5 INTs, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Daniel Hazlewood, QB, Jr., 6-1, 200; J.D. Almond, QB, So., 6-0, 205; Daniel Taylor, HB, 5-7, 160; Shakeir Ryan, WR, Jr., 5-8, 165; Cody Jones, WR, Sr., 5-10, 190; Tuff McClain, WR, Jr., 6-0, 188; Pace Murphy, LT, Sr., 6-6, 296; Korliss Johnson, LG, So., 6-2, 280; Terrance Boyd Jr., RG, Jr., 6-3, 307; Delryn Wilson, RT, Sr., 6-3, 307; Leroy Armstrong, DE, Sr., 6-1, 250; JeMarcus Marshall, DE, Jr., 6-4, 258; Chase Collins, FS, Sr., 6-0, 180; Chris Moore, PK, Sr., 6-0, 215; Andy Wickman, P, Sr., 6-3, 202

OUTLOOK: Which Southland team was the only one to beat Sam Houston last season? Yes, the Demons. They also knocked off FBS Louisiana Tech and are coming off 6-6 records in each of Thomas' first two seasons - the program's best back-to-back marks since 2003-04. But they are starting over at quarterback in replacing the talented Adkins, likely with Hazelwood. Interestingly, Stephen Rivers, a graduate transfer from Vanderbilt and the younger brother of San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers, is on the depth chart. The Demons will want to get the ball to Eagan, who finished second in FCS in all-purpose yards per game (180.8) last season. He earned All-Southland first-team honors at wide receiver, all-purpose and punt returner. Former Missouri Southern head coach Darryl Daye is the Demons' fourth defensive coordinator in the last four years. Only three starters return to his new defense (Jones, Collins and Armstrong), but DE Marshall was a standout in 2013 before being limited to three games by a back injury last year.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana*

Sept. 12 - at Louisiana

Sept. 19 - at Mississippi State

Sept. 26 - vs. Central Arkansas*

Oct. 3 - at Incarnate Word*

Oct. 17 - vs. Lamar*

Oct. 24 - at McNeese State*

Oct. 31 - at Nicholls*

Nov. 7 - vs. Abilene Christian*

Nov. 14 - at Sam Houston State*

Nov. 21 - vs. Stephen F. Austin*

*Southland game

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8. LAMAR CARDINALS

LOCATION: Beaumont, Texas

STADIUM: Provost Umphrey Stadium

COACH: Ray Woodard (26-32 in five seasons at Lamar)

LAST SEASON: 8-4 overall, 5-3 Southland (Tie/3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Caleb Berry, WR Mark Roberts, TE Payden McVey, TE Dillon Barrett, OL Tramon Shead, C Chance McCormack, DL Joe Okafor, DE Keith Curran, DB Montez Stewart

OFFENSIVE STAR: Kade Harrington, RB, Jr., 5-9, 190 (154 carries, 740 yards, 11 TDs; 26 receptions, 221 yards, 1 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Xavier Bethany, S, Jr., 6-1, 195 (98 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 SK, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Joe Minden, QB, Sr., 6-2, 210 (Stephen F. Austin transfer); Carson Earp, QB, Jr., 6-4, 210 (Navarro College transfer); Reggie Begelton, WR, Sr., 6-0, 210; Jayce Nelson, WR, Sr., 6-2, 200; Brendan Langley, WR, So., 6-1, 190 (Georgia transfer); John Craven, LG, Jr., 6-3, 285; Bret Treadway, RG, Jr., 6-3, 290; Justin Brock, RT, Sr., 6-5, 310; Omar Tebo, NT, Jr. 6-0, 330; Mike Hargis, LB, Sr. 6-3, 215; Cameron Hampton, LB, R-Fr., 6-1, 190 (Texas transfer); Ronnie Jones, LB, Sr., 6-0, 245; Logan Moss, LB, Sr., 6-4, 210; Seth Ellis, CB, Sr., 6-1, 185; DaQuan Stewart, S, Sr. 6-1, 170; Juan Carranco, PK, Jr., 5-10, 185; Brent Nicholson, DS, Sr., 6-2, 245; Devonn Brown, KR/PR, Sr., 5-9, 150

OUTLOOK: Transfers will factor in heavily for Lamar as it tries to build on an eight-win season which tied the school record. Either QB Minden or Earp is following Berry, who ran the offense to perfection and averaged 309.1 passing yards per game last season (No. 3 in the FCS). There are returning weapons, though, as WR Begelton enters his senior season as Lamar's all-time leader in receptions (170) and RB Harrington, the 2013 Southland freshman of the year, hopes to be recovered from a knee injury which limited him to nine games. The defensive standouts are NT Tebo and S Bethany, two juniors to continue building the program around. With an early season run of Baylor, Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana on the road, Woodard and the Cardinals face a big challenge. But there's a softer portion of the schedule following it.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Bacone College

Sept. 12 - at Baylor

Sept. 19 - at Sam Houston State*

Oct. 1 - at Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 10 - vs. Abilene Christian*

Oct. 17 - at Northwestern State*

Oct. 24 - vs. Central Arkansas*

Oct. 31 - at Houston Baptist*

Nov. 7 - vs. Nicholls*

Nov. 14 - at Incarnate Word*

Nov. 21 - vs. McNeese State*

* - Southland game

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9. INCARNATE WORD CARDINALS

LOCATION: San Antonio

STADIUM: Gayle and Tim Benson Stadium

COACH: Larry Kennan (10-23 in three seasons at Incarnate Word; 23-40-3 overall)

LAST SEASON: 2-9 overall, 2-6 Southland (9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Casey Jennings, OL Devin Threat, OL Horace Hayes, LB Nick Ginn, CB Jarrius James

OFFENSIVE STAR: Trent Brittain, QB, R-So., 6-2, 200 (injured last season)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Corey Lee, DT, Jr., 6-0, 285 (39 TT, 14.5 TFL, 5 SK, 2 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Jordan Scelfo, QB, Sr., 5-10, 190; Junior Sessions, RB, Jr., 5-10, 215; Broderick Reeves, RB, Jr., 5-9, 195; Kody Edwards, WR/KR, So., 6-0, 155; Jordan Hicks, WR, Jr., 5-8, 170; Darryl Brooks, WR, Jr., 6-3, 195; Cole Wick, TE, Sr., 6-7, 255; Matt McCarthy, C, Jr., 6-2, 280 (injured last season); Devyn Jensen, OG, So., 6-3, 270; Nathan Thompson, LT, Sr., 6-5, 295; Alex Jenkins, DL, Jr., 6-6, 265; Tyler Colbert, DL, So., 6-1, 300; Myke Tavarres, OLB, Sr., 6-3, 230; Padyn Giebler, ILB, Sr., 6-0, 230; Josh Zellars, ILB, Jr., 6-0, 205; Robert Johnson, S, Sr., 5-11, 195; Adrian Norwood, S, Jr., 5-11, 205; Kobie Douglas, CB/KR, Sr., 5-9, 155; Daryl Irby, CB, Jr., 5-10, 175; Jamarkese Williams, CB, R-Fr., 6-3, 175; Ramon Coto, PK/P, So., 5-11, 240

OUTLOOK: A season with injuries is never fun and it came too early for the Cardinals last season. Starting center McCarthy was lost last preseason and then QB Brittain, who set or tied seven school records as a freshman in 2013, suffered a season-ending broken ankle in the first quarter of the first game. They return to a team which has 13 offensive players who started at least one game and 18 more who did so on defense. With the presence of Brittain, defenses will have to be honest in the box, which will help RBs Sessions and Reeves. On a defense which returns eight of its top nine tacklers, Lee is a hidden gem nationally, coming off a sophomore season in which he had 14.5 tackles for loss. LB Giebler had a team-best 76 tackles to put his career total to 157. Schedule-wise, UIW has to play the teams in the top four of both Southland preseason polls (Sam Houston, Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin and McNeese) on the road.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Texas A&M-Kingsville

Sept. 12 - at McNeese State*

Sept. 19 - vs. Nicholls*

Sept. 26 - at UTEP

Oct. 3 - vs. Northwestern State*

Oct. 10 - at Sam Houston State*

Oct. 24 - vs. Abilene Christian*

Oct. 31 - at Stephen F. Austin*

Nov. 7 - at Southeastern Louisiana*

Nov. 14 - vs. Lamar*

Nov. 21 - at Houston Baptist*

* - Southland game

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10. NICHOLLS COLONELS

LOCATION: Thibodaux, Louisiana

STADIUM: John L. Guidry Stadium

COACH: Tim Rebowe (first season at Nicholls)

LAST SEASON: 0-12 overall, 0-8 Southland (1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Demon Bolt, WR/RS Keenan Canty, LG Rafe Plaisance, LB Davin Bovie, CB Byron Cobb

OFFENSIVE STAR: Michael Henry, RB, Sr., 6-2, 225 (192 carries, 1,005 yards, 6 TDs; 28 receptions, 253 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Kameryon Brown, LB, Sr., 6-0, 215 (89 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Tuskani Figaro, QB, Jr., 6-3, 210 (redshirted last season); Landry Klann, QB, Sr., 6-3, 210; Tobias Lofton, RB, Sr., 5-11, 185; Jarrell Rogers, WR, R-Fr., 5-10, 180; Darryl Watson, WR, Sr., 5-10, 170; Chris Bordelon, LT, Sr., 6-6, 315; Brandon Holmes, C, Jr., 6-3, 305; Lazarus Ona, DT, R-So., 6-0, 290; Geoffrey Hebert, LB, R-So., 6-3, 240; Seth Keller, LB, Jr., 6-0, 215; Hezekiah White, LB, So., 6-0, 200; Ronnie Walker, LB, Jr., 6-0, 225; Christian Boutte, CB, So., 5-11, 175; B.T. Sanders, S, Jr., 6-0, 190; Joel Dullary, S, So., 6-1, 180; Francisco Condado, PK, Sr., 5-10, 170

OUTLOOK: Rebowe steps in looking to end the Colonels' 18-game losing streak, which started after they began the 2013 season with an encouraging 4-2 mark. Known for his recruiting prowess, Rebowe was a Nicholls assistant from 1995-2000 and returns after stints at Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Colonels don't open their season until Sept. 12 against ULM. Back to run the offense is QB Figaro, who rushed for 1,103 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013 before sitting out last season. Without Figaro, power RB Henry became a 1,000-yard rusher. Their offensive line with be anchored in the middle by Hebert. The defense completely struggled last season, surrendering 50.2 points and 538.4 yards per game - the low marks in the FCS. New coordinator Tommy Rybacki hopes to turn around the defense, which returns three starting linebackers in Brown, Hebert and Walker. It sounds impossible, but Nicholls totaled only two sacks while giving up 56 of them last season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 12 - at ULM

Sept. 19 - at Incarnate Word*

Sept. 26 - at Colorado

Oct. 3 - vs. McNeese State*

Oct. 10 - at Stephen F. Austin*

Oct. 17 - vs. Houston Baptist*

Oct. 24 - at Sam Houston State*

Oct. 31 - vs. Northwestern State*

Nov. 7 - at Lamar*

Nov. 14 - vs. Central Arkansas*

Nov. 19 - at Southeastern Louisiana*

* - Southland game

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11. HOUSTON BAPTIST HUSKIES

LOCATION: Houston

STADIUM: Dunham Field

COACH: Vic Shealy (2-9 in one season at Houston Baptist; 32-27-1 overall)

LAST SEASON: 2-9 overall, 1-7 Southland (10th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (9 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR Darian Lazard, TE Kenneth Bibbins, LB Aaron Benson, CB Tyler Stephenson

OFFENSIVE STAR: B.J. Kelly, RB, So., 5-9, 180 (150 carries, 735 yards, 3 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Garrett Dolan, ILB, So., 6-2, 235 (82 TT, 6 TFL, 2.5 SK, 1 PBU, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Max Staver, QB, So., 6-6, 240 (Tyler Junior College transfer); Rico Barnett, WR, Jr., 6-5, 198; D'Angelo Wallace, WR, So., 5-9, 157; Hunter Barron, LT, So., 6-2, 250; Cortez Iwuagwu, RG, So., 6-3, 280; Caleb Malveaux, DT, So., 6-0, 315; Kafo Tuha, DT, So., 6-0, 285; Josh Jones, DE, Sr., 6-3, 240; Terrell Brown, OLB, So., 6-2, 210; Dorrin Turner, LB, Jr., 6-1, 220 (Citrus College transfer); Mike Cole, CB, Sr., 5-10, 180; Prince Sam, CB, So., 6-2, 209; Erik Amoako, CB, Jr., 5-11, 195; Taylor Thompson, FS, So., 5-11, 175; Travis Shinn, PK, Sr., 5-9, 155; Christian Guzman, P, So., 5-9, 160

OUTLOOK: With nine starters returning on each side of the ball, the Huskies are optimistic about their second full season of football. Shealey, who guided Azusa Pacific to the 1998 NAIA national championship, watched his team knock off Nicholls to highlight last season. There's a new quarterback in the 6-6, 240-pound Staver, who began his college career at the University of Florida and played in two games at Tyler Junior College last year before suffering a ruptured Achilles. He has a backfield mate in RB Kelly, one of the building blocks of the program. The defense allowed at least 70 points in four of the team's final five losses. DE Jones will provide the senior leadership for the unit of young talent, including ILB Dolan (team-high 82 tackles). Guzman was outstanding as a freshman last season, averaging 44.1 yards per punt. The Huskies will play seven home games and leave the state of Texas only once.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 - vs. Bethany

Sept. 12 - vs. Northern Colorado

Sept. 19 - at Abilene Christian*

Sept. 26 - at Sam Houston State*

Oct. 3 - vs. College of Faith

Oct. 10 - vs. Central Arkansas*

Oct. 17 - at Nicholls*

Oct. 24 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 31 - vs. Lamar*

Nov. 14 - at Stephen F. Austin*

Nov. 21 - vs. Incarnate Word*

* - Southland game

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