September 11, 2015

Lamar's visit to Baylor on Saturday night is just the start to one of the fiercest stretches that any FCS team will face this season.

The Cardinals will take on both a preseason top-five FBS school in the fourth-ranked Bears and a top-five program from their own subdivision - newly crowned STATS No. 1 Sam Houston State - in back-to-back weeks.

They'll get a week off after that and will likely need it for an ensuing matchup against two-time defending Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana.

Oh yeah, and all three games are on the road.

"We're going to find out what we're made out of. I'm sure we're going to have to handle some adversity, but it's a great opportunity to grow and build. We have to look at it that way," coach Ray Woodard said. "We've got to be up to the challenge. We've got to prepare ourselves not just for Baylor but for the long haul."

Lamar (1-0) is facing Baylor for the first time since one of the greatest upsets in school history - beating the defending Southwest Conference champs in 1981 - and will take on a team that's looking to get to the College Football Playoff following its snub last season. The Bears got off to a flying start with a 56-21 victory over SMU last weekend.

Lamar's trip to Waco is one of two games against top-four FBS opponents for the conference along with Stephen F. Austin's trip to No. 3 TCU. The Southland has never faced two top-five FBS teams in the same year, much less the same weekend.

Nicholls State lost 66-3 at No. 3 Oregon in the most recent such game in 2013 and Northwestern State faced the highest-ranked opponent, falling 49-3 at No. 2 LSU in 2011.

"I think the kids are excited about the opportunity. It's a great moment for the school to play on national TV against a great opponent," Stephen F. Austin coach Clint Conque said. "We certainly want to put our best foot forward that we possibly can."

Lamar is playing a Top 25 FBS school for the third straight season and lost 73-3 at No. 9 Texas A&M last September in front of 104,728 fans.

The Cardinals bring a pair of quarterbacks who are new to the program to this game, and one of them had a strong showing against an FBS-ranked team just last season. Joe Minden, then playing for Stephen F. Austin, went 7 of 9 for 107 yards and ran for a touchdown in a 55-16 loss at No. 20 Kansas State. He's expected to split time with Carson Earp on Saturday just as he did in last week's opener, a 66-3 win over NAIA opponent Bacone College.



A coach publicly expressing bold confidence in his team after a loss might be relatively rare, but Sam Houston State's K.C. Keeler did just that after his team's admirable performance in a 59-45 defeat at Texas Tech last weekend.

The fast-paced Bearkats gained 637 yards, 317 on the ground, while running 98 plays, and moved into their first No. 1 ranking in three years despite beginning 0-1.

"The talent is here. I won a national championship in 2003 at Delaware and this team is as talented or more talented than that team was," Keeler said. "That doesn't make you champions. There's a lot that has to go into winning a national championship, a lot that goes into winning a Southland Conference championship."

Sam Houston State is getting the week off before its Southland opener against Lamar.



Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana have finished as the Southland's top two rushing teams in each of the past two seasons, and it doesn't look like that will change this year.

The No. 20 Lions ran for 438 yards in a 34-20 win at Northwestern State on Sept. 3, the second-highest output since their program returned in 2003. Quarterback D'Shaie Landor had a career-best 125 on 11 carries, and Julius Maracalin had 120 on 12 attempts in his collegiate debut.

"That's just the way this one worked out," coach Ron Roberts said. "I have faith in our ability to throw the football. We just got into a pressure cooker there, and I thought the only way we were going to lose this ballgame was to turn the ball over or get negative plays and sacks."

Southeastern faces Division II Florida Tech on Saturday night.



Central Arkansas coach Steve Campbell is hoping a couple extra days between games will make an already daunting trip to Oklahoma State just a little easier.

The Bears suffered a handful of injuries in a 45-16 loss at Samford on Sept. 3, and leading rusher Dominique Thomas was among them. They also lost one of their top receivers from 2014, Courtney Whitehead, and backup quarterback Hayden Hildebrand.

Hildebrand's absence and the Bears' deficit led to Taylor Reed completing a school-record 43 passes for 312 yards on 63 attempts, second-most in program history.

"I'm glad this last game was on a Thursday. It will give those guys that were banged up a chance to get better and to heal before we play Saturday," Campbell said.

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