(STATS) - Being out of the spotlight isn't a negative for Southeastern Louisiana's program as it heads toward the Southland Conference season.
It's worked before.
The Lions had a quick rise a few years ago, so last year's stunning drop-off has refocused them even if they aren't being counted on to join the conference title race.
The 2013 and '14 Southland champs - a mere 4-7 last season, including 3-6 in the conference, tying for eighth place - were picked to finish sixth in the head coaches poll and seventh in the sports information directors poll Wednesday at Southland media day in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Sam Houston State, which has been at least a national semifinalist in four of the past five seasons, was picked first in the two polls followed by defending champion McNeese State. In last year's playoffs, Sam Houston eliminated McNeese in the second round.
In last year's preseason polls, Southeastern Louisiana was picked second by the coaches and third by the SIDs. The Lions got off to a 3-1 start, but they collapsed from there, set back by injuries, a struggling offense, turnovers and an inability to win close games.
"With an 11-team race, there is less room for error," Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said of the Southland, now in its third season since expanding from eight teams. "If you want to win it, you have to play your best football every Saturday."
Southeastern has gone heavier on transfers than any other FCS program since Roberts' first season in 2012. This year is no different with over 20 in the recruiting class, mostly from junior colleges.
The Lions return only seven starters - five offensive and two defensive - so they need a quick fix. But they also seek improvement from quarterbacks Donovan Isom and D'Shaie Landor, and hope returning linebacker Tre' Bennett will galvanize a mostly new defensive unit. He was named to the Southland preseason first team.
Running back Rasheed Harrell and fullback Juwaan Rogers return as seniors after missing last season with injuries.
"I want us to have a working man's mentality - put on the hard hat and find out how good we can be," said Roberts, who is 29-20 through four seasons at Southeastern. The Lions were 5-17 in the two seasons prior to his arrival.
"We want to be known as a physically and mentally tough football team."
Everybody is looking up to Sam Houston in the polls as the Bearkats (11-4, 7-2) seek their seventh Southland title. They led the way with eight first-team selections and 14 overall on the Southland preseason team.
"This is a great time of the year. Everyone, coaches and players alike, are ready to get started," Sam Houston third-year coach K.C. Keeler said. "We're pleased with our talent level, our strength and conditioning efforts and the commitment of our players to another outstanding season."
Central Arkansas collected the second-most selections with 10 and McNeese had nine.
SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLLS=
Head Coaches Poll=
(Head coaches couldn't vote for own team)
1. Sam Houston State (9 first-place votes), 99 points
2. McNeese State (2), 92
3. Central Arkansas, 79
4. Lamar, 67
5. Stephen F. Austin, 60
6. Southeastern Louisiana, 57
7. Northwestern State, 45
8. Abilene Christian, 40
9. Incarnate Word, 29
10. Nicholls, 26
11. Houston Baptist, 11
Sports Information Directors Poll=
(Sports information directors couldn't vote for own team)
1. Sam Houston State (10), 100
2. McNeese State (1), 86
3. Central Arkansas, 84
4. Lamar, 67
5. Stephen F. Austin, 66
6. Northwestern State, 48
7. Southeastern Louisiana, 42
8. Incarnate Word, 39
9. Abilene Christian, 37
10. Nicholls, 26
11. Houston Baptist, 11
SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM=
First Team Offense=
QB - Zach Conque, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.
RB - Kade Harrington, Lamar, Sr.
RB - Corey Avery, Sam Houston State, Jr.
TE/HB - Zach Hetrick, McNeese State, Sr.
WR - Desmond Smith, Central Arkansas, Sr.
WR - Kent Shelby, McNeese State, Jr.
WR - Yedidiah Louis, Sam Houston State, Jr.
OL - Bret Treadway, Lamar, Sr.
OL - Stockton Mallet, Central Arkansas, Jr.
OL - Mason Martin, McNeese State, Sr.
OL - Bridge Blount, Sam Houston State, Sr.
OL - Curtis Riser, Sam Houston State, Sr.
AP - Yedidiah Louis, Sam Houston State, Jr.
PK - Luc Swimberghe, Sam Houston State, Sr.
First Team Defense=
DL - P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State, Jr.
DL - Isaiah Golden, McNeese State, Jr.
DL - Larance Hale, Lamar, Sr.
DL - John Franklin, Stephen F. Austin, Jr.
LB - Sam Denmark, Abilene Christian, Jr.
LB - Ashari Goins, McNeese State, Jr.
LB - Tre' Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana, Sr.
DB - Tremon Smith, Central Arkansas, Jr.
DB - Jabari Butler, Abilene Christian, So.
DB - Dominique Hill, McNeese State, Jr.
DB - B.T. Sanders, Nicholls, Sr.
DB - Darian Flowers, Sam Houston State, Sr.
P - Christian Guzman, Houston Baptist, Jr.
KR - Rodney Randle, Lamar, So.
PR - Brandon Cox, Central Arkansas, Jr.
Second Team Offense=
QB - Jeremiah Briscoe, Sam Houston State, Jr.
RB - Ryan Ross, McNeese State, Jr.
RB - De'Mard Llorens, Northwestern State, Sr.
TE/HB - Cody Dauksch, Central Arkansas, Sr.
WR - Jatavious Wilson, Central Arkansas, Sr.
WR - Davion Davis, Sam Houston State, So.
WR - Shakeir Ryan, Northwestern State, Sr.
OL - Riley Mayfield, Abilene Christian, Jr.
OL - Terrance Boyd, Northwestern State, Sr.
OL - Dakota Laws, Abilene Christian, So.
OL - Sam Hardy, Sam Houston State, Sr.
OL - Travis Romero, Southeastern Louisiana, Jr.
AP - Jatavious Wilson, Central Arkansas, Sr.
PK - None
Second Team Defense=
DL - Luis Carreno, Sam Houston State, Sr.
DL - Jammerio Gross, McNeese State, Jr.
DL - Terrence Partee, Central Arkansas, Sr.
DL - Sione Latu, Sam Houston State, Sr.
LB - Josh Zellars, Incarnate Word, Sr.
LB - Collins Okotcha, Sam Houston State, So.
LB - Garrett Dolan, Houston Baptist
DB - Jermaine Antoine, McNeese State, Jr.
DB - George Odum, Central Arkansas, Jr.
DB - Brendan Langley, Lamar, Sr.
DB - Adrian Norwood, Incarnate Word, Sr.
DB - Patrick Martin, Stephen F. Austin, Sr.
P - None
KR - Jatavious Wilson, Central Arkansas, Sr.
PR - Jordan Hicks, Incarnate Word, Sr.