(STATS) - After spending the second half of the 2016 regular season as the No. 1 team in the FCS, Sam Houston State had a disappointing end to its season in the playoff quarterfinals.
Like other recent playoffs, the Bearkats were blown out by a national power on its way to the title game - losing to eventual FCS champion James Madison 65-7 to end a 12-1 season.
The loss is motivating the Bearkats throughout the offseason. They have some targets in sight after their 11-game 2017 schedule was announced Thursday.
Coach K.C. Keeler's squad will play six home games at Bowers Stadium, including an anticipated first meeting with fellow national power Richmond on Aug. 31. That Thursday night matchup will be Russ Huesman's first game as Richmond coach.
Within the Southland Conference, the defending champion will host Nicholls (Sept. 23), Northwestern State (Oct. 14), Lamar (Oct. 21), Incarnate Word (Nov. 4) and Houston Baptist (Nov. 18).
Other highlights of the schedule are back-to-back games against 2016 Southland runner-up Central Arkansas (Sept. 30) in Conway, Arkansas, and Stephen F. Austin in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" on Oct. 7 at Houston's NRG Stadium.
The Bearkats will return a veteran team in 2017, including quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award winner.
2017 Sam Houston State Schedule
Aug. 31, Richmond
Sept. 9, at Prairie View A&M
Sept. 23, Nicholls*
Sept. 30, at Central Arkansas*
Oct. 7, Stephen F. Austin* (NRG Stadium in Houston)
Oct. 14, Northwestern State*
Oct. 21, Lamar*
Oct. 28, at Southeastern Louisiana*
Nov. 4, Incarnate Word*
Nov. 11, at Abilene Christian*
Nov. 18, Houston Baptist*
* - Southland Conference game