April 06, 2017

(STATS) - The Southland Conference appears on the upswing this season with teams such as McNeese, Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana lining up to knock off defending champion Sam Houston State.

And then there's the one team that had a chance to upend the Bearkats at the end of the regular season last November - Central Arkansas.

UCA's bid unraveled in a blowout loss, but the Bears still qualified for the FCS playoffs and won a first-round game over Illinois State before falling to eventual Eastern Washington. They finished 10-3 and No. 14 in the STATS FCS Top 25.

The Bears' spring practice concludes Saturday with their annual intrasquad game. They've used the spring to concentrate on finding new playmakers at wide receiver to replace standouts Desmond Smith and Jatavius Wilson, and to reshape their secondary and the interior of their defensive line.

Despite some key losses, UCA will return seven starters on offense, including quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, and six on defense.

The schedule shapes up well for the Bears because five of their nine Southland games are at home, including against Southeastern Louisiana, Sam Houston State and McNeese. They won't face Nicholls in the conference's unbalanced schedule.

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