August 16, 2017

(STATS) - Considering all of Sam Houston State's postseason success, it might seem the Bearkats always win the Southland Conference title.

It's not necessarily the case, however. This decade, Stephen F. Austin won the title in 2010, Southeastern Louisiana reigned in 2013, McNeese was the 2015 champ, and Sam Houston shared titles in 2012 (Central Arkansas) and '14 (Southeastern Louisiana).

The Bearkats' postseason prowess, though, is on a different level from their conference brethren, and among the best in the FCS. They've made six straight appearances, with runner-up finishes in 2011 and '12, runs to the semifinals in 2014 and '15 and the quarterfinals last season.

So the other top teams in the Southland are not conceding the 2017 title to coach K.C. Keeler's national power. They're competing as well.

"The goal every year is to win a conference championship, and then win a national championship," said Central Arkansas' Steve Campbell, whose team finished second to the Bearkats last year after losing their regular-season finale. "When you're at a school like Central Arkansas, which has won national championships, then that needs to be your goal every year. Now, we've got a long way to go and a lot of work to get there. They don't give those things away, and there's only one team at the end of the year that gets to claim that. But that is definitely what our goal needs to be."

"We were a better football team coming out of the spring," said Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts, whose team finished third last year. "We have had great leadership and that's what it takes to win championships. The ingredients are in place for us to compete for a Southland Conference championship and those are our expectations."

Although Sam Houston is No. 3 in the STATS FCS Preseason Top 25, the Bearkats have to play at Central Arkansas and Southeastern Louisiana this season (McNeese, third in the Southland preseason poll, isn't on the schedule). Plus, the 'Kats are replacing six starters on defense and have to shake off the cobwebs of being blow out of the playoffs for the third straight season - this time a 65-7 defeat against eventual national champion James Madison.

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2017 Southland Conference race and STATS' predicted order of finish:

1. Sam Houston State

2. Central Arkansas

3. McNeese

4. Southeastern Louisiana

5. Nicholls

6. Stephen F. Austin

7. Lamar

8. Abilene Christian

9. Houston Baptist

10. Incarnate Word

11. Northwestern State

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TEAM CAPSULES=

1. SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS=

LOCATION: Huntsville, Texas

STADIUM: Bowers Stadium

COACH: K.C. Keeler (34-10, three seasons; 208-83-1 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 12-1, 9-0 Southland (1st); No. 5 in final STATS FCS Top 25

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (8 offense/5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Bridge Blount, OL; Mouf Adebo, DL; Darion Flowers, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sr. (315 of 503, 4,602 yards, 57 TD, 10 INT)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: P.J. Hall, DE, Sr. (56 TT, 24.5 TFL, 13 Sacks, 7 PBU, 3 QBH, 3 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Corey Avery, RB, Sr.; Remus Bulmer, RB, Jr.; Yedidiah Louis, WR, Sr.; Nathan Stewart, WR, So.; Davion Davis, WR, Jr.; Jaylen Harris, WR/KR, So.; Tyler Tezeno, OL, Sr.; Mitchell Watanbe, OL, Jr.; Derick Roberson, DE, Jr.; Sekou Clark, DL, So.; Marcus Loud, DL, Sr.; Spencer Williams, DL, Jr. (Missouri transfer); Justin Johnson, LB, Jr.; A.J. Davis, LB, Sr.; Erick Fowler, LB, So. (Texas transfer); Craig Williams Jr., DB, Jr.; Adrian Contreras, S, Jr.; Alfonzo McMillian, S, Sr.; Jaylen Harris, KR, So.

OUTLOOK: The way the Southland champ was bounced by James Madison from the FCS playoffs last season was alarming. The Bearkats, who were No. 1 during the season, want to prove they're still a national title contender. Offensively, the answer is yes with the return of Briscoe, the 2016 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award winner, and all of his chief weapons from a quick-strike offense. In fact, Davis, Louis and Stewart were the Southland's three preseason first-team wide receivers. The incomparable Hall (67 tackles for loss and 36 sacks in his career) and Johnson, last year's leading tackler, are outstanding, but the defense returns only five starters. If the Bearkats get through Central Arkansas unbeaten, they could cruise through October and November leading into the playoffs.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 27, Richmond

Sept. 9, at Prairie View A&M

Sept. 23, Nicholls*

Sept. 30, at Central Arkansas*

Oct. 7, Stephen F. Austin* (at NRG Stadium, 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 game

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2. CENTRAL ARKANSAS BEARS=

LOCATION: Conway, Arkansas

STADIUM: Estes Stadium

COACH: Steve Campbell (23-13, three seasons; 149-51 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 10-3, 8-1 Southland (2nd); No. 14 in final STATS FCS Top 25

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Desmond Smith, WR; Jatavious Wilson, WR/KR; Tyler Williams, CB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Hayden Hildebrand, QB, Sr. (236 of 391, 3,051 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT; 55 carries, 216 yards, 4 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Tremon Smith, CB/PR, Sr. (35 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 11 PBU, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Carlos Blackmon, RB, So.; Lester Wells, WR, Jr. (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC transfer); Stockton Mallett, OL, Sr.; Micah Parten, OL, Sr.; Gilberto Garcia, OL, Sr.; John Cook, OL, Jr.; Chris Chambers, DE, Sr.; Cardell Best, DE, Sr.; Chris Terrell, DE, So.; James Graves, LB, Sr.; George Odum, Rover, Sr.; Jaylon Lofton, FS, Sr.; Raphael Garner, LB, Jr.; Matt Cummins, PK, Jr.; Patrick Ponder, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Last year's banner season whet the appetite for a veteran team, which has to reload at wide receiver and in the middle of the defensive line, but expects an even deeper playoff run following last year's Round of 16 visit. Hildebrand and a stable of quality running backs will work behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. The defense, which allowed only 72.8 rushing yards per game, features Smith and the versatile Odum on the back end. Three of the first four conference games are at home, including the huge one with Sam Houston State on Sept. 30.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at Kansas State

Sept. 9, at Murray State

Sept. 16, Southeastern Louisiana*

Sept. 30, Sam Houston State*

Oct. 7, at Houston Baptist*

Oct. 14, Stephen F. Austin*

Oct. 21, at Northwestern State*

Oct. 28, McNeese*

Nov. 4, at Lamar*

Nov. 11, at Incarnate Word*

Nov. 18, Abilene Christian*

* - Southland game

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3. MCNEESE COWBOYS=

LOCATION: Lake Charles, Louisiana

STADIUM: Cowboy Stadium

COACH: Lance Guidry (6-5, one season; 7-6 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 6-5, 5-4 Southland (Tie/4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Isaiah Golden, DL; Anthony Yruegas DL; Khalil Thomas, DB/KR

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: James Tabary, QB, Jr. (249 of 415, 3,036 yards, 23 TD, 7 INT)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Andre Fuller, DB, Sr. (58 TT, 3 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 6 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Ryan Ross, RB, Sr.; Justin Pratt, RB, So.; Darious Crawley, WR, Sr.; Kent Shelby, WR, Sr.; Lawayne Ross, TE, So.; Andy Dodd, OL, Gr. (LSU transfer); Jimmy Converse, OL, Jr.; Tyrae Johnson, OL, So.; Jammerio Gross-Whitaker, DL, Sr.; Chris Livings, DL, Jr.; Ashari Goins, LB, Sr.; Dominique Hill, DB, Sr.; Jermaine Antoine, DB, Sr.

OUTLOOK: McNeese jumps right into the thick of the Southland race with a season-opening visit to Nicholls, but the 2015 champ doesn't have to play defending champ Sam Houston State. The Cowboys are expecting to improve from a subpar record in Guidry's first season, although it marked the program's 12th straight winning mark. Guidry has reclaimed the defensive coordinator's duties to try to get the unit back to a championship level (the defense ranked 11th in the FCS two years ago). The defensive line is one of the team's strengths and the Cowboys are always solid in the secondary. Behind Tabary, the offense moved to a passing attack, but they can still run the ball consistently with Ross and Pratt, who combined for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 31, at Nicholls*

Sept. 9, Florida Tech

Sept. 16, at Alcorn State

Sept. 23, Houston Baptist*

Sept. 30, at Stephen F. Austin*

Oct. 7, at Abilene Christian*

Oct. 21, Incarnate Word*

Oct. 28, at Central Arkansas*

Nov. 4, Southeastern Louisiana*

Nov. 11, Northwestern State*

Nov. 18, at Lamar*

* - Southland game

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4. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA LIONS=

LOCATION: Hammond, Louisiana

STADIUM: Strawberry Stadium

COACH: Ron Roberts (36-24, five seasons; 83-40 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 7-4, 7-2 Southland (3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (5 offense/4 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Justin Alo, QB; Brandon Acker, WR; Juwaan Rogers, FB/TE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Julius Maracalin, RB, Jr. (147 carries, 747 yards, 8 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Max Lyons, DB, Sr. (73 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 2 QBH, 3 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Donovan Isom, QB, Jr.; Lorenzo Nunez, QB, Jr. (South Carolina transfer); Juwan Dickey, WR, Sr.; Javon Conner, WR, So.; Bransen Schwebel, TE, So.; Michael Vick, OL, Sr.; Travis Romero, OL, Sr.; Shaq McClain, OL, So.; Cyrus Ekugwum, OL, Sr.; Lorenz Jones, OT, Jr. (Hinds CC transfer); Jake Jiannoni, LB, Sr.; Lee Spight, LB, Sr.; Sione Teuhema, LB, Sr.; Ryan Sigers, DB, Sr.

OUTLOOK: After going 4-7 and finishing 10th in the conference in 2015, the Lions bounced back and were third last season. This year, though, they return the fewest starters in the conference. Isom, who made two starts in 2015, or South Carolina transfer Nunez will take over at quarterback, and the new starter will benefit from a solid offensive line and two of the conference's better players at their positions in Maracalin and Dickey. The defense was hit hard by player losses, and the Lions will have to prove they can stop the run game. Some transfers could factor in up front.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at Louisiana-Lafayette

Sept. 9, Bethune-Cookman

Sept. 16, at Central Arkansas*

Sept. 23, Lamar*

Sept. 30, at Northwestern State*

Oct. 7, Incarnate Word*

Oct. 14, at Houston Baptist*

Oct. 21, at Abilene Christian*

Oct. 28, Sam Houston State*

Nov. 4, at McNeese*

Nov. 16, Nicholls*

* - Southland game

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5. NICHOLLS COLONELS=

LOCATION: Thibodaux, Louisiana

STADIUM: John L. Guidry Stadium

COACH: Tim Rebowe (8-14, two seasons)

2016 RECORDS: 5-6, 5-4 Southland (Tie/4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: C.J. Bates, WR; Chris Bordelon, LT; B.T. Sanders, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Chase Fourcade, QB, So. (201 of 365, 2,482 yards, 18 TD, 14 INT; 102 carries, 324 yards, 9 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Sully Laiche, DT, So. (60 TT, 13 TFL, 9.5 Sacks, 1 QBH, 2 FF, 1 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Dontrell Taylor, RB, So.; Kyran Irvin, RB, So.; Damion Jeanpiere, WR, Jr.; Jarrell Rogers, WR, Sr.; Stephen LeBouef, TE, Sr.; Chandler Arceneaux, RT, Jr.; Ryan Hanley, C, Jr.; Eddie Houston, OL, Sr.; Kenny Dotson, DL, Jr.; Allen Pittman, LB, R-So.; Hezekiah White, LB, Jr.; Christian Boutte, CB, Sr.; Darryl Adams, DB, Jr.; Ahmani Martin, DB, So.; Lorran Fonseca, PK, Jr. (Contra Costa transfer), Tyler St. German, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Young talent abounds on the roster as Rebowe has rebuilt quickly in his two seasons. Fourcade was outstanding as a freshman, totaling 27 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. He has a number of options in the skill positions, with Jeanpiere becoming the No. 1 receiver following the graduation of standout Bates, and Taylor and Irvin combining at running back. Laiche made the All-Southland first team as a freshman defensive tackle, helping the Colonels to improve significantly against the run. Fonseca, a junior college transfer, was brought in to improve the kicking game. The Colonels have to be ready early in the season, opening conference play against McNeese and Sam Houston State.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 31, McNeese*

Sept. 9, at Texas A&M

Sept. 16, Prairie View A&M

Sept. 23, at Sam Houston State*

Sept. 30, at Lamar*

Oct. 7, Northwestern State*

Oct. 14, Abilene Christian*

Oct. 28, at Incarnate Word*

Nov. 4, Houston Baptist*

Nov. 11, at Stephen F. Austin*

Nov. 18, at Southeastern Louisiana*

* - Southland game

---=

6. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS=

LOCATION: Nacogdoches, Texas

STADIUM: Homer Bryce Stadium

COACH: Clint Conque (17-18, three seasons; 122-77 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 5-6, 4-5 Southland (6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Zach Conque, QB; Anthony Pullins, OL; Kedrick Harrison, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Josh Keith, OL, Sr. (Southland preseason first team)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: John Franklin, DE, Sr. (32 TT, 14.5 TFL, 8 Sacks, 9 QBH, 2 FR, 4 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Jake Blumrick, QB, So.; Ryan Cottingame, QB, Jr. (Trinity Valley CC transfer); Foster Sawyer, QB, Jr. (TCU transfer); Kijana Amous, RB, Sr.; Tamrick Pace, WR, So.; Frank Iheanacho, WR, Jr. (Texas A&M transfer); Terian Goree, WR, Jr. (North Texas transfer); Trae Hart, WR/PR, Sr.; Kiki Hill, TE, So.; Lamont Alexander, DT, Jr.; Shaq Anderson, DT, Jr.; Trent Perriman, CB, Sr.; Aaron Foy, CB, Sr.; Marlon Walls, S, Sr.; Alize Ward, S/KR, So.; Storm Ruiz, PK, So.

OUTLOOK: To solve some of their defensive deficiencies, Conque hired Jeff Byrd from UT Martin as the Lumberjacks' new coordinator. Last year, they ranked 10th in the Southland in total defense and last in scoring defense. They should be strong on the defensive line with Franklin and Alexander leading the way. After three seasons with Zach Conque, Clint's son, leading the offense, a new quarterback will take over. Sawyer, a TCU transfer, was set to be No. 1, but he was involved in an auto accident in early July and is sidelined, leaving Blumrick or Cottingame to be the season-opening starter. Pace will be the go-to receiver, but Loren Easly, the team's leading rusher each of the past two seasons, transferred during the offseason. The first half of the schedule is particularly difficult.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at SMU

Sept. 9, Southern Utah

Sept. 16, Incarnate Word*

Sept. 23, at Abilene Christian*

Sept. 30, McNeese*

Oct. 7, Sam Houston State*

Oct. 21, Houston Baptist*

Oct. 28, at Lamar*

Nov. 11, Nicholls*

Nov. 18, at Northwestern State*

* - Southland game

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7. LAMAR CARDINALS=

LOCATION: Beaumont, Texas

COACH: Mike Schultz (first season)

2016 RECORDS: 3-8, 3-6 Southland (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Kade Harrington, RB; Bret Treadway, OL; Brendan Langley, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Zae Giles, WR, Jr. (58 receptions, 518 yards, 4 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Rodney Randle Jr., DB/RS, Jr. (19 TT, 1 TFL, 2 PBU in nine games)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Adam Morse, QB, So.; Andrew Allen, QB, Sr.; James White, RB, Sr. (Texas A&M transfer); DeWan Thompson, WR, Jr.; Marcus Daggs, WR, Sr.; Kendrick King, WR, So.; Matthew Oubre, C, Sr.; James Jeffery, DE, So.; Manasseh Miles, DE, Sr.; Daniel Crosley, DE, So.; Chaston Brooks, LB, Jr.; Jaylon Bowden, DB, Sr.; Davon Jernigan, DB, Jr.

OUTLOOK: Having brought Lamar back to football, Ray Woodard was fired after going 34-46 in seven seasons. Schultz was hired as the replacement, and though he is a first-time head coach, the Houston native has spent much of his 37-year coaching career in Texas. There will be growing pains following the loss of key seniors, including Harrington, their All-America running back who was lost to an injury as a senior, and Langley, a third-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos. After Allen was injured last season, Morse developed a lot as a freshman quarterback. The starter will work behind a veteran offensive line. The defensive line lost three of its four starters and the secondary no longer has standouts Langley and Xavier Bethany.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at North Texas

Sept. 9, Texas-Permian Basin

Sept. 16, at Northwestern State*

Sept. 23, at Southeastern Louisiana*

Sept. 30, Nicholls*

Oct. 14, at Incarnate Word*

Oct. 21, at Sam Houston State*

Oct. 28, Stephen F. Austin*

Nov. 4, Central Arkansas*

Nov. 11, at Houston Baptist*

Nov. 18, McNeese*

* - Southland game

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8. ABILENE CHRISTIAN WILDCATS=

LOCATION: Abilene, Texas

STADIUM: Wildcat Stadium

COACH: Adam Dorrel (first season; 76-8 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 2-9, 2-7 Southland (10th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: D.J. Fuller, WR/RS; Riley Mayfield, RT; Richard Griffin III, CB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Dallas Sealey, QB, Jr. (237 of 388, 2,773 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT; 84 carries, 247 yards, 6 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Sam Denmark, OLB, Sr. (111 TT, 5 TFL, 3 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: De'Andre Brown, RB, Sr.; Tracy James, RB, So.; Trevor Crain, FB, Sr.; Troy Grant, WR, Sr.; Josh Fink, WR, So.; Cody Ennis, TE, Jr.; Liam Flowers, TE, Jr.; Austin Hisler, OL, Sr.; Chance Rieken, OL, Sr.; Bryson Gates, DE, Sr.; Temisan Kuyatsemi, DE, So. Royce Moore, S, Sr.; Nik Grau, PK, Sr.;

OUTLOOK: Just in time for Abilene Christian to open a new on-campus stadium and become eligible for the Southland title following its transition from Division II, Dorrel has been raising expectations in the program. He went 76-8 and won three Division II national titles in six seasons at Northwest Missouri State. Twenty starters in last year's final game are back this year. Sealey is coming off a banner season and will continue to have an excellent receiving corps. The defense was one of the worst in the Southland last season, but Denmark is one of the better defensive players in the conference. Grau was 13 of 14 on field goals and didn't miss an extra point.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at New Mexico

Sept. 9, at Colorado State

Sept. 16, Houston Baptist*

Sept. 23, Stephen F. Austin*

Sept. 30, at Incarnate Word*

Oct. 7, McNeese*

Oct. 14, Nicholls*

Oct. 21, Southeastern Louisiana*

Nov. 4, at Northwestern State*

Nov. 11, Sam Houston State*

Nov. 18, at Central Arkansas*

* - Southland game

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9. HOUSTON BAPTIST HUSKIES=

LOCATION: Houston

STADIUM: Dunham Field

COACH: Vic Shealy (7-25, three seasons; 37-43-1 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 4-7, 3-5 Southland (7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Tony Dawson, QB; Hunter Barron, LT; Dorrin Turner, LB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Terrance Peters, RB, Sr. (129 carries, 574 yards, 4 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Garrett Dolan, LB, Sr. (135 TT, 15.5 TFL, 2 Sacks, 3 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Andrew Haidet, QB, R-Fr.; B.J. Kelly, RB, Sr.; Mev Ajdin, H-Back, Sr.; D'Angelo Wallace, WR, Jr.; David Racine, WR, Jr.; Buddy Tuamasaga, TE, Sr.; Eduardo Osegueda, OL, Sr.; Andre Walker, DE, So.; Taaron Timmons, DE, Sr.; Cody Moncure, LB, Sr.; Derek Broussard, CB, Sr.; Chris Hardeman, CB, Sr.; Nicholas Smith, S, So.; Danny Garza, LS, P; Alec Chadwick, PK, Jr.; Christian Guzman, P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The Huskies took a big step in their third varsity season last year, so optimism is high with eight starters returning on each side of the ball. It hurts that last year's breakout quarterback, Dawson, is not one of the returnees. Haidet, a redshirt freshman, hopes to be the starter, while senior running backs Kelly (recovering from ankle injury) and Peters bring experience to the offense. Dolan ranked second in the FCS with 12.3 tackles per game as a junior. The Huskies will have excellent special teams, led by long snapper Garza and their punter, Guzman.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at Texas State

Sept. 7, Texas Southern

Sept. 16, at Abilene Christian*

Sept. 23, at McNeese*

Oct. 7, Central Arkansas*

Oct. 14, Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 21, at Stephen F. Austin*

Oct. 28, Northwestern State*

Nov. 4, at Nicholls*

Nov. 11, Lamar*

Nov. 18, at Sam Houston State*

* - Southland game

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10. INCARNATE WORD CARDINALS=

LOCATION: San Antonio

STADIUM: Gayle and Tim Benson Stadium

COACH: Larry Kennan (19-36, five seasons; 32-53-3 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 3-8, 3-6 Southland (Tie/8th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Trent Brittain, QB; Broderick Reeves, RB; Josh Zellars, LB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Kody Edwards, WR/RS, Sr. (39 receptions, 712 yards, 8 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Sean Hoeferkamp, S, Sr. (77 TT, 2.5 TFL, 4 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Taylor Laird, QB, Sr.; Sean Trophy, QB, Jr. (Glendale CC transfer); Desmond Hite, RB, So.; Dorland Fields, RB, Jr.; Jamari Gilbert, WR, Sr.; Daryl Brooks, WR, Sr.; Draven Taylor, OL, Sr.; Devyn Jensen, OL, Sr.; Corey Lee, DE, Sr.; Eric England, DL, Jr.; Quandre Washington, LB, Sr.; Blake Klumpp, OLB, Jr.; Robert Hayes Jr., CB, So.; Jamarkese Williams, CB, Jr.; Cody Seidel, PK, Jr.

OUTLOOK: With their Division I transition complete, the Cardinals hope last year's two season-ending wins carry over into 2017. Kennan is seeking more consistency from his squad, which must replace a veteran quarterback, Brittain, likely with Laird. Injuries dropped the Cardinals to their fifth-string running back last season, but the offense boasts an all-around threat in Edwards. The defense surrendered more than 37 points per game and lost its leading tackler, Zellars, but the secondary will grow with Hoeferkamp, Williams and Hayes. Four of the first five games are on the road.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at Fresno State

Sept. 9, at Sacramento State

Sept. 16, at Stephen F. Austin*

Sept. 30, Abilene Christian*

Oct. 7, at Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 14, Lamar*

Oct. 21, at McNeese*

Oct. 28, Nicholls*

Nov. 4, at Sam Houston State*

Nov. 11, Central Arkansas*

Nov. 16, Prairie View A&M*

* - Southland game

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11. NORTHWESTERN STATE DEMONS=

LOCATION: Natchitoches, Louisiana

STADIUM: Harry Turpin Stadium

COACH: Jay Thomas (17-29, four seasons; 44-64 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 1-10, 0-9 Southland (11th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: De'Mard Llorens, RB; Shakeir Ryan, WR/KR; Je'Marcus Marshall, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Bobby Chan-Chan, WR, Sr. (32 receptions, 614 yards, 6 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Nick Pierrotti, LB, Sr. (84 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: J.D. Almond, QB, Sr.; Clay Holgorsen, QB, Jr.; Chris Jones, RB, Sr.; Cameron Lazare, WR, Sr.; Lucas Morgan, TE, Sr.; Korliss Johnson, OL, Sr.; Chris Zirkle, OL, Jr.; Christian Bluiett, NT, So.; Tremaine Whittley, DE, Sr.; Zak Krolczyk, DE, Sr.; Lyn Clark, DE/LB, Sr.; Koby Welch, LB, Sr.; Peyton Guidry, LB, Sr.; De'Ronne Littleton, CB, So.; Ike Warren, CB, Jr.; Ryan Reed, CB, So.; Darian Raymond, S, So.; Austin Balthazor, S, Sr.; Nic Forde, S, Jr.; Eric Piccione, PK/P, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Northwestern State bottomed out last season, earning only a non-Division I win over Kentucky Wesleyan, so the Demons will rely on their senior class to get back on track. This year's schedule is team-friendly, with no trip more than a four-hour's drive away. The roster includes 26 players who made at least one start last season, and newcomers are expected to factor into key roles. Almond returns with the most experience at a quarterback position that has undergone a lot of change the last two seasons. Offensive standout Chan-Chan is a downfield threat. Thomas says there's a sense of urgency to improve this season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at Louisiana Tech

Sept. 9, at Grambling State

Sept. 16, Lamar*

Sept. 30, Southeastern Louisiana*

Oct. 7, at Nicholls*

Oct. 14, at Sam Houston State*

Oct. 21, Central Arkansas*

Oct. 28, at Houston Baptist*

Nov. 4, Abilene Christian*

Nov. 11, at McNeese*

Nov. 18, Stephen F. Austin*

* - Southland game

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