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Title game helps Southland seize national spotlight

Frisco, TX (Sports Network) - For the first time in 14 years, the FCS national championship game will not run through Chattanooga, Tenn. Understandably, people aren't pleased in Chattanooga. "It's hard to believe that the NCAA would walk away from 13 years of solid game experience to start over, regardless of the site," said Scott Smith, president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee.

The site Smith refers to is Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. The stadium, which is home to Major League Soccer's FC Dallas, has a capacity of 23,500. The city, which was recently named the nation's fastest-growing city by the U.S. Census Bureau, is the home of the FCS' Southland Conference. Folks around the league, as you might imagine, are pleased.

"It's certainly an honor for our conference to be one of the hosts for the FCS championship game," says McNeese State head coach Matt Viator. "Since I have been here, we have played in one championship game and it was a great experience. I know that everyone connected with our football program feels a bit of pride in our conference's hosting role this coming season."

The game Viator is referring to is the 2002 FCS championship game between Western Kentucky and McNeese State.McNeese lost 33-14, but the coach still recalls the experience fondly.

Three Key Games
Stephen F. Austin at McNeese State, October, 9 - SFA opens the season with tough games against Texas A&M, Albany, and Northern Iowa. The Jacks' first conference game happens to be against rival McNeese. SeriousSouthland championship implications.

Texas State at Southeastern Louisiana, October 9 - These two squads tied for third in the preseason coaches poll. Last season, one point seperated victory from defeat when the Lions prevailed over the Bobcats, 51-50.

Lamar at Stephen F. Austin, September, 25 - Although technically not a conference duel, it is a preview of sorts, as Lamar will join the Southland in 2011. It should be a tough match-up for Lamar, which will field a football team for the first time since 1989.

In 2010, with the road to the FCS championship running through their backyard, will any team in the Southland prove capable of representing its conference on the division's largest stage?

In both the media and coaches polls, Stephen F. Austin has been established as the favorite. SFA, the reigning Southland Conference co-champion, received seven of eight first-place votes in both polls. The Lumberjacks advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year, before suffering a severe 51-0 defeat to eventual FCS runner-up Montana.

Speaking on SFA's status as the team to beat in the Southland, head coach J.C. Harper refers to incumbent stars Jeremy Moses and Jabara Williams as reasons for self-assurance. "When you start with two guys like that on both sides of the ball, we welcome it all," says Harper.

Also on Wednesday, Moses and Williams were both announced as 2010 Preseason All-Southland Conference First-Team members. The quarterback and linebacker, respectively, would seem to represent the Southland's best shot at taking home a national award in Frisco this January.

In a conference rife with parity, McNeese State proved to be the only other team worthy of a first-place vote in the polls, receiving one vote in both the media and coaches preseason polls. In 2009, McNeese lost only one conference game; a tough 16-13 decision against Stephen F. Austin. As with SFA, McNeese reached the playoffs, falling in the first round to New Hampshire.

MSU returns 15 of its starters in 2010, including 2009 Southland Conference freshman of the year Malcolm Bronson. Bronson heads a defensive backfield which placed three players on the 2010 Preseason All-Southland Conference First Team. Along with Bronson, defensive backs Darrell Jenkins and Seth Thomas were selected. In all, McNeese State had a conference-leading 14 selections.

Stephen F. Austin and McNeese State represent the Southland's best chance to capitalize on a unique opportunity. To host one of their own in the FCS championship game would be dream scenario for the Southland. Both teams will have to significantly improve their playoff performances from a year ago. Both teams will have to survive tough competition within the conference itself. Both teams will have to rely upon returning veteran leadership. Both teams, in reality, will need a little bit of luck.

Stephen F. Austin's Harper is aware. Speaking about championship aspirations, the coach says, "My dad always told me, 'If you're going to win a championship, you've got to be a little lucky.'"

It took a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck to get the FCS championship game moved to Frisco. Maybe adherence to the same formula will result in another victory of sorts for the Southland.

SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE PRESEASON POLL (Coaches)

1. Stephen F. Austin (7 first-place votes), 49 points;
2. McNeese State (1), 43;
3. (tie) Southeastern Louisiana, 29;
3. (tie) Texas State, 29;
5. Central Arkansas, 27;
6. Northwestern State, 20;
7. Sam Houston State, 18;
8. Nicholls, 9

SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE PRESEASON POLL (Media)

1. Stephen F. Austin (7 first-place votes), 49 points;
2. McNeese State (1), 40;
3. Southeastern Louisiana, 35;
4. Texas State, 31;
5. Central Arkansas, 29;
6. Sam Houston State, 16;
7. Nicholls, 13;
8. Northwestern State, 11

2010 PRESEASON ALL-SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE TEAMS

First-Team Offense

QB
Jeremy Moses, Stephen F. Austin;

RB
Champlain Babin, McNeese State;
Jackie Hinton, Central Arkansas;

FB/HB
Rico Moss, Central Arkansas;

WR
Da'Marcus Griggs, Texas State;
Willie Landers, Central Arkansas;

TE
Simmie Yarborough, Southeastern Louisiana;

OL
D. J. Hall, Texas State;
Miguel Gauthreaux, McNeese State;
Austin Emerson, Central Arkansas;
Michael Booker, Northwestern State;
Jonothan Landry, McNeese State

First-Team Defense

DL
Desmund Lighten, McNeese State;
Markell Carter, Central Arkansas;
Kenneth Charles, Stephen F. Austin;
Sean Warren, Stephen F. Austin;

LB
Jabara Williams, Stephen F. Austin;
Mark Newbill, Southeastern Louisiana;

DB
Re'Keem Wilson, Southeastern Louisiana;
Malcolm Bronson, McNeese State;
Darrell Jenkins, McNeese State;
Seth Thomas, McNeese State;
Tommy Connors, Southeastern Louisiana

First-Team Specialists

PK
Eddie Carmona, Central Arkansas;

P
Patrick Dolan, Nicholls;

RS
Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin

Second-Team Offense

QB
Paul Harris, Northwestern State;

RB
Zeke Jones, Southeastern Louisiana;
Romonte Hampton, Stephen F. Austin;

FB/HB
Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin;

WR
Daren Dillard, Texas State;
Chris Royal, McNeese State;

TE
Corday Clark, McNeese State;

OL
Kevin Hughes, Southeastern Louisiana;
Taylor Johnson, McNeese State;
George Bias, Stephen F. Austin;
Zach Case, Northwestern State;
Brandon Ward, Nicholls

Second-Team Defense

DL
Terrance Freeman, McNeese State;
Devan Walker, Southeastern Louisiana;
Adley Eshraghipour, Texas State;
Josh Ellison, McNeese State;

LB
Geremy Pilate, McNeese State;
Devin Ducote, Stephen F. Austin;

DB
Bobby Felder, Nicholls;
Andre Banks, Stephen F. Austin;
Ford Smesny, McNeese State;
Henry Minor, Central Arkansas;
Marcus Clark, Texas State

Second-Team Specialists

PK/P
Drew Nelson, Stephen F. Austin;

RS
Bradley Brown, Northwestern State

By Andrew Gaddess, FCS Contributing Editor


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