|FCS Season Preview: Southland|
Jeremy Moses will have to compensate for the loss of his top three receivers from 2009.
|The Southland Conference is one of parity. In 2009, only two games seperated the top four teams, with Stephen F. Austin and McNeese State both finishing atop the conference at 6-1. Texas State and Southeastern Louisiana rounded out the top four.|
Southeastern Louisiana was a surprise last season. After being picked to finish last in the preseason conference poll, the team found itself playing Stephen F. Austin for first place in the second-to-last game of the season. Southeastern Louisiana lost the game and dropped its final contest to Nicholls State, but the turnaround spurred a No. 3 selection in this year's poll.
And that is the way it is in the Southland. As Stephen F. Austin's recent ascent has proven, teams are not seperated by much, and most programs aren't far away from contention. As an enticing company would say to a potential employee: "There's room for growth."
This season, though, something is threatning to disrupt the parity. Akin to a sucessful company losing a CEO, McNeese, Texas State and Southeastern Louisiana have all lost their top quarterbacks from last season. Unfortunately for them, this may indicate a monopoly for Stephen F. Austin.
McNeese State has been a fixture at the top of the SLC in recent years, having won or shared the title in three of the last four seasons. Last year, in addition to sporting a strong defense, McNeese relied on the arm of Derrick Fourroux to deliver another SLC title.
Fourroux did just that, leading the Cowboys to a 9-3 record while throwing for 2,477 yards and 20 touchdowns and running for another 636 yards and five touchdowns. Fourroux also shared the 2009 Southland Player of the Year award with current SFA quarterback Jeremy Moses.
In his career, Fourroux set school records for total offense (10,263 yards), passing yards (8,226 yards), passes completed (618), quarterback rushing yards (1,990), touchdowns scored by a quarterback (28), total touchdowns scored (92) and 300-yard passing games (3).
QB- Jeremy Moses, Stephen F. Austin
RB- Champlain Babin, McNeese State
RB- Jackie Hinton, Central Arkansas
FB/HB- Rico Moss, Central Arkansas
WR- Da'Marcus Griggs, Texas State
WR- Willie Landers, Central Arkansas
TE- Simmie Yarborough, Southeastern Louisiana
OL- D.J. Hall, Texas State
OL- Miguel Gauthreaux, McNeese State
OL- Austin Emerson, Central Arkansas
OL- Michael Booker, Northwestern State
OL- Jonothan Landry, McNeese State
DL- Desmund Lighten, McNeese State
DL- Markell Carter, Central Arkansas
DL- Kenneth Charles, Stephen F. Austin
DL- Sean Warren, Stephen F. Austin
LB- Jabara Williams, Stephen F. Austin
LB- Mark Newbill, Southeastern Louisiana
DB- Re'Keem Wilson, Southeastern Louisiana
DB- Malcolm Bronson, McNeese State
DB- Darrell Jenkins, McNeese State
DB- Seth Thomas, McNeese State
DB- Tommy Connors, Southeastern Louisiana
PK- Eddie Carmona, Central Arkansas
P- Patrick Dolan, Nicholls
RS- Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin
Fourroux's departure leaves a void at the position, with four players expected to vie for playing time. Zack O'Quinn, Blake Barousse, redshirt freshman Cody Stroud and Tulsa transfer Jacob Bower will battle to lead an offense which may sputter out of the gate.
Besides losing Fourroux, McNeese also lost first-team All-SLC running back Todd Pendland, and returns only four offensive starters overall.
If McNeese plans to repeat as SLC champ, it is critical that the defense carry the load. "We need to step up and lead the way until the offense can come into its own," senior defensive end Josh Ellison said.
In a similarly unenviable position is last year's third-place finisher, Texas State. Texas State's departing quarterback Bradley George earned SLC Offensive Player of the Year honors. In addition to this individual honor, George also led Texas State to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 1990-1991.
The key to Texas State running its streak to three seasons hinges on George's replacement. As head coach Brad Wright says, "Offensively, we have to find a replacement for Bradley George, who was a four-year starter ... We just need (the replacement) to manage our offense, which has been highly successful in the past, and limit (his) mistakes."
George did more than manage the offense last season, as he threw for 3,121 yards and 23 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Tim Hawkins, UTEP transfer Andy McCloud, true freshman Tyler Ardnt and Bryan Hill, all potential replacements, will look to replace George's 2009 production.
While not a player of the year, Southeastern Louisiana's departing quarterback Brian Babin proved to ben instrumental in the Lions' surprising 2009 finish.
Last season, Southeastern Louisiana finished with a winning record for just the second time since restarting football in 2003. The Lions' 6-5 record led to a third-place prediction in this year's preseason polls.
With recognition comes an added challenge, as the Lions will not be able to surprise anyone in 2010. A more significant challenge, however, will be the replacement of Babin.
Unlike McNeese and Texas State however, Southeastern Louisiana appears to have a replacement in waiting. Former Baylor transfer Tyler Beatty saw time last season and threw for 483 yards and four touchdowns.
"As Tyler goes, I think our season will go," said head coach Mike Lucas. "We've got to get him a lot of snaps in camp ... he's worked very hard to prepare himself for this situation."
While Beatty may prove to be a worthy replacement, one thing is clear at this point: He is no Jeremy Moses.
Of all the potential contenders in the SLC, only one team has a Jeremy Moses. Only one team has a returning Co-SLC Player of the Year. Only one team has a QB nominated for the Walter Payton Award, sponsored by Fathead.com.
As Texas State coach Brad Wright said, "Most of us have a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position."
Stephen F. Austin has certainty at the quarterback position. This certainty will certainly unhinge the usual balance in the SLC.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2010 Southland Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Stephen F. Austin
2. McNeese State
3. Southeastern Louisiana
4. Texas State
5. Central Arkansas
6. Sam Houston State
7. Northwestern State
Offensive Player of the Year: Jeremy Moses, QB, Stephen F. Austin
Defensive Player of the Year: Jabara Williams, LB, Stephen F. Austin
1. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS (10-3 overall; 6-1 Southland)
COACH: J.C. Harper (14-22 in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin; 14-22 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (5 offense/8 defense/3 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Jeremy Moses, Sr. (385 of 566, 4,124 yards, 40 TDs, 21 INTs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jabara Williams, Sr. (113 TT, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
DB Andre Banks, Sr. (65 TT, 2 INTs, 6 PBU, 3 FF)
DL Kenneth Charles, Sr. (50 TT, 11 TFL, 9 sacks, 5 FF)
DL Sean Warren, Sr. (37 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
WR Gralyn Crawford, So. (51 receptions, 785 yards, 7 TDs)
RB Romonte` Hampton, So. (324 yards, 4 TDs)
OL George Bias, Jr. LB Devin Ducote, Jr. (137 TT, 12.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
P/PK Drew Nelson, Jr. (41.5 yards per punt)
OUTLOOK: The Jacks' shared the conference title in 2009 with McNeese State. Returning arguably the best players in the Southland at their respective positions in quarterback Jeremy Moses and linebacker Jabara Williams, SFA looks to have another big year in 2010. Williams, a nominee for the Buck Buchanan Award (sponsored by Fathead.com), is complemented by eight returning starters on the defensive end, including 2009 Southland Newcomer of the Year Andre Banks. On offense, Moses will have to compensate for the loss of his top three receivers from 2009. Still, he is not devoid of targets. Sophomore Gralyn Crawford tallied 51 catches for 785 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009 and was one of the Southland's top freshman performers. Just three years removed from an 0-11 season, Stephen F. Austin will look to continue its FCS escalation in 2010.
2. MCNEESE STATE COWBOYS (9-3 overall; 6-1 Southland)
COACH: Matt Viator (33-10 in four seasons at McNeese State; 33-10 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (4 offense/10 defense/1 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: OT Miguel Gauthreaux, Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Desmund Lighten, Jr. (77 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
S Malcolm Bronson, So. (89 TT, 2 INTs)
LB Deron Minor, Sr. (24 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FR)
S Darrell Jenkins, Jr. (69 TT, 1 sack, 1 FF, 4 PBU)
CB Seth Thomas, So. (29 TT, 3 INTs, 8 PDs)
LB Geremy Pilate, Sr. (45 TT, 4 sacks)
DL Josh Ellison, Sr. (43 TT, 5 sacks)
TE Corday Clark, Sr. (26 receptions, 5 TDs)
RB Champlain Babin, So. (66 rushes, 395 yards, 5 TDs)
OUTLOOK: Defense will be the key in 2010 for the defending co-Southland champs. The offense lost all but four starters, including 2009 Southland Conference Co-Player of the year and quarterback Derrick Fourroux. It is unclear who will fill in for Fourroux, as up to five players are battling for the starting spot. Graduate student Jacob Bower has the edge in experience, as other quarterbacks Zack O'Quinn, Cody Stroud, Blake Barousse and Will Briscoe have yet to take a snap in an official collegiate game. Besides Fourroux, the Cowboys also look to replace All-America running back Toddrick Pendland, all- conference tight end Wes Mangan and all-conference offensive tackle Casey Richter. The defense appears ready to shoulder the burden, however, as it returns 10 starters from last season and 2008 standout linebacker Deron Minor, who missed the majority of last season due to injury. Despite the personnel depletion, McNeese retains key leadership at the top in head coach Matt Viator, who has guided the Cowboys to Southland titles three of the last four seasons.
3. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA UNIVERSITY LIONS (6-5 overall; 4-3 Southland)
COACH: Mike Lucas (14-23 in three seasons at Southeastern Louisiana; 14-23 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (7 offense/10 defense/1 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Simmie Yarborough, Jr. (57 receptions, 803 yards, 12 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Mark Newbill, Sr. (110 TT, 9.5 TFL)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
DB Re'Keem Wilson, Sr. (48 TT, 4 INTs, 11 PD)
DB Tommy Conors, Sr. (6 TT)
RB Zeke Jones, So. (78 rushes, 383 yards, 5 TDs)
RB Sam Fairley, So. (28 rushes, 104 yards, 1 TD)
OL Kevin Hughes, Sr.
DL Devan Walker, So. (36 TT, 5 TFL, 1 sack)
OUTLOOK: In 2009, Southeastern Louisiana posted its first winning season since 2004 and was in the hunt for the Southland title before dropping its second- to-last game of the year to Stephen F. Austin. The Lions look to be in contention again in 2010 as they return 18 starters from last season. One glaring omission, however, is quarterback Brian Babin, who departed after throwing for over 7,400 yards and 62 touchdowns in his SE Louisiana career. Head coach Mike Lucas appears confident in Babin's potential replacements, Tyler Beatty and B.J. Young. "Both Tyler and B.J. are much more athletic and do more things as far as using their feet," Lucas said. "Their mobility will allow us to do some different things offensively in terms of play installation." Babin's replacement will be protected by an offensive line that returns five starters. Add this to a defensive unit which returns 11 starters of its own and Lucas' team appears to have the necessary leadership in place. Also returning to the defense is 2008 All-America defensive back Tommy Conors, who received a medical hardship after suffering a season ending knee- injury in 2009. He looks to bolster an already staunch defense.
4. TEXAS STATE BOBCATS (7-4 overall; 5-2 Southland)
COACH: Brad Wright (19-13 in three seasons at Texas State; 19-13 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (7 offense/9 defense/2 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Da'Marcus Griggs, Sr. (80 receptions, 969 yards, 8 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Marcus Clark, Sr. (95 TT, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
OL D.J. Hall, Jr.
WR Daren Dillard, Jr. (43 receptions, 643 yards, 6 TDs)
DL Adley Eshraghipour, Jr. (42 TT, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT)
DL Ron Jackson, Sr, (37 TT, 4 sacks)
LB Brian Iwuji, Jr. (67 TT)
CB Darryl Morris, So. (40 TT, 6 PD);
RB Frank Reddic, So. (53 carries, 206 yards, 6 TDs)
QB Tim Hawkins, So., (5-9, 36 yards, 1 TD; 20 rushes, 165 yards, 1 TD)
OUTLOOK: In 2009, Texas State tallied a 7-4 record and its second consecutive winning season. The team's success was due in large part to 2009 Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year Bradley George. George ended the season as Texas State's career leader in passing yards, touchdowns, completions, attempts, total offense and passing efficiency. The task of replacing the departed George in 2010 will likely fall upon Tim Hawkins. He saw limited action as George's backup last season, but proved to be an athletic quarterback with dual-threat ability. He also will have the luxury of throwing to senior receiver Da'Marcus Griggs. In 2009, Griggs ranked second in the SLC in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game. Karrington Bush, a two-time 1,000 yard rusher is another offensive threat, but Texas State is awaiting word on his eligibility. While the offense jells, head coach Brad Wright will reply upon a veteran defensive unit to keep the team in SLC contention. The defense returns multiple starters on the line, in the secondary and at linebacker. At linebacker, the Bobcats return its two leading tacklers from last season. Marcus Clark and Brian Iwuji finished 2009 with 95 and 67 tackles, respectively. In all, the defense returners nine starters from 2009, and looks able to lead Texas State to its third consecutive winning season.
5. CENTRAL ARKANSAS BEARS (5-7 overall; 2-5 Southland)
COACH: Clint Conque (73-43 in 10 seasons at Central Arkansas; 73-43 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/4 defense/1 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: OL Austin Emerson, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Markell Carter, Sr. (6.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL, 47 TT, 2 fumble rcv)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
RB Jackie Hinton, So. (20 rushes, 127 yards, 1 TD)
WR Isiah Jackson, Jr. (20 receptions, 288 yards, 1 TD)
WR Dominique Croom, Jr. (19 catches, 260 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Willie Landers, Jr.
LB Lamar Moore, Jr. (50 TT)
CB Henry Minor, Sr. (39 TT, 1 fumble rcv)
DE Trey Lippe, Jr. (20 TT, 4.5 TFL)
OUTLOOK: All seven of Central Arkansas' losses last season were by five points or less. Still, the team posted the No. 1 overall defense in the SLC. This year, the Bears return just four starters to that defense. Among the losses was Co-Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year Larry Hart, who was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in April. Defensive ends Markell Carter and Trey Lippe will look to replace Hart's productivity on the line. Carter looks to have another solid year after finishing 209 with 6.5 sacks. Offensively, the Bears will have a new quarterback under center for the second consecutive season. Nathan Dick, who started several games for Arkansas as a freshman before transferring to UCA, served as backup to Robbie Park last season, and entered camp as the projected starter. Junior receiver Willie Landers, who missed all of 2009 with a knee injury, returns to bolster the offense. Landers was honorable mention All-SLC in 2008, when he caught 44 passes for 735 yards and seven touchdowns. This season marks the first in which UCA is eligible for postseason play, after completing its four-year transition to NCAA Division I (FCS). With such significant losses, the program's first FCS playoff appearance will prove to be a challenge.
6. SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS (5-6 overall; 3-4 Southland)
COACH: Willie Fritz (first season at Sam Houston State; 136-52-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (3 offense/6 defense/ 1 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Bryan Randolph, Sr. (15 of 35, 97 yards; 16 rushes, 27 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Will Henry, Jr. (71 TT, 11 TFL)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
TE T.J. Jones, Jr. (3 receptions, 23 yards)
DB Kenneth Jenkins, So. (87 TT, 7 TFL, 2 INTs, 2 FF)
OL Kaleb Hopson, So.
OL Cameron Pound, So.
LB Darnell Taylor, So. (44 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 fumble rcv
)DB Robert Shawm, So. (26 TT, 10 PBU, 1 FF)
WR Melvis Pride, So. (7 receptions, 53 yards)
K Miguel Antonio, So. (73 points on 12 of 20 FGs, 37 of 38 PATs)
OUTLOOK: First-year Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz will not be the only one new to the program in 2010 as 32 of 60 letterman departed from the 2009 team. Fritz previously coached at the University of Central Missouri, where he posted a 97-47 record in 13 seasons. He served as a graduate assistant for Sam Houston in 1984 and a special teams coach in 1991 and 1992. He inherits a team which lost its entire starting backfield and its top six receivers from 2009. In spring drills, 2009 backup Bryan Randolph won the starting quarterback spot. The offense returns two starting lineman, Caleb Hopson and Cameron Pound. Chris Crockett and Travis Watson, who both missed the 2009 season due to injury, also return to the O-line. Defensively, Sam Houston will use the same system as in 2009 and also returns six of its top seven tacklers. The team's only returning All-SLC player is linebacker Will Henry. Other notable returns are Kenneth Jenkins (2 INTs), and Darnell Taylor (2 INTs).
7. NORTHWESTERN STATE DEMONS (0-11 overall; 0-7 Southland)
COACH: Bradley Dale Peveto (0-11 in one season at Northwestern State; 0-11 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/3 defense/5 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Paul Harris, So. (81 of 144, 978 yards, 5 TDs; 98 rushes, 537 yards, 3 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DL Ledell Love, Sr. (41 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 blocked kick)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
OL Michael Booker, Sr.
WR Bradley Brown, So. (27 receptions, 356 yards, 2 TDs)
DB Cortez Paige, So. (50 TT, 4 PBU)
TE Justin Aldredge, Jr. (25 receptions, 328 yards, 4 TDs, 1 rushing TD)
MLB Derek Rose, So.; (18 TT, 1 FF)
CB Jeremy Lane, Jr. (23 TT, 1 PBU)
S Cashas Pollard, Jr. (30 TT, 2 PBU)
OL Zach Case, Jr.
OUTLOOK: Northwestern State was winless last season, but showed some fight down the stretch. The team proved a worthy adversary against conference champ Stephen F. Austin, losing a hard-fought 19-10 decision in the final game of the season. In four of its final five contests, NSU had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, losing by a combined 23 points in those games. In 2010, the team and coaching staff return with more experience. Second-year head coach Bradley Peveto will guide a team which saw 14 true freshman earn playing time in 2009. Those freshman contributed to a recruiting class rated the best in the FCS by Rivals.com. Northwestern State has experience at quarterback in sophmore Paul Harris. He proved to be a capable starter last season after John Hundley and Tyler Wolfe both suffered injuries. Harris enters 2010 as the projected starter. Protecting Harris will be first-team 2010 Preseason All-SLC lineman Michael Booker and second-team lineman Zach Case. Harris also will have reliable targets in tight end Justin Aldredge and wide receiver Bradley Brown. The defense returns 30 letter-winners but looks to replace eight starters. The addition of 2005 SLC Coach of the Year Jay Thomas, formerly of Nicholls, as defensive line coach should ease the trantition. Look for the Demons to take an incremental step forward in 2010.
8. NICHOLLS STATE COLONELS (3-8 overall; 2-5 Southland)
COACH: Charlie Stubbs (first season at Nicholls; 0-0 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (5 offense/4 defense/ 8 special teams)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB LaQuintin Caston, So. (24 of 100, 779 yards, 8 TDs; 116 rushes, 229 yards, 6 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Bobby Felder, Jr. (54 TT, 4.5 TFL, 7 PBU, 2 INTs)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
WR Mike Barba, So. (9 catches, 177 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Donovan Tate, Sr. (13 catches, 159 yards)
P/K Patrick Dolan, Sr. (59 punts, 42.7 average)
LB Ed James, Sr. (46 TT, 5.5 TFL)
LB Jordan Piper, So. (45 TT, 1 sack)
DT Marquis Russell, Sr. (27 TT, 2.5 sacks)
OUTLOOK: New coach Charlie Stubbs has a history of turning around programs and will look to do the same at Nicholls in 2010. Specifically, Stubbs has a penchant for offensive production. Second-year quarterback LaQuintin Caston should benefit from Stubbs' tutelage and implementation of the multiple-pro offense. Overall, the offensive unit is primarily inexperienced and will look to grow with Stubbs guidance. On defense, the Colonels look to improve on a unit which finished last in the SLC in total defense. Nicholls will return five linemen and six linebackers. Heading the defense will be defensive backs Bobby Felder, linebackers Ed James and Jordan Piper and defensive tackle Marquis Russell.