Sam Houston State, which has won two straight Southland titles, has reached the last two FCS national championship games and has a talent group returning on offense.
But Sam Houston didn't even win the conference's automatic bid to the playoffs last season - co-champion Central Arkansas's win in the head-to-head matchup was the difference maker in the Bears earning it.
UCA has a home date against Sam Houston for the second straight year, and this time it's on the final Saturday of the regular season.
It's up to the other Southland programs to keep that game from deciding the title, and quite possibly they can this season.
McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin, Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State have enjoyed big moments in recent seasons. It might even be time for Lamar to take a step into being a Southland title contender. Nicholls will try to be a spoiler.
Three more football programs are joining the Southland conference next year: Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word and Houston Baptist.
Yes, the Southland Conference is on the rise.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2013 Southland Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Sam Houston State
2. Central Arkansas
3. Southeastern Louisiana
4. Stephen F. Austin
5. McNeese State
7. Northwestern State
1. SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS
LOCATION: Huntsville, Texas
COACH: Willie Fritz (31-10 in three seasons at Sam Houston State; 167-62-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 11-4 overall, 6-1 Southland; No. 2 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Timothy Flanders, Sr. (288 carries, 1,642 yards, 17 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jesse Beauchamp, Sr. (94 TT, 12.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 PBU, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brian Bell, Sr. (197-of-322, 2,715 yards, 25 TD, 10 INT; 97 carries, 377 yards, 6 TD)
RB/KR Keshawn Hill, Jr. (68 carries, 530 yards, 7 TD; 26.6-yard KO return average)
WR/Wildcat Back Richard Sincere, Sr. (106 carries, 607 yards, 5 TD; 17 receptions, 230 yards)
WR Chase Nelson, So. (35 receptions, 671 yards, 9 TD)
WR/PR Torrance Williams, Sr.
LT Donald Jackson III, So.
RG Matt Boyles, Sr.
DE Jarrett Brown, Sr.
DE Andrew Weaver, Sr.
DT Gary Lorance, Sr. (40 TT, 12.5 TFL, 4 sacks)
DT Forbes Baggett, Sr.
LB Eric Fieilo, Sr.
CB Bookie Sneed, Sr. (48 TT, 4 INT, 5 PBU)
CB Shelby Davis, So.
PK/P Luc Swimberghe, Fr.
BIG LOSSES: SS Darnell Taylor (102 TT, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF) and CB Dax Swanson (46 TT, 4 INT, 14 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 268.33 (7 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Passing Offense, 190.20 (76 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Total Offense, 458.33 (10 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 40 (2 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 98.53 (6 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Passing Defense, 234.93 (83 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Total Defense, 333.47 (27 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 21.47 (29 in FCS, 2 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: The Bearkats are a motivated group, having lost to North Dakota State in the last two national championship games. They have outscored Southland opponents by an amazing 643-168 over the last two seasons, losing only to Central Arkansas in conference play last season. But they have to play at UCA for a second straight year in this year's regular-season finale, so they will want to build a cushion in the title race. Although there's still plenty of star power on their roster, the Bearkats lost a slew of key players from last season. Flanders, who will become the Southland's all-time leading rusher, Sincere and Nelson will put up big numbers, and QB Bell has a 30-8 record as a starter. Any potential problem lies up front as Jackson, the new left tackle, is the only returning starter on the offensive line, although Boyles has 20 starts over his career. The 4-2-5 defense must jell and prove it has enough depth over the course of the season, but Brown, Weaver, Lorance, Beauchamp, Fieilo, and Sneed have enough big-game experience to keep the unit at a higher level. The Bearkats will be a Top 10 team again.
Aug. 31 - vs. Houston Baptist
Sept. 7 - at Texas A&M
Sept. 14 - vs. Texas Southern
Sept. 21 - vs. Incarnate Word
Sept. 28 - vs. Eastern Washington
Oct. 12 - vs. Lamar
Oct. 19 - at McNeese State
Oct. 26 - vs. Northwestern State
Nov 2 - vs. Stephen F. Austin (at Houston)
Nov. 9 - vs. Nicholls
Nov. 16 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 23 - at Central Arkansas
2. CENTRAL ARKANSAS BEARS
LOCATION: Conway, Ark.
COACH: Clint Conque (98-54 in 13 seasons at Central Arkansas)
LAST SEASON: 9-3 overall, 6-1 Southland; No. 10 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Wynrick Smothers, Sr. (277-of-427, 3,103 yards, 31 TD, 9 INT; 109 carries, 449 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STARS: DE Jonathan Woodard, So. (36 TT, 11 TFL, 7 sacks, 3 FR, 2 FF) and SS Jestin Love, Sr. (91 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Willie Matthews, Jr. (35 carries, 236 yards, 1 TD)
RB Blake Veasley, So.
WR Dezmin Lewis, Jr. (56 receptions, 616 yards, 6 TD)
WR Justin Burdette, So. (Southern Mississippi transfer)
TE Chase Dixon, Sr.
LT Cole Caruthers, Jr.
RT Dominique Allen, Sr.
RT Kyle Stouffer, So.
DE Markeith Gaines, Sr.
DE Derek Floyd, So.
DT Matt Hornbuckle, Sr. (34 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks)
MLB Justin Heard, Sr. (100 TT, 15 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
OLB Radarius Winston, Sr. (61 TT, 2 INT, 2 PBU)
CB Marcus Peters, Sr.
PK Eddie Camara, Jr. (13-of-15 FG, 48 long; 92 points)
BIG LOSSES: WR/RS Jesse Grandy (61 receptions, 797 yards, 7 TD) and WR Dominique Croom (54 receptions, 717 yards, 8 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 133.50 (80 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Passing Offense, 266.58 (22 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Total Offense, 400.08 (42 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 34.83 (10 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 160 (58 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Passing Defense, 219.50 (69 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Total Defense, 379.50 (65 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 22.50 (39 in FCS, 3 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: Conque is two wins shy of 100 at Central Arkansas, and he will soar past that milestone in what should be another outstanding season for the Bears, who shared last year's Southland title with Sam Houston State. Smothers, a 2012 Walter Payton Award finalist, is back for his senior season. He's lost some running backs and wide receivers, but despite the lack of experience surrounding him, there's still enough talent on the roster. His offensive line is full of experienced players, so the Bears are set up well. Despite the loss of playmaking linebacker Seth Allison, the Bears have a star in each defensive unit: DE Woodard, who will keep getting better as a sophomore; leading tackler Heard at linebacker; and Buck Buchanan Award nominee Love at strong safety. Since laying purple-and-gray striped turf at Estes Stadium, the Bears are 12-0. This season, all the other top Southland teams come to Conway. Visitors, beware.
Aug. 29 - vs. Incarnate Word
Sept. 7 - at Colorado
Sept. 14 - at UT Martin
Sept. 21 - at Missouri State
Oct. 5 - vs. McNeese State
Oct. 12 - vs. Nebraska-Kearney
Oct. 19 - at Lamar
Oct. 26 - vs. Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 2 - at Northwestern State
Nov. 9 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 16 - at Nicholls
Nov. 23 - vs. Sam Houston State
3. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA LIONS
LOCATION: Hammond, La.
COACH: Ron Roberts (5-6 in one season at Southeastern Louisiana; 52-22 overall)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 5-2 Southland
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Gaston Gabriel, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Kaleb Muse, Jr. (80 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Bryan Bennett, Jr. (Oregon transfer)
RB/KR Xavier Roberson, So. (105 carries, 488 yards, 4 TD; 33.2-yard KO return average, 2 TD)
RB Rasheed Harrell, So. (72 carries, 376 yards, 3 TD)
RB Kody Sutton, So. (Wyoming transfer)
WR Tony McCrea, Sr. (28 receptions, 401 yards, 1 TD)
WR Marquis Fruge', Sr.
TE Taylor Jenkins, So.
LG Geremy Wilson, Sr.
C Marshal Paris, Sr.
RT Corey Boothe, Jr.
NG Grey Triay, Sr.
DE Jeremy Williams, Sr.
MLB Cqulin Hubert, Sr. (60 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3 QBH, 2 FR)
OLB Drew Misita, Jr.
CB Todd Washington, Sr. (27 TT, 1 INT, 9 PBU)
S John Graves, Sr. (70 TT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
S Kevin Harmon, Sr.
S Marice Sutton, Jr. (57 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
FS Tyler Stoddard, Jr.
PK Seth Sebastian, Sr.
P Matt McCormick, Sr.
BIG LOSS: CB Robert Alford (39 TT, 5 TFL, 4 INT, 8 PBU)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 103.27 (106 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Passing Offense, 196.82 (71 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Total Offense, 300.09 (104 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 18.82 (99 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 182.18 (82 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Passing Defense, 205.36 (45 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Total Defense, 387.55 (75 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 34.73 (104 in FCS, 7 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: Roberts' first season was a huge success as Southeastern's 5-2 record in Southland play was its best mark since being a Division II school in 1978. The Lions struggled offensively, though, but Roberts has brought in many transfers, one who can come in and help them win. The conference's impact player of the year could be Bennett, who was the primary backup at the University of Oregon the last two seasons. With an improved Roberson being pushed by Sutton, the running back production will improve. Both lines are showing they are more physical, too. The big problem on defense would appear to be replacing Alford, the first FCS player to be selected in the 2013 NFL Draft (Atlanta Falcons, second round), but the Lions still return a deep secondary. The Lions weren't particularly competitive in their six losses last season, and with a tougher schedule this season, there will be a step backward with every step forward.
Aug. 29 - vs. Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 7 - at TCU
Sept. 14 - at South Dakota State
Sept. 21 - at Samford
Oct. 5 - vs. Incarnate Word
Oct. 12 - vs. Stephen F. Austin
Oct 19 - at Northwestern State
Oct. 26 - vs. Lamar
Nov. 2 - at McNeese State
Nov. 9 - at Central Arkansas
Nov. 16 - vs. Sam Houston State
Nov. 21 - vs. Nicholls
4. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS
LOCATION: Nacogdoches, Texas
COACH: J.C. Harper (34-36 in six seasons at Stephen F. Austin)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-3 Southland
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (7 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STARS: QB Brady Attaway, Sr. (334-of-570, 3,671 yards, 29 TD, 21 INT) and RB Gus Johnson, Jr. (154 carries, 954 yards, 14 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Darren Robinson, Jr. (31 TT, 11.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: WR D.J. Ward, Jr. (62 receptions, 762 yards, 4 TD)
WR Mike Brooks, Jr. (51 receptions, 492 yards, 2 TD)
WR Aaron Thomas, So. (32 receptions, 323 yards, 4 TD)
LT Ryne Chambers, Sr.
RT Terran Vaughn, So.
RG Andrew Ratliff, Sr.
DE Ishmiah Miles, Jr. (26 TT, 7 TFL, 5 sacks)
DE Lance Skyler, Jr.
DE Malcolm Mattox, Sr.
DT Shayvion Hatten, So. (Texas A&M transfer)
DT Donald Bryant, So. (Baylor transfer)
LB Collin Garrett, Jr. (96 TT)
S Jordan Aubrey, R-Sr. (62 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
S Caleb Nelson Sr. (66 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FF)
S Trey Vallier, Jr.
PK Jordan Wiggs, Jr. (15-of-20 FG, 37 long; 81 points)
BIG LOSS: WR Cordell Roberson (77 receptions, 1,006 yards, 10 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 117.64 (96 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Passing Offense, 385.45 (2 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Total Offense, 503.09 (2 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 34.09 (14 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 120 (15 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Passing Defense, 221.55 (70 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Total Defense, 341.55 (35 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 33.45 (101 in FCS, 6 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: As always, you strap on a seatbelt at an SFA game. But the fast pace didn't prevent the Lumberjacks from suffering their first losing season since 2008. They need to play better away from Bryce Stadium after losing all six games last season on the road. And they only have two Southland games at home this season. Of course, it all starts with Attaway, a third-year starter who is being counted on for a big senior season. Over the last two years, he has thrown for 6,852 yards and 56 touchdowns, but he also needs to cut down on the interceptions (43 over the last two seasons). In Johnson, the Lumberjacks have the conference's second-leading rusher and top scorer last season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The defense needs considerable improvement, although the offensive turnovers often put the unit in big spots. Robinson will lead an aggressive front that causes disruption to opposing QBs.
Aug. 31 - at Weber State
Sept. 7 - at Texas Tech
Sept. 14 - vs. McMurry
Sept. 21 - vs. Montana State
Sept. 28 - vs. Prairie View A&M
Oct. 12 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 19 - vs. Nicholls
Oct. 26 - at Central Arkansas
Nov. 2 - at Sam Houston State (at Houston)
Nov. 9 - vs. McNeese State
Nov. 16 - at Lamar
Nov. 23 - at Northwestern State
5. MCNEESE STATE COWBOYS
LOCATION: Lake Charles, La.
COACH: Matt Viator (52-24 in seven seasons at Montana State)
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 4-3 Southland
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RG Arinze Agada, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: WS Terence Cahee, Sr. (80 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Cody Stroud, Sr. (170-of-278, 2,102 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT)
RB Marcus Wiltz, Sr. (130 carries, 651 yards, 6 TD)
RB Javaris Murray, Sr. (86 carries, 504 yards, 3 TD)
RB Kelvin Bennett, So. (34 carries, 302 yards, 3 TD)
WR Diontae Spencer, Sr. (31 receptions, 413 yards, 2 TD)
WR Ernest Celestie, Sr. (21 receptions, 246 yards, 1 TD)
TE Nic Jacobs, Jr. (LSU transfer)
LT Antoine Everett, Jr.
DE Everett Ellefsen, Jr. (44 TT, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 PBU, 3 FF)
DE Chris Loveless, Sr.
DT Kevin Dorn, Jr.
LB Deonte Thompson, Jr. (48 TT, 5 TFL, 1 QBH)
CB Guy Morgan, Sr. (57 TT, 3 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
CB Aaron Sam, Jr.
FS Ryan Bronson, Sr. (50 TT, 3 INT, 5 PBU)
PK Ryan Rome, Sr. (Tulane transfer)
P Jean Breaux, So. (48 punts, 41.3 ypp)
BIG LOSS: WR/RS Darius Carey (28 receptions, 455 yards, 3 TD; 12.5-yard punt return average)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 209.45 (18 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Passing Offense, 203.55 (64 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Total Offense, 413 (31 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 32.45 (24 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 115.36 (12 in FCS, 2 in Southland); Passing Defense, 237.64 (85 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Total Defense, 353 (42 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 21.18 (26 in FCS, 1 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: McNeese State's tradition-rich program has posted eight consecutive winning seasons and has reason to expect an even bigger 2013. Stroud has made 24 starts at quarterback and should finish his career high on the school's statistical charts. Some of the young skills position players around him have grown up, with a running back trio of Wiltz, Murray and Bennett capable of gamebreaking damage. The offensive line, though, is replacing three players who earned all-conference honors last season. Agada will anchor the line and try to compensate for the new starters during the jelling process. Cahee was the team's defensive MVP last season and anchors a deep secondary, while Ellefsen will do damage as a pass rusher. The defense surrendered the fewest points in the conference.
Aug. 31 - at South Florida
Sept. 7 - vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Sept. 14 - vs. West Alabama
Sept. 21 - vs. Weber State
Sept. 28 - at Northern Iowa
Oct. 5 - at Central Arkansas
Oct. 19 - vs. Sam Houston State
Oct 26 - at Nicholls
Nov.. 2 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 9 - at Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 16 - vs. Northwestern State
Nov. 23 - at Lamar
6. LAMAR CARDINALS
LOCATION: Beaumont, Texas
COACH: Ray Woodard (13-21 in three seasons at Lamar)
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 1-6 Southland
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Barry Ford, Sr. (49 receptions, 470 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Jermaine Longino, Sr. (107 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 5 QBH, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Caleb Berry, R-Jr. (76-of-145, 663, 5 TD, 5 INT)
QB Ryan Mossakowski, Sr. (113-of-193, 1,194 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT)
RB Desmond Richards, So. (32 carries, 130 yards)
WR Jordan Edwards, Sr. (23 receptions, 349 yards, 4 TD)
WR Reggie Begelton, So. (21 receptions, 172 yards, 1 TD)
TE Payden McVey, Jr.
C Kyle Gilliam, Sr.
RT Stephen Babin, Sr.
LG Brock Wempa, Sr.
LT Justin Brock, So.
DE Jesse Dickson, Sr. (43 TT, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU)
DE Mark Murrill, Sr. (37 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 5 QBH)
NG Joe Okafor, Jr.
ILB James Washington, Sr. (68 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Branden Thomas, Sr. (45 TT, 4 INT, 6 PBU)
CB Tyrus McGlothen, Sr.
FS Chad Allen, Sr. (79 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
SS Courtlin Thompson, Sr.
P Kollin Kahler, Sr. (67 punts, 41.5 ypp)
RS/WR Kevin Johnson, R-Jr. (28.3-yard KO return average, 2 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 125.92 (86 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Passing Offense, 154.75 (105 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Total Offense, 280.67 (115 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 20.08 (96 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 160.50 (60 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Passing Defense, 199.75 (41 in FCS, 1 in Southland); Total Defense, 360.25 (48 in FCS, 4 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 29.58 (80 in FCS, 4 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: The Cardinals' young program is growing up quickly as Woodard continues to put together recruiting classes. The next step is to post a winning season, and they think they have their best chance with 15 starters and 48 letter-winners returning. Quarterbacks Berry and Mossakowski both figure to get time under center after they combined on 1,857 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air last season. Their top three pass catchers are back, too, to keep defenses stretched out. Defensively, the Cardinals led the Southland in pass defense last season and they could do it again with four senior starters in the secondary. Their work in the back will allow DE Dickson to be an effective pass rusher. Longino and Washington are third-year starters at linebacker. The place-kicking will be solid and Kahler was the All-Southland preseason punter. Indeed, there's a lot for the Cardinals to be upbeat about.
Aug. 31 - vs. Panhandle State
Sept. 7 - at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 14 - at Oklahoma State
Sept. 21 - vs. Bacone College
Sept. 28 - at Grambling State
Oct. 12 - at Sam Houston State
Oct. 19 - vs. Central Arkansas
Oct. 26 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 2 - vs. Nicholls
Nov. 9 - at Northwestern State
Nov. 16 - vs. Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 23 - vs. McNeese State
7. NORTHWESTERN STATE DEMONS
LOCATION: Natchitoches, La.
COACH: Jay Thomas (first season at Northwestern State; 27-35 overall)
LAST SEASON: 4-7 overall, 2-5 Southland
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Louis Hollier, Sr. (28 receptions, 384 yards, 2 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Lesley Deamer, Sr. (42 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF, 1 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Daniel Hazlewood, R-Fr.
QB Zack Adkins, Jr. (Riverside City College transfer)
QB Grant Chiasson, So.
RB Daniel Taylor, So.
RB Rob Walker, Sr. (73 carries, 281 yards, 1 TD)
WR Casey Toussant, Jr.
TE/FB Chris Dever Jr., Jr.
TE Tucker Nims, Sr.
TE Corey Simmons, Jr. (20 receptions, 186 yards, 3 TD)
RT Blayne Cole, Sr.
C Warren Jones, Sr.
OG/C Austin Douglas (Mississippi transfer)
NT Damon Medcafe, Jr.
MLB Pat Black, Sr. (88 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF)
CB Rico Albert, Jr.
CB Imoan Claiborne, Jr.
SS Bert White, Sr. (59 TT, 2 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
FS/CB Ryan Sorrell, Sr.
PK/P Andy Wickman, So.
RS/CB Ed Eagan, So.
BIG LOSSES: QB Brad Henderson (181-of-330, 1,874 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT; 135 carries, 253 yards, 5 TD) and LB Derek Rose (100 TT, 7 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 116.91 (97 in FCS, 6 in Southland); Passing Offense, 179.91 (83 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Total Offense, 296.82 (106 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 24.09 (71 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 192.27 (95 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Passing Defense, 215 (64 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Total Defense, 407.27 (85 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 32.18 (97 in FCS, 5 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: Thomas has been a head coach in the conference before, posting a 27-35 record at Nicholls from 2004-09. He has brought in Robby Brown from Valdosta State's Division II national championship squad to be the offensive coordinator. However, the offense lost a solid quarterback in Henderson and may not have enough playmakers. An injury to junior quarterback Don Canyon makes it likely Hazlewood, a redshirt freshman, or Adkins, a junior college transfer, will lead the offense. Thomas likes the versatility at running back and WR Hollier appears ready for a productive senior season. The defense must replace four of last year's top six tacklers - including Rose and his 341 career tackles - but Thomas is expecting his players to play aggressive and fast. The defensive line is the defense's best unit and Deamer is the standout. The schedule is manageable, so the excitement of a new coach will give the Demons a boost.
Aug. 29 - at Missouri State
Sept. 7 - vs. Southern
Sept. 14 - at Cincinnati
Sept. 21 - at UAB
Sept. 28 - vs. Langston
Oct. 12 - at Nicholls
Oct. 19 - vs. Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 26 - at Sam Houston State
Nov. 2 - vs. Central Arkansas
Nov. 9 - vs. Lamar
Nov. 16 - at McNeese State
Nov. 23 - vs. Stephen F. Austin
8. NICHOLLS COLONELS
LOCATION: Thibodaux, La.
COACH: Charlie Stubbs (6-27 in three seasons at Nicholls)
LAST SEASON: 1-10 overall, 0-7 Southland
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Marcus Washington, Sr. (116 carries, 598 yards, 6 TD; 25 receptions, 167 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Chris Bermond, Sr. (64 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Beaux Hebert, Jr. (23-of-37, 315 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT)
QB Tuskani Figaro, So. (29 carries, 208 yards, 3 TD)
QB Kalen Henderson, Jr. (Tulsa transfer)
RB Dalton Hilliard Jr., Sr.
WR Erik Buchanan, Sr.
WR Carey Fortson, Sr.
FL/KR Josh Hanberry, Jr. (22 receptions, 308 yards)
TE Nick Scelfo, Jr. (22 receptions, 300 yards, 2 TD)
LT Abasi Salimu, Sr.
RT Eric Alt, Sr.
RG Caleb Cline, Jr.
LG Rafe Plaisance, Jr.
DT Lorenza Young, Sr.
LB Nick LeBlanc, Jr.
LB Davin Bovie, Jr.
CB B.J. Lewis, Sr. (47 TT, 2 TFL, 5 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Toren Joseph, Jr.
CB Byron Cobb, Jr. (47 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
S Jordan Hanberry, Jr.
S T.J. Lumar, Sr. (43 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
S Siegan Vergenal, Sr. (50 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 FF)
PK Andrew Dolan, Sr.
BIG LOSS: MLB Jordan Piper (107 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 116.27 (100 in FCS, 7 in Southland); Passing Offense, 222.09 (48 in FCS, 3 in Southland); Total Offense, 338.36 (85 in FCS, 5 in Southland); Scoring Offense, 17.73 (106 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Rushing Defense, 192.64 (97 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Passing Defense, 263.09 (110 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Total Defense, 455.73 (109 in FCS, 8 in Southland); Scoring Defense, 38.73 (112 in FCS, 8 in Southland)
OUTLOOK: Stubbs and Co. jump into the deep end of the pool again by opening the season against three straight FBS opponents. Expect the season to settle down when the Colonels follow with three straight home games. Stubbs is trying to build depth in the program after it suffered through back-to-back winless campaigns in Southland play. The offensive line is big and experienced, which should help the Colonels turn over the quarterback position, with Hebert the passing threat and Figaro the run option. Washington is a seasoned running back with good size and can catch the ball. He will take pressure off the new QBs. The offense has to stay on the field because the defense was bullied last season, surrendering 38.7 points per game. Bermond will take over at middle linebacker, replacing Piper, the Southland's leading tackler last season. The secondary is full of veterans. If the Colonels can climb out of the basement, then they should be pleased at season's end.
Aug. 31 - at Oregon
Sept. 7 - at Western Michigan
Sept. 14 - at Louisiana
Sept. 21 - vs. Langston
Sept. 28 - vs. Arkansas Tech
Oct. 12 - vs. Northwestern State
Oct. 19 - at Stephen F. Austin
Oct 26 - vs. McNeese State
Nov. 2 - at Lamar
Nov. 9 - at Sam Houston State
Nov. 16 - vs. Central Arkansas
Nov. 21 - at Southeastern Louisiana