There's no need to stay anonymous anymore. The Southland Conference is going to get to know Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist pretty quickly as the three programs join in football this season and raise the conference from eight teams to 11.
None from the trio should even come close to being a title factor in a strong conference fronted by defending champion Southeastern Louisiana as well as McNeese State, Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas - each an FCS playoff team in the last two seasons.
But the plan is for the three teams to grow as programs, add stronger recruiting classes and to become factors in the near future.
Clearly, the Southland is on the rise.
"We know these next couple of seasons are going to be tough as we transition to a new level," Abilene Christian coach Ken Collums said, "but we're striving to be as good or better at this level as we were at the previous level (Division II). But I know this: the other coaches in the Southland don't care about what we've done in the past. We have to establish credibility within this league, and the way you do that is to go about your business the right way, work hard, out-recruit people and win games."
Coach Ron Roberts has done that well in a short period of time at Southeastern Louisiana. He's brought in plenty of transfers to a conference known for them, and this year the Lions will be seeking to build on last year's undefeated run in Southland play.
"With a bull's-eye on your chest, your opponent is going to bring their best," Roberts said. "Hopefully, that means you're going to bring your best and they're going to bring out the best in you. Over the process of time, they're going to help us. If we can handle the challenge, then it will helps us be the best football team we can be in 2014."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 Southland Conference race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Southeastern Louisiana
2. McNeese State
3. Central Arkansas
4. Sam Houston State
5. Northwestern State
7. Stephen F. Austin
9. Abilene Christian
10. Incarnate Word
11. Houston Baptist
1. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA LIONS
LOCATION: Hammond, Louisiana
STADIUM: Strawberry Stadium
COACH: Ron Roberts (16-9 in two seasons at Southeastern Louisiana; 63-25 overall)
LAST SEASON: 11-3 overall, 7-0 Southland (1st); No. 6 in TSN final rankings
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR Tony McCrea (40 receptions, 689 yards, 2 TD); WR Marquis Fruge' (39 receptions, 630 yards, 7 TD); OL Gasten Gabriel; OL Marshall Paris; DL Greg Triay (33 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks); LB Cqulin Hubert (90 TT, 11 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 BLK); DB Theo Alexander (81 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR); DB Kevin Harmon (77 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK); DB John Graves (55 TT, 4 TFL, 1 PBU); CB Todd Washington (15 TT, 8 PBU); PK Seth Sabastian (16-of-18, 114 points)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Bryan Bennett, Sr. (215-for-354, 3,165 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT; 183 carries, 1,046 yards, 16 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/PR Harlan Miller, Jr. (45 TT, 2 TFL, 4 INT, 10 PBU, 1 BLK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Rasheed Harrell, Jr. (134 carries, 640 yards, 8 TD)
RB/WR/KR Xavier Roberson, Jr. (117 carries, 538 yards, 6 TD; 35.2-yard KO return average, 3 TD)
RB Kody Sutton, Sr. (99 carries, 391 yards, 6 TD)
RB Darrius Guy, Jr.
WR Jeff Smiley, So. (57 receptions, 744 yards, 6 TD)
WR Devonte Scott, Sr.
OL Joe Graves, Jr.
OL Jonathan Brock, Sr.
OL D.J. Williams, Sr.
LB Isiah Corbett, Sr. (58 TT, 16 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 63 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
DL Jacob Newman, Sr. (42 TT, 14 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)
DL Marquel Combs, Sr.
LB Kaleb Muse, Sr. (injured last season)
LB Drew Misita, Sr. (78 TT, 8 TFL, 1 PBU, 3 QBH)
LB Dereck Robinson, Jr. (38 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)
LB Justin Church, Sr. (33 TT, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FR, 1 BLK)
DB Marice Sutton, Jr. (40 TT, 1.5 TFL, 4 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF)
DB Tyler Stoddard, Sr. (54 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
DB Jordan Batiste, Jr. (Tulane transfer)
DB Micah Eugene, Jr. (LSU transfer)
PK Ryan Adams, Sr.
OUTLOOK: The Lions have built up to a national championship-type level in incredibly quick fashion under Roberts, their third-year coach. They have done so with plenty of transfers, none more important than Bennett, their do- everything quarterback from Oregon and a 2013 Walter Payton Award finalist. But there is considerable pressure on the defending Southland champs, who enter the season ranked No. 3 nationally behind Eastern Washington and North Dakota State - two programs that have won on a higher scale. Still, the talent is in place for a huge season. Harrell's development at running back will allow Roberson to move from the backfield to more of a slot position this season, and the veteran offensive line works well with Bennett. On defense, some losses are countered by the return of LB Muse, the Lions' leading tackler in 2012 who missed last season with an injury. In his absence, Corbett became an All-American at linebacker. Newman and the defensive line will get pressure on quarterbacks because the secondary is stocked, led by CB Miller. Schedule- wise, the Lions don't play Sam Houston State and get both Central Arkansas and McNeese State at home. They clearly should repeat as conference champion and build on last season.
Aug. 30 - Jacksonville
Sept. 6 - Southern Utah
Sept. 13 - at Tulane
Sept. 20 - at Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 27 - at Incarnate Word
Oct. 4 - Northwestern State
Oct. 11 - at Lamar
Oct. 18 - Central Arkansas
Oct. 25 - at Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 8 - Houston Baptist
Nov. 15 - McNeese State
Nov. 20 - at Nicholls
2. MCNEESE STATE COWBOYS
LOCATION: Lake Charles, Louisiana
STADIUM: Cowboy Stadium
COACH: Matt Viator (62-27 in eight seasons at McNeese State)
LAST SEASON: 10-3 overall, 6-1 Southland (2nd); No. 11 in TSN final rankings
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Cody Stroud (211-for-370, 2,935 yards, 28 TD, 7 INT); RB Marcus Wiltz (213 carries, 1,287 yards, 11 TD; 20 receptions, 180 yards, 2 TD); WR/RS Diontae Spencer (32 receptions, 453 yards, 4 TD; 29.4-yard KO return average, 2 TD); TE Nic Jacobs (32 receptions, 453 yards, 4 TD) OL Arinze Agada; DT Michael Ware (34 TT, 2 QBH, 1 FR); S Terence Cahee (73 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF); S Ryan Bronson (57 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU); CB Guy Morgan (57 TT, 2.5 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU); PK Ryan Rome (12-of-15 FG, 96 points)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Kelvin Bennett, Jr. (108 carries, 774 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DL Everett Ellefsen, Sr. (37 TT, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Daniel Sams, Jr. (Kansas State transfer)
RB/KR Nate Holmes, Jr. (Arkansas transfer)
RB Derrick Milton, Jr. (Mississippi State transfer)
WR Ernest Celestie, Sr. (31 receptions, 565 yards, 5 TD)
WR Wes Briscoe, Sr.
WR David Bush, Jr. (20 receptions, 194 yards, 1 TD)
WR Jereon McGilvery, Sr.
WR Kent Shelby, R-Fr.
TE Zach Hetrick, So.
OL Antoine Everett, Sr.
OL Quentin Marsh, Jr.
OL Nick Gorman, Jr.
OL Ben Jones, Jr.
DL Kevin Dorn, Sr. (45 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF)
DL Sean Brown, Sr.
DL Brian Hine, Jr. (Cisco JC transfer)
DL Antonio McGhee, So.
LB Bo Brown, Jr. (63 TT, 11 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
LB Deonte Thompson, Sr. (28 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
FS Aaron Sam, Sr. (82 TT, 8.5 TFL, 7 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DB Gabe Hamner, Jr. (45 TT, 2 INT, 8 PBU)
P Jean Breaux, Jr.
KR Khalil Thomas, So.
OUTLOOK: McNeese State has been trying to keep up with the transfers coming in at Southeastern Louisiana. Sams, at quarterback, is the key addition this season because the Cowboys' biggest loss is Stroud, a three-year starter. Sams, a running-style signal caller, was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2012 and is related to former McNeese State great B.J. Sams. Indeed, the Cowboys will run the ball with one of the better running back units in the FCS and an offensive line that returns four of its five starters. The defense has an all-conference standout in each unit - Ellefsen, Brown and Sam, now a free safety - but it has to pick up its play after allowing at least 38 points in five games last season. The Cowboys have two early byes, so they will need to build momentum quickly. Their conference title hopes hinge on a win at Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 15.
Sept. 6 - at Nebraska
Sept. 13 - Prairie View A&M
Sept. 27 - Arkansas Tech
Oct. 4 - Nicholls
Oct. 11 - at Sam Houston State
Oct. 18 - Abilene Christian
Oct. 25 - at Incarnate Word
Nov. 1 - at Northwestern State
Nov. 8 - Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 15 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 22 - Lamar
3. CENTRAL ARKANSAS BEARS
LOCATION: Conway, Arkansas
STADIUM: Estes Stadium
COACH: Steve Campbell (first season at Central Arkansas; 126-38 overall)
LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 4-3 Southland (Tie/3rd)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (10 offense/7 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Wynrick Smothers (187-for-283, 1,816 yards, 8 TD, 9 INT); RB Blake Veasley (72 carries, 253 yards, 4 TD); TE Chase Dixon (22 receptions, 262 yards, 6 TD); DL Matthew Hornbuckle (36 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks); OL Dominique Allen; DE Markeith Gaines (34 TT, 11 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF); LB Justin Heard (95 TT, 9 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT); S Jestin Love (49 TT, 3 TFL, 6 PBU, 2 FR); DB Radarius Winston (40 TT, 2 TFL, 4 PBU); DB Marcus Peters (36 TT, 2 INT, 12 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Dezmin Lewis, Sr. (50 receptions, 721 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Jonathan Woodard, Jr. (50 receptions, 11.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ryan Howard, Sr. (144-for-234, 1,848 yards, 18 TD, 4 INT)
RB Willie Matthews, Sr. (128 carries, 564 yards, 5 TD; 45 receptions, 265 yards, 1 TD)
WR Damien Watts, Sr. (27 receptions, 512 yards, 5 TD)
WR Courtney Whitehead, So. (39 receptions, 536 yards, 3 TD)
WR Desmond Smith, So. (43 receptions, 502 yards, 3 TD)
WR/KR Jatavious Wilson, So. (41 receptions, 409 yards, 2 TD; 30.6-yard KO return average, 2 TD)
OL Cole Caruthers, Sr.
OL Kyle Stouffer, Jr.
OL C.J. Simon, Sr.
DE Derek Floyd, Jr. (17 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DL T.J. Randall, Sr.
DL Jordan Toliver, So.
DL Terrence Partee, So.
LB Blake Childress, Sr. (38 TT, 4 TFL, 1 PBU)
LB Ricky Wyatt, Jr. (41 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 FF, 2 BLK)
LB D.J. Holland, Jr.
CB Dominique Brown, Sr.
CB Dillion Winfrey, Jr. (56 TT, 4 TFL, 6 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)
DB Marvin Mitchell, Sr. (35 TT, 3 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
PK Eddie Camara, Sr. (8-of-14 FG, 59 points)
OUTLOOK: A rugged non-conference schedule will prepare the Bears for the Southland race, where they don't face McNeese State in the conference's unbalanced scheduling. With coach Clint Conque gone after a highly successful 14-year run, the Bears have a lot to prove under Campbell, who won national titles coaching at Delta State (Division II) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (NJCAA) and as a player at Troy State (Division II). He inherits a veteran squad - one which suffered through nine season-ending injuries. QB Howard played well in six starts last season after Smothers was lost for the season. He is helped by the return of a terrific set of wide receivers (including the elusive Lewis and Wilson). Caruthers and three other returning starters on the offensive line should keep the Bears offense moving. In a 3-4 defensive alignment, All-American DE Woodard draws the focus of opponents. The linebackers unit and secondary are replacing some key players. The Bears' bye weekend isn't until Nov. 15, so they face an arduous stretch.
Aug. 30 - at Texas Tech
Sept. 6 - UT Martin
Sept. 13 - at Montana State
Sept. 20 - Missouri State
Sept. 27 - Nicholls
Oct. 4 - at Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 11 - Houston Baptist
Oct. 18 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 25 - Northwestern State
Nov. 1 - at Abilene Christian
Nov. 8 - Lamar
Nov. 22 - at Sam Houston State
4. SAM HOUSTON STATE BEARKATS
LOCATION: Huntsville, Texas
STADIUM: Bowers Stadium
COACH: K.C. Keeler (first season at Sam Houston State; 174-73-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 9-5 overall, 4-3 Southland (Tie/3rd); No. 14 in TSN final rankings
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (6 offense/3 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Brian Bell (171-for-307, 2,490 yards, 32 TD, 10 INT; 108 carries, 614 yards, 9 TD); RB Timothy Flanders (241 carries, 1,430 yards, 14 TD); WR/KR Richard Sincere (65 carries, 406 yards, 2 TD; 24 receptions, 308 yards, 3 TD); WR/PR Torrance Williams (55 receptions, 964 yards, 12 TD; 16- yard punt return average); DE Andrew Weaver (44 TT, 8.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 FF, 2 BLK); DL Jarrett Brown (30 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 6 PBU, 1 FF); LB Tanner Brock (110 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF); LB Eric Fieilo (103 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 FR); LB Jesse Beauchamp (45 TT, 4 TFL, 1 FF); CB Bookie Sneed (66 TT, 1 INT, 13 PBU, 1 QBH); CB De'Antrey Loche (39 TT, 3 INT, 12 PBU, 2 BLK); DB Shelby Davis (59 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH); S Johntell Franklin (56 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BLK)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR Keshawn Hill, Sr. (81 carries, 536 yards, 8 TD; 22.3- yard KO return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Michael Wade, Sr. (105 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 8 PBU, 4 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Don King III, So.
QB John Roderique, R-Fr.
QB Jared Johnson, So.
RB De'Chaar Greer, R-Fr.
WR Chance Nelson, Jr. (22 receptions, 307 yards, 3 TD)
TE Shane Young, Sr.
OL Donald Jackson III, Jr.
OL Brandon DeWitt, So.
OL John Trotter, Sr.
OL Zachary Stevens, Jr.
DT Sione Latu, So.
NT Gary Lorance, Sr. (injured last season)
DE Mouf Adebo, So. (36 TT, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
DL Luis Carreno, So.
DT Jacoby Hunter, So. (California transfer)
LB Tristan Eche, Jr.
S Desmond Fite, Sr. (62 TT, 5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
PK Luc Swimberghe, So. (8-of-11 FG, 97 points)
P Brad Dunavant, Sr. (26 punts, 41.7 ypp)
P Lachlan Edwards, Jr. (30 punts, 42.4 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Keeler, who won the 2004 FCS (then Division I-AA) national title at Delaware, doesn't plan to lift the pedal off the Bearkats' program in his first season following coach Willie Fritz's departure to Georgia Southern. But his new team suffered the most substantial losses in the conference. King entered preseason camp as the No. 1 quarterback and Keeler will still employ a fast-paced offense, like his predecessor. Hill (1,407 career rushing yards) finally gets to come out of Flanders' shadow at running back and should have a strong senior campaign. The Bearkats also will use of a lot of wide receivers on offense. Keeler is looking for some transfers to help fill in on defense. The defensive line is a strength. Lorance is an All-Southland nose tackle who is back after suffering an ACL tear (the second of his career) in the opening game last season. Wade, a free safety, is the standout in the secondary, but it's a unit seeking improvement. The Bearkats will play Saturday at Eastern Washington in the first game of the college football season and they have a trip to LSU. The 2011 and '12 national runners-up, who have won an FCS-best 22 straight home games, won't be as strong as in recent seasons, but no opponent with take them lightly.
Aug. 23 - at Eastern Washington
Aug. 30 - Alabama State
Sept. 6 - at LSU
Sept. 13 - Colorado State-Pueblo
Sept. 27 - at Lamar
Oct. 11 - McNeese State
Oct 18 - at Northwestern State
Oct. 25 - Abilene Christian
Nov. 1 - at Stephen F. Austin (at Houston)
Nov. 8 - at Incarnate Word
Nov. 15 - at Houston Baptist
Nov. 22 - Central Arkansas
5. NORTHWESTERN STATE DEMONS
LOCATION: Natchitoches, Louisiana
STADIUM: Harry Turpin Stadium
COACH: Jay Thomas (6-6 in one season at Northwestern State; 33-41 overall)
LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 3-4 Southland (5th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (8 offense/5 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR Louis Hollier (38 receptions, 637 yards, 7 TD); OL Warren Jones; OL Tchissakid Player; DE Keland Johnson (38 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); DT Lesley Deamer (27 TT, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF); LB Patrick Black (103 TT, 5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF); S Ryan Sorrell (64 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU); S Bert White (43 TT, 2 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Zach Adkins, Sr. (247-for-382, 2,725 yards, 21 TD, 9 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Imoan Claiborne, Sr. (36 TT, 1 sack, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Garrett Atzenweiler, Sr. (118 carries, 531 yards, 5 TD)
RB Daniel Taylor, Jr. (72 carries, 395 yards, 3 TD)
WR Bryant Mitchell, Sr. (33 receptions, 320 yards, 2 TD)
WR/RS Ed Eagan, Jr. (45 receptions, 584 yards, 3 TD)
WR Shakeir Ryan, So. (43 receptions, 334 yards, 3 TD)
OT Pace Murphy, Jr.
OL Austin Douglas, Sr.
OL Pace Murphy, Jr.
DE JeMarcus Marshall, So. (26 TT, 7.5 sacks, 1 FR)
DE Leroy Armstrong, So.
DT Deon Simon, Sr. (38 TT, 6 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 PBU)
LB Adam Jones, So. (68 TT, 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
LB Tyler Roussel, Sr. (66 TT, 5 TFL, 1 FF)
LB Marion Chapman, Sr.
CB Fred Thomas, Sr. (38 TT, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)
S Darius Poullard, So. (48 TT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
RS Ed Eagan, Jr.
PK Chris Moore, Jr. (13-of-23 FG, 75 points)
OUTLOOK: With some of the top teams making national waves, it's been easy to overlook the recent progress of Northwestern State, whose 6-6 mark a year ago was its best since 2008. Thomas has three new coordinators, so the jelling must be quick this season. QB Adkins was the Southland newcomer of the year and will keep getting better as a senior because he is surrounded by plenty of offensive weapons. But the offense still lagged behind in a high-scoring conference last season. Although the Purple Swarm defense returns only five starters, there are cornerstones with 6-foot-4, 344-pound DT Simon and CB Claiborne. Not to be overlooked is the special teams need improvement. The schedule also is quite front-loaded with tough opponents, so Thomas will have to do a terrific job to get the Demons into the Southland race.
Aug. 28 - Missouri State
Sept. 6 - at Baylor
Sept. 13 - at Southern
Sept. 20 - at Louisiana Tech
Oct. 4 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 11 - Incarnate Word
Oct 18 - Sam Houston State
Oct. 25 - at Central Arkansas
Nov. 1 - McNeese State
Nov. 8 - at Abilene Christian
Nov. 15 - Nicholls
Nov. 22 - at Stephen F. Austin
6. LAMAR CARDINALS
LOCATION: Beaumont, Texas
STADIUM: Provost Umphrey Stadium
COACH: Ray Woodard (13-21 in three seasons at Lamar)
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 2-5 Southland (6th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (8 offense/2 defense)
BIG LOSSES: WR/RB Payton Ploch (69 carries, 344 yards, 3 TD; 23 receptions, 177 yards, 1 TD); WR Jordan Edwards (33 receptions, 638 yards, 8 TD); OL Kyle Gillam; DE Jesse Dickson (81 TT, 15 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF); DL Mark Murrill (37 TT, 9 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 4 QBH); LB James Washington (61 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT,4 PBU, 1 QBH); LB William Jones (59 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF); DB Nashon Davis (52 TT, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BLK); DB Courtlin Thompson (42 TT, 1 INT, 1 FF); DB Branden Thomas (38 TT, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 BLK); DB Tyrus McGlothen (81 TT, 7 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR); DB Chad Allen (67 TT, 1 INT, 2 PBU); P Kollin Kahler (69 punts, 41.3 ypp)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Caleb Berry, Sr. (295-for-475, 3,332 yards, 32 TD, 8 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: S/RS Kevin Johnson, Sr. (18 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU; 18-yard punt return average, 2 TD)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Kade Harrington, So. (180 carries, 880 yards, 8 TD; 48 receptions, 376 yards, 4 TD)
RB Carl Harris, Jr. (Memphis transfer)
WR Reggie Begelton, Jr. (82 receptions, 858 yards, 8 TD)
WR Mark Roberts, Sr. (33 receptions, 638 yards, 8 TD)
TE Payden McVey, Sr.
OL Chance McCormack, Sr.
OL Justin Brock, Jr.
DE Tylond Robertson, So. (Texas State transfer)
DL Joe Okafor, Sr.
DL Omar Tebo, So. (37 TT, 6 TFL, 3 QBH)
LB Mike Hargis, Jr.
LB Anthony Beard, Sr. (35 TT, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
LB Ronnie Jones Jr., Jr. (28 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 BLK)
LB Logan Moss, Jr.
LB Melbrodrick Matthews, Fr.
DB Montez Hunter, Sr.
DB Xavier Bethany, So.
DB Michael Sheridan, Jr. (Antelope Valley College transfer)
PK Alex Ball, So. (7-for-7 FG, 41 points)
OUTLOOK: A near upset of McNeese State to end last season accentuated how much Lamar's program has grown. The Cardinals also played well against Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas. They return an experienced offense, including QB Berry (32 touchdown passes versus eight interceptions), solid wide receivers (Begelton led the Southland in receptions) and a new piece last season in RB Harrington, the Southland freshman of the year. The defense let some of the possible wins slip away last season and there are a lot of changes after the group lost nine starters, but a number of players gained experience in supporting roles. Johnson, who was the 2012 Southland newcomer of the year at wide receiver, now is the defensive leader from the secondary. The Cardinals must continue to get pressure up front after the loss of DE Dickson, but sophomore DT Tebo should have a breakout season. Woodard has the program on the right track.
Aug. 30 - Grambling State
Sept. 6 - at Texas A&M
Sept. 13 - Texas College
Sept. 20 - Mississippi College
Sept. 27 - Sam Houston State
Oct. 4 - at Abilene Christian
Oct. 11 - Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 18 - at Nicholls
Nov. 1 - Houston Baptist
Nov. 8 - at Central Arkansas
Nov. 15 - Incarnate Word
Nov. 22 - at McNeese State
7. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN LUMBERJACKS
LOCATION: Nacogdoches, Texas
STADIUM: Homer Bryce Stadium
COACH: Clint Conque (first season at Stephen F. Austin; 105-59 overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-9 overall, 1-6 Southland (Tie/7th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB Brady Attaway (349-for-584, 4,268 yards, 32 TD, 21 INT); RB Keith Lawson (82 carries, 416 yards, 5 TD); WR/PR Mike Brooks (76 receptions, 985 yards, 11 TD); OL Aaron Ratliff; OL Ryne Chambers; DL Malcolm Mattox (37 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF); LB Oratv Hypolite (97 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR); LB Jordan Burton (74 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF); DB Caleb Nelson (80 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Gus Johnson, Sr. (176 carries, 1,061 yards, 11 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Collin Garrett, Sr. (88 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Zach Conque, So. (UTSA transfer)
QB Joe Minden, Jr.
RB Cameron Washington, Jr. (Navarro College transfer)
RB/KR Joshawa West, So. (68 carries, 405 yards, 3 TD; 23 receptions, 91 yards)
WR Tyler Boyd, Sr. (79 receptions, 1,183 yards, 8 TD)
WR/KR D.J. Ward, Sr. (61 receptions, 809 yards, 7 TD)
WR Aaron Thomas, Jr. (40 receptions, 719 yards, 4 TD)
OL Byron Williams, Jr.
C Anthony Pullins, So.
OL Terran Vaughn, Jr.
DE Ishmiah Miles, Sr. (41 TT, 11.5 TFL, 5 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DT Lance Skyler, Jr.
DT Shayvion Hatten, Jr. (46 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 PBU)
DT Donald Bryant, Jr. (32 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT)
CB Maurice Poullard, Sr. (UTSA transfer)
CB Demundre Freeman, Jr.
FS Trey Vallier, Sr. (48 TT, 4 INT, 4 PBU)
DB Patrick Martin, So. (44 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU)
PK Jordan Wiggs, Sr. (14-of-19 FG, 99 points)
P Nick Bruno, Jr. (62 punts, 40.4 ypp)
OUTLOOK: SFA won Southland titles as recently as 2009 and '10, and Conque knows full well of the program's potential after guiding Central Arkansas to great success in the conference as well. His son Zach (6-5, 230) is expected to take over at quarterback after the Lumberjacks lost a gun-slinger in Attaway. There's plenty of offensive firepower with game-breaking RB Johnson and WRs Boyd and Ward leading a high-scoring unit. In fact, seven of last year's top receivers are back. Defensively, though, SFA was a mess last season, allowing 49.3 points and 528.2 yards per game to the opposition. The defense will have to improve quickly, and the first half of the schedule makes it appear possible. PK Wiggs enters his senior season with 267 career points. Conque appears to be the perfect hire for the Lumberjacks after J.C. Harper was let go following last season.
Aug. 30 - at Kansas State
Sept. 6 - Incarnate Word
Sept. 13 - Texas A&M-Commerce
Sept. 20 - Weber State
Oct. 4 - Central Arkansas
Oct. 11 - at Nicholls
Oct 18 - at Houston Baptist
Oct. 25 - Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 1 - Sam Houston State (at Houston)
Nov. 8 - at McNeese State
Nov. 15 - Abilene Christian
Nov. 22 - Northwestern State
8. NICHOLLS COLONELS
LOCATION: Thibodaux, Louisiana
STADIUM: John L. Guidry Stadium
COACH: Charlie Stubbs (6-27 in three seasons at Nicholls)
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 1-6 Southland (Tie/7th)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
BIG LOSSES: RB Marcus Washington (96 carries, 413 yards, 7 TD; 24 receptions, 223 yards, 2 TD); WR/KR Casey Fortson (23 receptions, 302 yards, 2 TD; 25.5- yard KO return average, 1 TD); WR Erik Buchanan (21 receptions, 507 yards, 2 TD); OL Abasi Salimu; LB Chris Bermond (85 TT, 9 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 5 FF, 1 BLK); S Siegan Vergenal (66 TT, 3 PBU); DB Jordan Hanberry (58 TT, 4 TFL, 2 PBU); DB T.J. Lumar (31 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU); PK Andrew Dolan (9- of-17 FG, 64 points)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Tuskani Figaro, Jr. (83-for-157, 1,135 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT; 177 carries, 1,103 yards, 7 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Byron Cobb, Sr. (59 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kalen Henderson, Sr. (59-for-115, 785 yards, 4 TD),
RB Michael Henry, Jr. (30 carries, 161 yards, 1 TD)
RB Tobias Lofton, Jr. (Itawmaba CC transfer)
WR/PR Demon Bolt, Sr. (14 receptions, 250 yards, 2 TD)
WR Hakeem Flowers, Jr. (Itawmaba CC transfer)
WR Keenan Canty, Sr. (Colorado transfer)
TE Nick Scelfo, Sr.
OL Brandon Holmes, Jr.
OL Rafe Plaisance, Sr.
DL Cole Frazier, Sr.
DL Gus Ferrat, Jr. (Pasadena City College transfer)
DL/LB Chris Lorden, So. (38 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 3 FR, 1 FF)
LB Davin Bovie, Sr. (78 TT, 3 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)
LB Kameryon Brown, Jr. (66 TT, 2 PBU, 2 PBU)
LB Jarmon Coleman, Jr. (Contra Costa transfer)
LB Lowell Williams, Sr. (Colorado transfer)
DB B.T. Sanders, So. (44 TT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: A win over FBS Western Michigan was part of a 4-2 start last season, but the Colonels didn't have a finishing touch. They will face three FBS opponents for the third straight season, and five of their first six games are on the road, so Stubbs' squad faces early trouble. They still have to fix what was one of the worst defenses - especially against the run - in the FCS. That assignment falls on new defensive coordinator Steve Adams, who is in his second season on the Nicholls staff. LB Bovie and CB Cobb both made the Southland preseason second team and hope to be the senior leaders of a potential turnaround. Offensively, Figaro was electric as a runner, finishing second in the nation in rushing yards by an FCS quarterback. Some transfers surround him and their other QB, Henderson, and figure to play key roles in what should be a versatile offense. Clearly, the Colonels are motivated after last season's progress.
Aug. 30 - at Air Force
Sept. 6 - at Arkansas
Sept. 13 - Henderson State
Sept. 20 - at North Texas
Sept. 27 - at Central Arkansas
Oct. 4 - at McNeese State
Oct. 11 - Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 18 - Lamar
Oct. 25 - at Houston Baptist
Nov. 1 - Incarnate Word
Nov. 15 - at Northwestern State
Nov. 20 - Southeastern Louisiana
9. ABILENE CHRISTIAN WILDCATS
LOCATION: Abilene, Texas
STADIUM: Shotwell Stadium
COACH: Ken Collums (13-9 in two seasons at Abilene Christian)
LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall (as FCS independent)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (3 offense/8 defense)
BIG LOSSES: QB John David Baker (247-for-369, 3,376 yards, 35 TD, 5 INT; 99 carries, 256 yards, 5 TD); RB Charcandrick West (145 carries, 906 yards, 14 TD); RB/KR Darrell Cantu-Harkless (52 carries, 376 yards, 5 TD; 37 receptions, 484 yards, 4 TD); WR/PR Taylor Gabriel (73 receptions, 1,060 yards, 10 TD); WR Darian Hogg (48 receptions, 737 yards, 6 TD); RG Josh Perez; LT Blake Spears; RT Will Latu; LB Jesse Harper (56 TT, 1 INT, 1 FR); LB Thor Woerner (70 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Herschel Sims, Jr. (Lamar transfer)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Nick Richardson (53 TT, 15.5 TFL, 11 sacks, 2 QBH, 3 FR, 4 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Parker McKenzie, So.
QB Kade Munden, R-Fr.
FB Jonathan Parker, Jr.
WR DeMarcus Thompson, Sr. (23 receptions, 305 yards, 3 TD)
WR Cade Stone, Jr.
TE Jamie Walker, Jr.
LG Parker Whitney, Jr. (Butler CC transfer)
LT Chance Rieken, Fr.
RT Riley Mayfield, Fr.
RG Colton Carnes, Sr.
DE Kolby Rowe, Sr. (25 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
DE Rob Boyd, Sr.
DT Damon Williams, Sr.
DT Ashton Thomas, Sr. (37 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH)
DT LaMarcus Allen, Fr.
OLB Justin Stephens, Sr. (60 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
MLB Blake Rudd, Sr. (35 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)
SS Angel Lopez, Sr. (109 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU)
FS Justin Stewart, Sr. (72 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FF)
CB Tyler Chapa, Jr. (52 TT, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 BLK)
CB Keith Barnett, Jr.
PK Nick Grau, So. (10-of-11 FG, 86 points)
OUTLOOK: Abilene Christian is back playing in the Southland Conference for the first time since 1972. The Wildcats, an FCS independent last season, will have to step up their level of play to make waves in a tough conference. For the first time since 2005, they will start a season with a quarterback (McKenzie) who has yet to start a collegiate game. In fact, the offense is inexperienced all around. Although the team has been pass-oriented, RB Sims will play a big part in the offense despite being a newcomer. It's a work in progress, especially with a young offensive line. On defense, there's much more experience, and the unit is always strong at forcing turnovers. DE Richardson enters his senior season with 24.5 career sacks, but there are even more veterans at linebacker and defensive back than up front. It's likely the Wildcats' run of eight straight winning seasons will end considering the higher level of competition.
Aug. 27 - at Georgia State
Sept. 6 - Northern Arizona
Sept. 13 - at Troy
Sept. 20 - Incarnate Word
Sept. 27 - at Houston Baptist
Oct. 4 - Lamar
Oct. 11 - Ave Maria
Oct. 18 - at McNeese State
Oct. 25 - at Sam Houston State
Nov. 1 - Central Arkansas
Nov. 8 - Northwestern State
Nov. 15 - at Stephen F. Austin
10. INCARNATE WORD CARDINALS
LOCATION: San Antonio
STADIUM: Gayle and Tim Benson Stadium
COACH: Larry Kennan (8-14 in two seasons at Incarnate Word; 21-31-3 overall)
LAST SEASON: 6-5 overall (as FCS independent)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
BIG LOSSES: DL Robby Horton (47 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FF, 1 BLK); DL Michael Tate (33 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF); DB/KR Devin Haywood (56 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FR)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Casey Jennings, Sr. (54 receptions, 738 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Kobie Douglas, Jr. (33 TT, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Trent Brittain, So. (178-for-325, 1,893 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT; 117 carries, 392 yards, 2 TD)
RB Junior Sessions, So. (107 carries, 536 yards, 5 TD)
RB Broderick Reeves, So. (92 carries, 616 yards, 11 TD)
RB Xavier Turner, Fr.
WR Darryl Brooks, So.
TE Cole Wick, Jr.
C Devin Threat, Sr.
LT Nathan Thompson, Jr.
DE Alex Jenkins, Jr.
DT Corey Lee, So.
ILB Padyn Giebler, Jr. (38 TT, 1 PBU)
OLB Juston Edwards, So. (35 TT, 2 TFL, 1 FR)
OLB Nick Ginn, Sr. (41 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
LB Josh Zellars, So. (37 TT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)
LB Joshua Campbell, Jr. (33 TT, 3 TFL)
DB Kielyn Lewis, Sr. (30 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
DB Daryl Irby, So. (39 TT, 1.5 TFL, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
S Brandon Tanksley, Jr. (58 TT, 3 TFL, 2 FR)
OUTLOOK: The Cardinals' first season on the FCS level (as an independent) coincided with their first winning campaign, but this season will be decidedly tougher, including a trip to three-time defending national champion North Dakota State. The Cards have a terrific young nucleus to grow behind, including sophomores in mobile QB Brittain and RBs Sessions and Reeves as well as throughout the defense. The veteran leadership must come from WR Jennings and DB Douglas. Brooks could have a breakout season as a second receiving threat behind Jennings. The defense was pretty strong against the run last season, but that wasn't against the level of competition of this season. Plus, this unit lost four players who were three- or four-year starters. This will be a season of transition with growing pains.
Aug. 30 - Sacramento State
Sept. 6 - at Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 13 - at North Dakota State
Sept. 20 - at Abilene Christian
Sept. 27 - Southeastern Louisiana
Oct. 4 - Houston Baptist
Oct. 11 - at Northwestern State
Oct. 18 - Texas Lutheran
Oct. 25 - McNeese State
Nov. 1 - at Nicholls
Nov. 8 - Sam Houston State
Nov. 15 - at Lamar
11. HOUSTON BAPTIST HUSKIES
STADIUM: Dunham Field
COACH: Vic Shealy (3-4 in one developmental season at Houston Baptist; 30-18-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 3-4 overall (as FCS developmental program)
STARTERS RETURNING: 21 (11 offense/10 defense)
BIG LOSSES: LB Keith Ewing (24 TT, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF); CB Ore Bankole (22 TT, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR B.J. Kelly, R-Fr. (97 carries, 551 yards, 5 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: S/KR Taylor Thompson, R-Fr. (43 TT, 1 sack, 4 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ka'Darius Baker, R-Fr. (93-for-161, 1,083 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT)
RB Craig Bell Jr., So. (66 carries, 303 yards, 5 TD)
RB Larry Day, R-Fr.
WR Wesley Lewis, R-Fr. (16 receptions, 253 yards, 3 TD)
WR Darian Lazard, Sr. (22 receptions, 256 yards, 1 TD)
TE/WR Kenneth Bibbins, Sr. (17 receptions, 202 yards)
G T.C. Jones, Sr.
DL Kafo Tuha, R-Fr. (19 TT, 5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
DE Josh Jones, Jr. (Northeast Oklahoma A&M transfer)
DE Kameron Lecoq, R-Fr. (20 TT, 3 TFL, 2 FR, 2 FF)
LB Garrett Dolan, R-Fr. (68 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
LB Terrell Brown III, R-Fr. (61 TT, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
S Cody Moncure, R-Fr. (53 TT, 1 PBU)
DB Ja'Halen Norris, Jr. (21 TT, 1 TFL)
CB Taaron Timmons, Fr.
CB Tyler Stephenson, Sr. (Baylor transfer)
CB Prince Sam, So. (23 TT, 2 PBU)
CB John Wesby, Jr. (36 TT, 3 PBU)
PK Travis Shinn, Jr.
P David Dunkin, So.
OUTLOOK: Shealey has been building the Huskies' start-up program since April 2012. He led Azusa Pacific to the 1998 NAIA national championship. The Huskies played a developmental season last year, so even though their players had seven games of action, it was considered a redshirt year. This is the first official season (including record and statistics), so many of the players are redshirt freshmen. The Huskies will unveil a new 5,000-seat stadium on campus, adding to what will be a special season in their Southland debut - even if the results don't match it. RB Kelly broke out as their most dangerous player last seasons and can grow together with QB Baker. Shealey signed some older players to fill in across the two lines and in the secondary. A win or two out of conference is all the Huskies can realistically expect this season.
Sept. 6 - McMurry
Sept. 13 - at Northern Colorado
Sept. 20 - at Texas College
Sept. 27 - Abilene Christian
Oct. 4 - at Incarnate Word
Oct. 11 - at Central Arkansas
Oct. 18 - Stephen F. Austin
Oct. 25 - Nicholls
Nov. 1 - at Lamar
Nov. 8 - at Southeastern Louisiana
Nov. 15 - Sam Houston State