Sunday, July 10, 2016

Southland Conference 2016 Preview

When breaking down the SLC for 2016, it is apparent that there three very considerable challengers for the crown in Sam Houston State, McNeese State, and on an outside shot, Central Arkansas. McNeese State is in it despite losing coach Matt Viator to UL-Monroe in the off season, but DC Lance Guidry remains as the new head coach, so nothing should change very much at all. Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word are still ineligible for the league crown, as they are still in transition from D2. Watch out for risers in Lamar and Nicholls State, but neither appears ready to challenge the top spot in the conference just yet. The team on a downward decline this season? That has to be SE Louisiana, who never did manage to find a replacement at QB after Brian Bennett graduated after the 2014 campaign.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Sam Houston State
2. McNeese State
3. Central Arkansas
4. Stephen F. Austin
5. Lamar
6. Northwestern State
7. SE Louisiana
8. Nicholls State
9. Incarnate Word
10. Abilene Christian
11. Houston Baptist

Sam Houston State Bearkats
The Bearkats may be in worse shape at QB after losing Jerrod Johnson as a grad transfer to UTSA, but they have UAB transfer Jeremiah Briscoe coming back, and there is no drop off there. Briscoe passed for 1883 yards and 14 TDs last season while sharing the workload with Johnson. He is set for a huge season.
Corey Avery rushed for 1483 yards and 15 TDs last season, and is set to return at RB, giving the Kats a massively successful pass/run combo offense. Jalen Overstreet rushed for 821 yards as the backup, and Remus Bulmer is expected to see an increased workload as a sophomore as well.
Gerald Thomas and LaDarius Brown are both gone at receiver, but leading receiver Yedidah Lewis is back after catching 71 passes for 994 yards and seven TDs. Davion Davis and Grant Finney should both step up into bigger roles this season.
Defensively, the Kats are loaded. The line is bolstered by the return of Jacobi Hunter, Sione Latu, Mouf Adebo, and unit leader PJ Hall.
Projected Win Total: 10

McNeese State Cowboys
Daniel Sams is gone from an up and down 2015 campaign. Grant Ashcraft is the likely replacement, and is a big kid with a huge arm. He completed 9 of 12 passes last fall, and the coaches are high on him coming into the season.
Sams was the leading rusher, but not all is lost, as RB Ryan Ross returns after rushing for 891 yards and nine TDs last fall.He should pass the 1000 yard mark this season as a junior without any trouble at all. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2015. David Hamm is now the primary backup, while Khalil Thomas, Marshall Harmon, and Benjamin Jones all will compete for increased work. MOre good news comes in the returnof the leading rusher from 2014, Dylan Long, who missed last season with an injury.
Kent Shelby and Tavrious Batiste both return as juniors, and were the two leading receivers last fall. That will be good news for Ashcraft. Where the issue is for the Cowboys is depth, as there is little experience to go on down the depth chart.
Brian Hine returns on defense after missing last season at DE. With Guidry in charge, look for another huge effort from the defense in the chase for an SLC crown in 2016.
Projected Win Total: 9

Central Arkansas Bears
Hayden Hildebrand passed for 1707 yards and 12 TDs in eight games last fall, and will return as the starting QB of the Bears in 2016. Look for an increase in his numbers across the board if he can play the entire season.
Leading rusher Blake Veasley has moved on. Look for junior Dominique Thomas (601 yards) to take on the lead job, with Jeff Anderson, Kelton Warren, and JaTavious Wilson to all push for the number two job.
Desmond Smith returns as the leading receiver after catching 67 balls last season for 817 yards. Wilson, who rushed 24 times last fall, caught 49 passes for 536 yards. Jacquez McMillan and Jose Moore could also push for a bigger role.
The defense started to stall towards the end of last season, and that could be an issue that could prevent UCA from pushing for the league title. The other major issue is that the line on both offense and defense was decimated by graduation.
Projected Win Total: 7

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Zach Conque is back at QB for the Jacks after passing for 1933 yards and 16 TDs last season. He has to improve upon his completion rate of 58.4% to move the offense forward, but otherwise, he is capable of being one of the best QBs in this league. Hunter Taylor should be back as the primary backup.
Loren Easly is back at RB after leading the team with 759 yards rushing in 10 games as a freshman. Joshawa West is also back as the primary backup, as he ran for 617 yards. They both combined to rush for just five TDs last fall, so that number is something that we must look for as an area of concern. Jacolby Whitaker could also push for more playing time this fall.
The top five receivers all return, led by Aaron Piper and his 44 receptions. De'Quann Ruffin, Robert Sylvester, Justice Liggins, and Judah Jones all returns as well to give the Jacks one of the deeper receiving corps in the league.
The line could be an issue, as three starters departed after last season. Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton was hired in the off season to run the offense.
The defense was rather leaky last season, and teams basically scored at will at times. If that issue is not resolved, there could be problems once again.
Projected Win Total: 7

Lamar Cardinals
Lamar may have the best weapon n FCS football in RB Kade Harrington, who rushed for 2092 yards and 21 TDs last season. His presence as a senior will be even more important in 2016, as the Cardinals will be breaking in a new QB.
Carson Earp will likely be the guy stepping in at QB this fall. The senior tossed a respectable seven TDs to just two picks, but only completed 53.8% of his passes, which is an area of concern. He did manage to rush for 320 yards, making him a solid threat in the system, which will keep defenses honest.
Emmitt Raleigh, Keegan Mitchell, and Emmanuel Atoyebi will vye for plaing time behind Harrington at RB in camp.
The top two receivers from last season are gone in Reggie Begelton and Devonn Brown. Harrington is now the leading returning receiver, which is very bad news. Michael Handy is the most experienced receiver coming back ,and he caught just 19 passes last season.
The defense got blown up last season, giving up 30.4 points per game, and their best player, DE Larance Hale was kicked off the team just before spring ball. That alone could be an anchor that could keep the Cardinals down this fall.
Projected Win Total: 6

Northwestern State Demons
The Demons have been fighting their way up from the bottom for a few seasons now, but the project of resurrection is not quite complete. It may not get a lot better this season either.
The Demons lose QB Stephen Rivers, which leaves JD Almond and Joel Blumenthal to compete for the job in fall camp. They are the only QBs returning with experience, other than FBS grad transfer Brooks Haack, who started eight games for UL-Lafayette last season.
De'Mard Lorens is back at RB after rushing for 820 yards last season. He scored 11 times and may be a focal point of this offense, especially early on. Daniel Taylor has departed, leaving Chris Jones to pick up more work as the now primary backup. There is very limited, but virtually no experience after that at RB.
Leading receiver Ed Eagan is gone, taking his 58 receptions with him. Shakeir Ryan returns and will have to step up as a senior. Tuff McClain and Bobby Chan-Chan will have to pick up the tempo in fall camp as they fight for playing time. Again, experience and depth are at issue here.
The defense is in rebuild mode, and will be relying on JC transfers and freshmen in key positions heading into camp.
Projected Win Total: 5

Southeastern Louisiana Lions
SLU never could settle on a replacement at QB after the departure of Brian Bennett after the 2014 season, and there is still no general idea as to who to lean on now. D'Shaie Landor is the weak favorite, but was just awful at times last season. He passed for 1223 yards, but completed just 50.3% of his passes, and the offense sank around him in games that I watched last fall. Donovan Isom and Justin Alo should be given every chance to push him, but neither player showed much last season. Landor was also hurt much of last season, but that leaves an open door. Someone has to take this job and run with it, and nobody has.
The Lions also struggled to find a star at RB. Julius Maraclin is the only returning back out of the top three rushers from last season, and was the leader with just 590 yards and a paltry three rushing scores. Eugene Bathea will try to push into the number two job, but he did little to impress last season.
Brandon Acker and William French were the top two receivers from last season, but combined to catch just 45 passes, and combined for an even worse two receiving TDs. Again, depth and experience behind them is really a huge issue.
Defensively, the Lions must replace their biggest star in DB Harlan Miller, and again, depth and experience are at issue.
Projected Win Total: 4

Nicholls State Colonels
In my opening paragraph, I gave this program props for being a rising group. It doesn't take much when you were one of the worst programs in the nation for years. Any movement outside of the basement is big progress, and NSU is making some moves.
The Colonels must get better play from the QB position, where the only experienced player back is Tuskani Figaro, who passed for just 925 yards with four TDs and six picks last fall. He will be a senior this fall, and he must improve, as there is nothing behind him.
The RB position has been decimated by graduation, as the top four rushers have all departed. Finding anyone to step into the job will be a huge task in camp.
CJ Bates led the team with just 28 receptions last fall, and Terry Lucas, the only other player to clear 20 receptions, is gone. Damion Jeanpierre and Jarrell Rogers are the favorites to step into bigger roles, but could get pushed by Stephen Lebouef and Josh Singleton.
Consistency will be an issue on defense once again, and if more can be found, NIcholls may push forward one more step this fall. Just don't count on miracles.
Projected Win Total: 3

Incarnate Word Cardinals
IWU is still transitioning from D2 football, and cannot be eligible for the conference title in 2016. Don't worry about that, however, as the Cardinals are simply trying to find their way right now.
Trent Brittain returns after passing for 2254 yards, but he had a terrible TD/INT ratio of 9/13. Thatis not getting it done, nor was his 52% completion ratio. He has to be the guy for now, as there is virtually zero returning experience behind him.
The Cardinals need a star to step up in the run game, and right now, they don't have one. Junior Sessions is the leading returning rusher with 484 yards, and Broderick Reeves lines up as the primary backup option. It is possible that Dorland Fields finds his way as a sophomore, and pushes for more work.
Kody Edwards and JOrdan Hicks both return as the leading receivers from 2015, but Cole Wick and Clint Killough are both gone. Look for Jamari Gilbert to press for more catches this fall, but experience after that is limited.
IWU had one of the best defenses in the country last season, but they lose their heart in LB Mike Tavarres, who has departed.
Projected Win Total: 3

Abilene Christian Wildcats
ACU had a good run going in D2, but like IWU, they are ineligible for the league title in 2016. Also like IWU, that wasn't going to be an issue anyway.
Parker McKenzie did a solid job at QB last season, as he passed for 1855 yards and 14 TDs, and he completed 65% of his passes. If ACU is to find improvement, he will have to be a driving force in 2016. Dallas Sealey returns as the primary backup.
De'Andre Brown returns after leading the Wildcats with 735 yards rushing last fall. He socred just five times. Primary backup Herschel Sims is gone, however, leaving the door open for Adrian Duncan or Cody Ennis to pick up more work.
Cedric Gilbert and Jonathon Epps, the two leading receivers from last fall, are both gone. Carl Whitley and Kalin Sadler are back, and will try to push for starting jobs, but they are the most experienced receivers in the group, and yet combined for just 47 receptions last fall. There is no real experience behind them, leaving the corps as thin as any in the nation.
Jabari Butler is back at CB after picking off six passes last fall as a freshman, and LB Sam Denmark led the league with 138 tackles last fall. They give the defense some hope.
Projected Win Total: 2

Houston Baptist Huskies
HBU is still a very young football program, and is still trying to grow as such. Max Staver is back at QB, but is coming off a 5/9 TD to pick ratio. He is trying to stave off Tony Dawson once camp begins. Dawson tossed just one TD to seven picks last fall.
Terrance Peters, BJ Kelly, and Larry Day all return after being the top three rushers from last fall, but nobody saw more than 92 carries. Someone needs to carry the load for HBU to push to the next level.
D'Angelo Wallace, Ethan Fry, Wesley Lewis, and Ricardo Barnett were the only receivers to break double digit marks for catches, but they combined for just 79 between the four of them last fall. That has got to change as well.
HBU could not keep a group of girl scouts from scoring last season on defense, and that is another area where development will be monitored.
Projected Win Total: 0

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