McNeese State moves forward after last season’s frustration

It has been nearly four years since McNeese State last participated in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

For everyone involved with one of the most consistent programs in the Southland Conference and FCS, that is an eternity.

McNeese State, with a Southland Conference-best 13 regular-season titles, posted its seventh consecutive winning season with a 7-4 mark under coach Matt Viator, who’s tied for sixth in SLC history with 52 career wins.

But one-point losses to Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas, coupled with a 45-10 setback at eventual co-champion Sam Houston State, kept the Cowboys at home for a third consecutive season, their longest postseason drought since making the first of their league-best 14 playoff appearances in 1991.

“Every year is a new year, and we’re certainly aware of the chances that we had last year,” Viator said. “If we could have won either of the one-point games, which we were winning in the fourth quarter, it would have been a different year. But that’s how it goes. I think each group is different and takes on an identity of its own. We don’t just harp on it every day, but everybody certainly understands it.”

Quarterback Cody Stroud returns to direct a Cowboys offense that finished second in the Southland Conference in rushing (209.5 yards per game) and third in total offense (413.0). Marcus Wiltz and Javaris Murray are part of a deep corps of running backs with receivers Dionte Spencer, Ernest Celestie and Baton Rouge native Wes Briscoe returning, too.

Guard Arinze Agada was named first-team All-Southland Conference and All-Louisiana in 2012. He started all 11 games for the Cowboys and allowed one sack in 699 snaps.

A traditionally deep offensive line looks to replace All-Southland selections Alec Savoie, Carson Chaisson and Jonathan Landry. Agada and Antoine Everett, who are both preseason all-conference picks, are the lone returning starters up front. Quentin Marsh and Nick Gorman are expected to play after moving over from the defense.

On that side of the ball, ends Everett Ellefsen and Chris Loveless return to lead a group that finished 12th in the FCS in rushing defense (115.4 yards per game).

Cornerback Guy Morgan and safeties Terence Cahee — who earned second-team All-Southland Conference and All-Louisiana honors last season after leading the Cowboys in tackles (83) and pass breakups (10) — and Ryan Bronson return to lead a unit that was second in the league in interceptions (15) and fourth nationally in turnover margin (plus-16).