LAKE CHARLES — Coming off back-to-back appearances in the FCS national championship game, Sam Houston State was the choice to win the Southland Conference by the league’s coaches and sports information directors, the league announced Wednesday at its annual media day.
Sam Houston was picked first in both of the Southland’s preseason polls, receiving six of the eight first-place votes from both the coaches and sports information directors.
Central Arkansas, which shared the league title with Sam Houston last year, was the pick to finish second in both polls.
The Bears received two first-place votes from the SIDs and one from the coaches.
Southeastern Louisiana, which finished third last year, was picked to finish fourth by the SIDs and fifth by the coaches.
McNeese State was third in both polls.
Oh so close
McNeese State went 4-3 in the Southland last year to finish fourth, but the Cowboys came closer than you’d think to winning a share of the league title.
The Cowboys lost to Southeastern and Central Arkansas by one point apiece, ultimately costing McNeese a shot at finishing the season with one conference loss.
By comparison, their four conference wins were all by eight points or more.
“That’s the difference in having a great season and just having a pretty good season,” McNeese coach Matt Viator said. “You have to win those games.”
McNeese returns 16 starters and adds LSU transfer Nic Jacobs at tight end.
Whether the Cowboys can contend for the Southland title could be decided Oct. 5-19 when Central Arkansas and Sam Houston visit Cowboy Stadium in back-to-back games.
Tight race at tight end
Nicholls State tight end Nick Scelfo made the preseason All-Southland first team. To finish the season with that honor, the former St. Michael standout knows it will take a big year.
Jacobs was chosen preseason second team despite having never played a down in the conference.
Scelfo also expects good things from former St. Michael teammate Jeremy Myers, who got his first taste of tight end last year after beginning his Southeastern career as a quarterback.
“It’s really a big honor to be named ahead of those guys because of how many great players we have here,” Scelfo said. “I’m definitely going to have to pick up my game.”
Scelfo had 22 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns last year, making All-Southland second team for the second straight season.
Changing his ways
Fans in south Louisiana will remember that Jay Thomas, entering his first season as the Northwestern State coach, ran a triple-option offense in his six seasons as the Nicholls State head coach.
Don’t expect to see much of that in Natchitoches this year.
Thomas said Northwestern will operate out of a shotgun formation about 98 percent of the time. He hired former Valdosta State offensive coordinator Robby Brown, a former Tony Franklin assistant, to help implement a spread offense.
“You never know where the triple option will fit into some of the gun-type stuff,” Thomas said. “That threat will always be there. Is it on the front-burner? No. Is it on the back-burner? Yes.”
Nicholls coach Charlie Stubbs said the arrival of Tulsa transfer Kalen Henderson isn’t an indication that quarterback Beaux Hebert’s job is in jeopardy.
“I’m always looking to get as many playmakers on my team as possible,” Stubbs said. “When he became available, I knew I’d be getting a great athlete.”
Henderson, a former East St. John star, saw action in 11 games at Tulsa in two years as a backup.
Because he believes Hebert makes Nicholls “pretty solid” behind center, Stubbs said Henderson could get a look at wide receiver.
“All he wants to do is play,” Stubbs said of Henderson. “He has faith in me as a head coach and offensive coordinator to utilize him.”