The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX


September 25, 2012

SOUTHLAND NOTEBOOK: Southland action just kicked off this past weekend. For a few title contenders, it's already crunch time

With Southland title still within grasp, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and McNeese State have tough, but attainable road ahead to reach the FCS playoffs

HUNTSVILLE — It seems simple enough. Use the nonconference schedule to get ready for the brutal conference slate that lies ahead in the Southland Conference.

Even though most of the teams in the league have yet to kick off their conference openers, there has already been plenty of interesting developments that will shape the hunt for the Southland title that will unfold in the coming weeks.

For a pair of teams, including Sam Houston, the road toward a championship as well as the Football Championship Subdivison playoffs.

The Bearkats, who have fallen six spots in the Sports Network FCS Top 25 Poll from No. 3 to ninth after being upset 24-20 by Central Arkansas, now will be swimming upstream the rest of the regular season as they try to get back into the hunt and repeat as conference champs.

Sam Houston (0-1 in Southland play, 1-2 overall) is now effectively two games behind the Bears in the win-loss column as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker. Even though the loss in Conway, Ark., set the Kats back, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road, either, in their pursuit to repeat as Southland champs.

If recent history can teach us anything, it’s that anything can happen in the Southland Conference.

Following such an emotional, come-from-behind victory for the Bears, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Central Arkansas (1-0, 3-1) to come out flat on the road against a Stephen F. Austin squad hungry for a win. That would put the Bearkats right back to square one with a neutral site (Reliant Stadium in Houston) against the Lumberjacks next up on the agenda.

Staying undefeated in conference equals a less complicated route toward a Southland title and the league’s automatic berth to the FCS playoffs. Obviously.

Keep this in mind, though. In three of the past five years, only twice (2012 and 2007) has the Southland champions run the table. If anything, the Southland campaign rarely is simple and always entertaining. Don’t expect for much change there this year.

In order to get right back in the thick of things, it certainly won’t be easy for the Kats as they will have to be road warriors and come out on top as visitors in four of their six remaining conference games. With three straight road games, including Thursday’s nonconference game against Texas Southern at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Sam Houston wasn’t the only team that’s now looking up at the rest of the conference and can attest to how rarely things go according to plan in the Southland. Just ask McNeese State.

Heading into their conference opener against Southeastern Louisiana (1-0, 1-3), the Cowboys were victorious in their first three games against Middle Tennessee, McMurry and Weber State, while the Lions were blown out in their first three games by Missouri, South Dakota State and Tennessee-Martin.

McNeese (0-1, 3-1) wasn’t exactly comfortable, but in good shape with a 24-10 advantage at halftime. The Cowboys struggled to move the ball in the second half and missed a field goal from inside of the 20 in the fourth quarter.

Like the Bearkats, the Cowboys are now scrambling to go on a run and see if they can finish atop the Southland.

So, what’s to happen without a conference title?

Just like with the NCAA tournaments for basketball and baseball, you want very little left up for a committee to decide if a team gets an at-large selection or not.

For teams in the Southland that end up not winning the conference title and gets the league’s automatic spot in the playoffs, that will be the reality.

The loss to Southeastern won’t help, but McNeese State also has a win against a Football Bowl Subdivision school, Middle Tennessee, which can go a long way toward an at-large berth should the Cowboys not win the Southland title.

For Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, that’s where it gets a bit harry. If the Bearkats and Lumberjacks don’t earn the Southland title and automatic playoff spot to get into the playoffs, the two preseason top 25 programs, will need to go on a lengthy run.

Since the FCS playoffs began more than 30 years ago, there hasn’t been a team in the playoffs that didn’t win their conference with less than seven wins against Division I opponents.

That number of Division I wins has such become an unofficial benchmark for team hoping to gain entry into the playoffs.

What does that mean? Either win your conference or have enough wins to satisfy the standard for the selection committee.

Due to the schedule played and to come as well as the loss against Central Arkansas, that puts pressure squarely on the Bearkats. Sam Houston has a 1-2 mark so far in 2012. That lone win, however, came against Division II Incarnate Word, meaning that the Kats still need seven Division I wins to reach the mark traditionally set by the committee if they don’t win the conference.

Sam Houston still has Texas Southern as well as six Southland games and the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. The next seven games are arguably the most winnable, so if the Kats expect to return to the playoffs, these next seven games are the ones they need to win and put away any doubt.

Stephen F. Austin, which was picked to finish second in the Southland, is in the same kind of hole. The Lumberjacks are 1-3 with their victory coming against Division II Southwestern Oklahoma State and the losses to SMU of the FBS, second-ranked Montana State and Texas State of the FBS.

The Lumberjacks’ seven remaining games to win the conference championship as well as get their seven D-I wins. Stephen F. Austin could win the Southland with less than seven D-I wins, but taking a loss would mean it would be scoreboard watching, needing certain results to take place.

As far as McNeese State, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin are concerned , now is crunch time even though there’s plenty of season left.

Text Only
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    Regardless, after losing by a point to Southeastern Louisiana in last season’s FCS playoffs, senior running back Keshawn Hill seized Sunday’s series of team meetings as an opportunity to begin taking the Bearkats back to national prominence.

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  • 7-28 Small.jpg BEARKAT FOOTBALL— Small named SHSU football operations coordinator

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    Small comes to Huntsville after heading up football operations for the Elon University Phoenix since May 2013 and the previous three seasons at The College of William and Mary.

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    Willie Fritz is gone and K.C. Keeler is now attempting to lead the Bearkats to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Sam Houston will need to replace 13 starters from last year’s squad, including record-setting running back Timothy Flanders and the program’s all-time winningest quarterback  Brian Bell.

    July 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • 12-08 hill long run.jpg Questions to be answered

    Uncertainty isn’t always a precursor to unmitigated disaster. The Sam Houston State football team will enter the 2014 season with a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and a plethora of new faces competing for starting jobs that were vacated by players who helped lead the program to three consecutive playoff appearances.
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    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rodeo: Brazile looking for another championship

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    In the Windham Weaponry High Performance PRCA World Standings, he currently is ranked No. 1 in the all-around race with regular-season earnings of $149,420, $46,345 ahead of his brother-in-law, Tuf Cooper.
    Brazile and Cooper are traveling partners. They hit the road together in late June while competing at the Reno Rodeo in Nevada, the PRCA’s first major summer event.

    July 25, 2014

  • 7-25-Gilbert-CP.jpg Justin Gilbert signs with Browns

    A few days before of the start of training camp, former Huntsville Hornet Justin Gilbert officially became a member of the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday when he signed his first NFL contract.

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    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • 7-25-Derrick-ross-1.jpg Another record for Derrick Ross

    In his short career in the Arena Football League, Huntsville’s Derrick Ross has left his mark.

    Playing in his fourth season in the league and his third with the Philadelphia Soul, Ross notched another record.
    Along with being the all-time leading rusher, a mark he sat last year, Ross now also owns the record for most career rushing touchdowns after scoring three TDs on June 7.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-24-Wade-int-return.jpg BEARKATS FOOTBALL — Kats have something to prove

    Bearkats running back Keshawn Hill has already won two Southland Conference championships, played in as many national championship games and made the playoffs in each of his three seasons at Sam Houston State.
    The team is still four days away from its first practice of 2014, but the Bearkats senior running back already has a chip on his shoulder. Despite the program’s recent success, Sam Houston State was picked to finish third in the Southland.

    July 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • 7-24-SLU-Bryan-Bennett.jpg Southland coaches have different takes on accepting transfer players

    Show Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts the past and he says he’ll show you the future.
    Before Roberts took the reins at Southeastern, the program had only managed one winning season since it was restarted in 2003 after a 17-year hiatus. In just his second season at the helm, Roberts brought the Lions into the national spotlight by leading his team to an undefeated Southland Conference record and a playoff victory over Sam Houston State, a national runner-up the previous two seasons. The Lions finished the season ranked sixth in both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches final polls.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 7-22 Noelle Sandmann runs.jpg Future Hornets take the field

    Never before has there been Stars of Huntsville Softball Camp, and it’s not every day that Huntsville’s youth softball players have an opportunity to learn the game’s fundamentals from the town’s most experienced players and coaches.
    On Monday, nearly 25 campers took the field at Kate Barr Ross Park and were instructed by Huntsville Hornets softball head coach Rick Burns and several members of his team.  The players, coaches and campers battled through the heat to have a successful day that saw many of the campers receive one-one-one instruction.

    July 21, 2014 2 Photos


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