Increased parity was a primary theme throughout the 2018 Southland Conference football season.
Through Week 1 of 2019, it appears the league is in store for more of the same.
Following the first full week of the season, the Southland has four teams ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25 — and frankly, no less than three of them should be in the top-20. Why at least one voter has only one in their Top 25, while placing teams such as 0-2 Colgate on the list, is dumbfounding to say the least.
Nicholls (10), Central Arkansas (20), Southeastern Louisiana (23) and Sam Houston State (25) all made the cut, with fellow Southland members McNeese, Lamar and Incarnate Word receiving votes.
Central Arkansas was named the STATS FCS Team of the Week after rallying from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun FBS Western Kentucky on the road. Southeastern Louisiana, coming off a 4-7 season, dismantled No. 6 Jacksonville State 35-14. And Sam Houston State, aiming to get back to the postseason after missing out for the first time since 2010, was in all likelihood a tipped pass reception and 51-yard third-down screen away from securing the league’s second FBS upset of the week at New Mexico.
If any of the Southland’s ranked teams showed reasons for concern, it was reigning co-champion Nicholls. And despite a 49-14 loss at Kansas State, a defeat at the hands of a Power Five opponent doesn’t remove the Colonels’ status as the team to beat in the conference.
The league’s apparent depth is quite the change-up from where it stood at the end of last season, when Nicholls was the only Southland representative in the final Top 25, with only three others receiving votes.
While it’s still way too early to accurately predict how the year will unfold for anyone, the conference appears poised for one of its most competitive seasons in recent memory from top to bottom. Need proof? Perennial bottom-dweller Houston Baptist, who hasn’t won a Southland game since 2016, fell two points shy of its first FBS win ever over the weekend at UTEP.
Of course, the biggest test for the conference is still months away.
The Southland has rarely struggled to send two or more teams to the postseason. Significant success once they get there has been a different story — of the league’s current members, only Sam Houston State has an FCS playoff record above .500.
But as the 2019 football season gets going, there’s no doubt that the conference is headed in a promising direction.