Although the season is still months away, FCS fans received a little bit of a college football fix this week.
HERO Sports unveiled its preseason Top 25 on Wednesday, with the Southland Conference landing two on the list — Central Arkansas (10) and Sam Houston State (23).
It’s still way too early to predict how the 2020 season will unfold, but with limited live sports at the moment, there’s plenty of time for speculation. I recently caught up with fellow Southland Conference beat writers David Berry and Matt Faye to discuss an array of topics, including our FCS playoff predictions for the league.
So without further ado, here are our 2020 Southland postseason picks:
JOSH CRISWELL, THE HUNTSVILLE ITEM
I’ll start it off. I’m going to go with Sam Houston State, just because of the defense. They bring back almost everyone from a group that ranked in the top-eight in the country in 12 categories. Then they have a ton of pieces on offense. Brought in a really talented wide receiver in Jequez Ezzard, a transfer from Howard who was an all-American and two-time first-team all-MEAC player. Eric Schmid comes back at quarterback with some talented running backs back there, so they’re going to be my favorite heading into the season.
Them and Central Arkansas have separated themselves a little bit, just because of the consistency and the fact that they have some key pieces back, especially under center. Just a lot of playmakers out there to work with. Sam Houston State is my first pick, and second pick is Central Arkansas. I’ve said it before, I thought Breylin Smith — just from a pure playmaking, talent perspective — was the best quarterback in the Southland Conference last season. I think he might be the best player in the league and he’s probably going to be a preseason favorite to win the Southland Conference Player of the Year Award. He has some of the best receivers in the country at the FCS level to throw to, and we saw their ability to hurt teams in a hurry last season.
Those are the two teams that I feel certain on, and then I’ll say a third team will get in. I’m kind of on the fence with a few of them. I like Southeastern Louisiana, and I think UIW is going to be a threat as long as you have Eric Morris at coach and if Jon Copeland is healthy at quarterback. But my third and final team to get in is Nicholls. They lose a lot of pieces, lose one of the greatest players in Southland history in quarterback Chase Fourcade. But the guy they bring in to replace him — Lindsey Scott — is a former LSU and Missouri quarterback, and one of the greatest players in Louisiana high school football history. Probably going to be a little bit of a learning curve, but he was there last year so it’s not like he’s a brand new face. Once they get that chemistry rolling, they’re going to be a dangerous team.
And who knows? Maybe things get crazy and the Southland sneaks a fourth team in.
DAVID BERRY, AMERICAN PRESS
I’m going to agree with you that Sam and Central Arkansas are going to make it. I don’t necessarily know who I have picked to win yet, I’m leaning toward Sam just because they’re going to be hosting Central Arkansas. But those are the two for sure. Sam is going to have an incredible defense, and I think the offense is going to do enough production-wise to make that team really good. Then Breylin Smith, like you said, could be a candidate for Southland Conference Player of the Year. Lujuan Winningham at wide receiver is really, really good. I think he will end up being a first-team all-conference wide receiver.
The thing is, there’s that definite bottom of the conference, just like I think there’s the definite top of the conference. I think HBU, Northwestern State and Lamar will be at the bottom, and then you’re going to have that middle. I think SFA and McNeese will be better, but they can’t make the playoffs. Personally, I think Southeastern will take a step back because they lost Lance Guidry as defensive coordinator, so I think the defense takes a step back — and Chason Virgil is gone.
I’m going to leave it to Incarnate Word and Nicholls. They could get up to four, but I think the national perception of the Southland Conference is still kind of like, ‘Eh, we need to see you guys do it in the playoffs before we’re going to give you four teams.’ So I think Sam and UCA for sure, then Nicholls or Incarnate Word could make noise and earn a playoff bid.
MATT FAYE, BEAUMONT ENTERPRISE
I think David is right. In the last few years what we’ve seen, and coaches have talked about it, is the parity in the conference. But this year, you have a very well-defined top. To me there’s a few tiers: A very well-defined top, the middle of the pack — and I think there’s kind of a top middle and bottom middle — and then there’s the bottom dwellers.
I agree with you guys on the top-two, whatever order you want to put them in, with Central and Sam. And it’s two different top teams. UCA with the high-powered offense with Breylin Smith, a Walter Payton finalist and probably Player of the Year as you guys said. Then Sam’s defense is just elite, although I’m still going to wait and see on the offense. I don’t see three and I definitely don’t see four this year. The four, to me, is just not going to happen until the national perception changes — and until the Southland stops beating each other up.
The third team, if I had to choose, I would probably go with Incarnate Word. You mentioned Jon Copeland, and if he’s healthy, I think he’s every bit as good a quarterback as anybody else in the league — and that’s including Breylin Smith. Would it surprise me to see a reloaded Nicholls team make a run? No. I think those two teams are going to be competing for that third spot. I don’t think the Southland gets four in, but my top-three right now would be UCA at No. 1, Sam at No. 2 and Incarnate Word at No. 3. Incarnate Word took a little bit of a step back last year, but I see them getting going again.