Cliint Conque noted the University of Central Arkansas’ third-place ranking in the Southland Conference preseason poll behind Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin and noted, “let’s not fall asleep on McNeese State.”
The Cowboys, perennial favorites and the most successful program in the history of the league, are picked fourth.
“Other programs are coming up and challenging, but you have to have a great deal of respect for the old guard,” said Conque, who watched his 13th UCA team begin preseason drills Sunday.
The Bears won eight straight games last season, finished 9-4 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. They are ranked 21st in one preseason poll.
“I think we’re ahead of the curve, but I’d like to think there is much work we can do,” Conque said. “Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves because we have actually been more successful in our first six years at the Division level than we were my first six years at the Division II level”
As the Bears prepare for their Sept. 1 opener at Ole Miss, here is a capsule preview, gleaned from SLC Media Day, of the rest of the league:
Coach: Ray Woodard, 3rd season
Last year: 4-7, 2-6 Southland, 6th
Starters returning: 5 offense, 6 defense, 3 special teams
Notable: Last year was the first full season of eligibility in the SLC for the Cardinals.
Quotable: “I like are attitude,” Woodard said. “The players are taking over more responsibility. We understand what we’re getting into now.”
Coach: Matt Viator, 7th season
Last year: 6-5, 4-3, 4th
Starters returning: 9 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams
Notable: McNeese has won six league titles since 2000.
Quotable: “Most of kids are coming back and that is exciting; we went through a stretch last year where we lost a couple of close game but then we rebounded from that,” Viator said. “I’m encouraged because we get a lot of the kids back that were injured last year. We have great senior leadership, we have young men that were playing and starting in 2009, the last time we won it, there is a hunger to get back and I think they understand that.”
Coach: Charlie Stubbs, 3rd season
Last year: 1-10, 0-7, 8th
Starters returning: 7 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams
Notable: For the first time in program history, the Colonels will play three FBS teams, Oregon State, South Alabama and Tulsa. Stubbs previously served as the offensive coordinator at Oregon State and Tulsa.
Quotable: “I like to pick a slogan every year, and this season it’s ‘Band of Brothers.’ Stubbs said. “I feel like in order to get this program where it needs to be, we need to be on the same page as a team. We’ve did a great job of retaining players in our program, so I believe that will play a big role in coming together as a team. Hopefully, I’ve recruited the right young men and coaching staff.”
Coach: Bradley Dale Peveto
Last year: 5-6, 3-4, 5th
Starters returning: 9 offense, 7 defense, 4 special teams
Notable: The Demons had the Southland’s only NFL draft pick last eason in cornerback Jeremy Lane (sixth round, Seattle)
Quotable: “We have to find a way to get over the hump,” said Peveto. “We’ve been close.”
Coach: Willie Fritz, 3rd season
Last year: 14-1, 7-0 (SLC champs, national runnerup
Starters returning: 8 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams
Notable: The Bearkats’ 20-6 record in Fritz’s two seasons is the best two seasons in the 96-year history of the program.
Quotable: “Each season is a new season and we’ve got to put last season in the rear view mirror,” Fritz said.
Coach: Ron Roberts, 1st season
Last year: 3-8, 1-6, 7th
Starters returning: 7 offense, 9 defense, 4 special teams
Notable: Roberts comes to Southeastern from a highly successful tenure at Delta State.
Quotable: On what attracted him to Southeastern, Roberts said, “One, looking at the whole body of work. There is the university, the community, being in a hotbed of recruiting. I thought that the potential that it has for growth. It’s a great community and university and it’s time to have a winning football team that reflects that.”
Coach: J.C. Harper, 6th season
Last year: 6-5, 5-2, 3rd
Starters returning: 10 offense, 5 defense, 4 special teams
Notable: The Lumberjacks won five straight games to close the season.
Quotable: “I think we are picked second for a couple of different reasons,” Harper said. “First, we closed the season winning our final five games, which is a heck of a way to close the year after starting 1-5. Second, we return a talented quarterback in Brady Attaway. Anytime you return a quality player at quarterback you have a shot to win and people take notice. We feel like we have a pretty good team, but we’ve got to do it on the field.”