Saturday's Southland Conference Television Game of the Week pitting 11th-ranked McNeese against No. 10 Southeastern Louisiana may not have obtain the hype that was brewing in the preseason, but there's not doubt this game could be seen not only as an elimination game for a spot in the FCS playoffs, but also as one where the winner still has a chance at winning a conference championship.
Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. at SLU's Strawberry Stadium where its capacity mark of 8,000 is expected to be threatened. The game will air live on the SLC-TV Network (CW channel 7 in Lake Charles on Suddenlink Cable) and will also be carried on Gator 99.5 FM.
The Cowboys (6-3, 4-2 SLC) must win out and get some help to have a chance of tasting a piece of the conference title pie while also holding out hope that the FCS playoff committee will take into consideration an 8-3 mark in a very competitive Southland Conference will land the Pokes into the postseason playoffs. SLU (7-3, 5-1) will be looking to knock off the Cowboys for the third consecutive season while attempting to notch its second straight league title. To do so, both teams will need to overcome injuries at key positions.
The Cowboys may be without junior quarterback Daniel Sams, the team's leading rusher and No. 3 runner in the league. Sams injured his throwing thumb against Stephen F. Austin early in the second quarter last week and did not play in the second half. But that injury may not keep him off the field as Sams has been practicing all week.
Also returning to practice this week was wide receiver Ernest Celestie, who's missed three straight games after being injured against Abilene Christian. His status will be a game-time decision as will running backs Derrick Milton and Kelvin Bennett.
Defensively, McNeese will be without the services of senior linebacker Deonte Thompson, who decided to call it a career after suffering a concussion against SFA.
For the Lions, quarter Bryan Bennett has played with a bum shoulder the last two games and last week, sprained an ankle against Houston Baptist. Meanwhile, all-American kick returner and wide receiver Xavier Roberson is also hobbled with an ankle sprain. Both are expected to play.
The injuries aside, Saturday's game will feature the league's two best rushing offenses against the top two rushing defenses.
McNeese has proven to be one of the best against the run all season as the unit has allowed just three rushers to gain 100 yards or more on the season while holding two of the top runners in both the FBS (Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska) and FCS (Gus Johnson of SFA) to below 60 yards in those respective games.
On offense, true freshman running back Ryan Ross and junior power back Dylan Long have done a great job of taking up the slack with Milton and Bennett hobbled.
Ross, who's second on the team in rushing with 478 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games played, was recently named to the Freshman of the Year Watch List by the CFPA. At quarterback, junior Tyler Bolfing proved against SFA he can be called upon to get a passing game going as he set career highs in the game with 21 completions and 198 yards.