LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The McNeese Cowboys, under new head coach Sterlin Gilbert, has been tabbed for a No. 22 preseason ranking by Athlon Sports, the magazine released on Tuesday as part of its 2019 FCS Preseason Top 25 poll.
McNeese is one of three Southland Conference schools to rank in the preseason poll, being joined by No. 13 Nicholls and No. 20 Sam Houston State.
The Cowboys finished the 2018 campaign 6-5 after starting the year 5-1 and ranked in the top 25 for most of the season, reaching as high as No. 6 in the polls midway through the season.
Gilbert, who was hired in December to lead the program, will welcome back 18 players with starting experience for the 2019 season (nine offense, nine defense), including all-conference selections DB Colby Burton, DL Chris Livings, DL Cody Roscoe, and OL Grant Burguillos.
McNeese will open the season on Aug. 31 at home against Southern, the 2018 SWAC champion and will also host Alcorn State (Sept. 14) who was the SWAC runner-up after making a visit to Oklahoma State on Sept. 7.
The Cowboys will begin conference play on Sept. 21 at Abilene Christian before playing their first home league game on Sept. 28 against Sam Houston State.
McNeese will also host Southeastern Louisiana (Oct. 5), Houston Baptist (Oct. 19) for homecoming, and Northwestern State (Nov. 2).
Defending FCS national champion North Dakota State is the preseason No. 1 ranked team, followed by James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington and UC Davis to round out the top five.
2019 Athlon Sports Preseason FCS Top 25
1. North Dakota State
2. James Madison
3. South Dakota State
4. Eastern Washington
5. UC Davis
7. Jacksonville State
8. Montana State
9. Weber State
12. Illinois State
14. Kennesaw State
15. Indiana State
17. Northern Iowa
19. Southeast Missouri
20. Sam Houston State
25. North Carolina A&T