SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - We are just seven weeks away from KPLC's coverage of TDL: Two-A-Days and starting June 24, KPLC will bring you the 7-in-Seven countdown.
Countdowns will include topics from McNeese to high school football. A new countdown each week, beginning every Monday.
We start the countdown with the top-seven matchups for McNeese this upcoming season.
7. Lamar, November 23
The McNeese-Lamar rivalry looks to be back as the Cardinals stole one from the Pokes last season. Darrel Colbert's touchdown run with 2:04 left gave Lamar the final points of the game, swinging score in its favor. It'll be the 43rd meeting between the rivals with McNeese holding a commanding 26-10-1 edge.
The Cardinals took a step forward under Mike Schultz during year two, making the playoffs for the first time in program history. Lamar had a good showing vs. Northern Iowa but eventually fell, 16-13.
A big reason for Lamar's 5-win improvement came in the form of Schultz's wheelhouse — the offense. Lamar improved in scoring per game (22.5 to 30.9) and total offense (374.2 to 431.4) from 2017. Lamar returns eight off the offense, however it loses All-American lineman Garrett Bowery and quarterback Darrel Colbert. Old Dominion transfer Jordan Hoy is expected to start but will battle with Tennessee transfer Will McBride for the starting quarterback job.
Defense has been a cuss word in Beaumont over the previous two seasons heading into 2018. The Cardinals allowed over 253 rushing yards per game in 2017 which was easily the worst in the SLC. Lamar improved on that side of the ball drastically a year ago, finishing in the middle of the conference in both rushing yards and total yards allowed. A statistic the Cards are likely to at least duplicate.
Last year, this game vaulted Lamar to the playoffs on the back of a six-game winning streak. Both teams will be hoping for the winner-take-all playoff spot once again.
6. Oklahoma State, September 7
Oklahoma State is the only power five school McNeese will face this season. In fact, it’ll be the Cowboys' first since the canceled LSU game in 2015. The last completed power five game came in 2014— the epic near upset vs. Nebraska.
OSU finished 2018 with a 7-6 overall record, including a bowl game win over Missouri. Preseason polls are high on the other Cowboys, however, 247 Sports ranks them at No. 24 in its ‘way-too-early Top 25 rankings for 2019 season.’
Offensively, quarterback Taylor Cornelius has graduated, so OSU is in search of its starting quarterback. Redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders is coming into the season with plenty of hype to be the guy following a stellar high school career. The four-star recruit redshirted the 2018 season after being named the 2017 Gatorade State Player of the Year in Texas. Despite Justice Hill leaving for the NFL and J.D. King transferring, the running back position continues to be the best unit heading into the season. Guys like Chuba Hubbard, LD Brown, Deondrick Glass, and Jahmyl Jeter are ones to watch. Tylan Wallace will headline the wide receiver group after an impressive 2018 campaign of 1,491 total receiving yards, which averages out to more than 114 receiving yards per game.
Oklahoma State’s defense is the teams biggest question mark after lost production on the defensive line. OSU lost six key players that totaled 161 tackles, including 38 tackles for a loss and 21 sacks a year ago. The guys returning on the line recorded 31 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2018. The Cowboys recruited a defensive line heavy 2019 class to offset their losses.
The battle of the Cowboys in Stillwater, Oklahoma will be the first-ever meeting between McNeese and Oklahoma State.
5. Northwestern State, November 2
McNeese will be looking for some revenge against Northwestern State come November 2. The Demons beat the Cowboys in double overtime last season after overcoming an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter. With the victory, Northwestern State ended a 13-game losing streak to McNeese.
Good news for the Cowboys is the Demons lost a record-breaking wide receiver in Jazz Ferguson to the NFL. The All-American finished with almost 1,200 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018 including going for over 110 yards and two touchdowns vs. McNeese. The Demons do get quarterback Shelton Eppler back for his senior season. Eppler finished 2018 completing 199 of 328 passes for over 2600 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Defensively, NSU struggled as the Demons allowed over 34 points a game in 2018. NSU gave up six yards per play and over 475 yards per game which both ranked near the bottom of the league. Needless to say, that area needs to change if NSU hopes to continue improving as a program and achieve its first winning season since 2008.
There is still plenty of optimism in Natchitoches with 13 starters back from a 5-6 team that won three of its last four games. McNeese will still likely be the favorite come November.
4. Sam Houston State, September 28
It’s been a long two seasons without the Cowboys playing the Bearkats. McNeese and Sam Houston State had been a fun series, especially in recent years. From 1988-2016 the teams met at least once every season.
The hype coming in for SHSU is down compared to years past because the Bearkats are coming off a 6-5 season. However, SHSU is still considered a preseason top 25 team with 18 total starters returning.
Offensively, the Bearkats are going on year two without Jeremiah Briscoe under center. It took a few weeks to solidify his replacement in 2018, but Ty Brock seemed to step into the spotlight towards the end of the season. The redshirt sophomore started the final eight games for the Bearkats completing 178 of 312 passes for more than 2,400 yards and 15 touchdowns. Brock’s lead target for 2019 will be returning wide receiver, Nathan Stewart. Stewart is just one of four players in FCS history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards as a freshman, sophomore, and junior. Stewart enters his senior season ranking second all-time at SHSU in receiving yards and only need 228 yards in the air to move past Yedidiah Louis for the all-time lead in that category.
Defensively, the Bearkats are led by cornerback Zyon McCollum. McCollum is heading into his junior season after not only being named an all-Southland Conference first-team choice, but HERO Sports also named him to the All-America first team. The Cornerback started all 11 games a year ago for the Kats, finishing with 44 tackles a team-high three interceptions. Fifth-year senior linebacker Hunter Brown will also aim to improve a middle-of-the-pack defense from a year ago.
The Cowboys get the joy of hosting Sam Houston State for the first time since the playoff game in 2015. Counting that loss, Sam Houston is still only 3-13 since 1988 when traveling to ‘The Hole’.
3. Nicholls, November 16
The annual battle between McNeese and Nicholls will influence the results of the Southland Conference Championship in some form or fashion. Last year's 20-10 win for McNeese over the Colonels kept Nicholls from outright winning the SLC title and earning the automatic berth into the FCS playoffs.
The win was also revenge for the 2017 season opener for the Pokes in which they fell to Nicholls, 37-35, in Thibodaux. It snapped McNeese's eight-game win streak over Nicholls.
Offensively, Nicholls returns a ton of talent off the conference's top scoring unit in 2018. Preseason All-American quarterback Chase Fourcade is back for his senior season after totaling 3,589 all-purpose yards and 34 touchdowns last year. Fourcade is also the first Colonel to win the Southland Player of the Year award, which he did in 2018. Fourcade will have some help on the outside from returning wide receiver Dai’Jean Dixon who finished 2018 with over 800 total yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, the Colonels may be even better. After leading the conference in defense a season ago, Nicholls returns an All-American on the defensive line. Senior Sully Laiche totaled 17.5 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks a year ago. Also returning is another preseason All-American in the front seven. Linebacker Evan Veron was ninth in the FCS with 22 tackles for loss in 2018.—He added seven sacks in his harassment of quarterbacks.
The Cowboys will almost certainly be the underdog, which is a change in this historically lopsided rivalry. Both Athlon Sports and HERO Sports has Nicholls ranked as the 13th best team in the FCS coming into the season.
2. Southern, August 31
A non-conference game with plenty of buzz will kick off McNeese's 2019 season. It'll be the second-ever meeting between McNeese and Southern with the last coming in 2004. The Pokes traveled to Baton Rouge that season and beat the Jags, 35-18.
The game should be the Cowboys' most attended, as fans are excited to open the season doing so with a new coach. The Jaguar faithful meanwhile travels well and has numerous alumni all over the state, including Lake Charles. Add to the that the spectacle of seeing the Southern University Marching Band, also called the 'Human Jukebox,' and you'll have a likely packed Cowboy Stadium.
On the field, 2018 was another good one for the Jaguars, as the team finished with a 7-4 overall record, including a 6-1 mark in the SWAC.
Ladarius Skelton is back for his junior season under center for the Jaguars. The dual-threat QB didn't work his way into the starting lineup until the sixth game of the season against Praire View A&M, when he led the Jags to a 38-0 victory after throwing for 168 yards and one touchdown and rushing for another 202 yards and three scores. He took over the starting role from there on out, leading Southern to a 6-1 record to end the season, including snapping a 3-game losing streak to Grambling in the annual Bayou Classic. Skelton finished 2018 completing 60 of 115 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He added over 500 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as well.
Skelton is losing his top target in receiver Kendall Catalon. Last year's leading receiver and team captain, is transferring to Arkansas to join his brother Jalen who is apart of Arkansas' 2019 recruiting class. Senior wide outs Jaylon Brinson, Jodeci Harris and Jeremias Houston, among others, are expected to fill the void.
Defensively, the Jags finished fourth in the conference in scoring and fifth in yards allowed a year ago. The Jags also received a boost in May when LSU defensive tackle Davin Cotton announced his plans to transfer to Southern. The former four-star recruit should help bolster a senior-laden line.
A familiar face to look out for on the sidelines during this game will be former McNeese assistant, Wayne Cordova. He joined the Jaguars this offseason as the safeties coach and recruiting coordinator.
1. Southeastern, October 5
Was there any doubt this game wouldn't be No. 1?
The annual rivalry game between Southeastern and McNeese has been pretty heated in recent seasons. That firey passion only grew since the offseason with new additions from the Lions.
Former McNeese head coach Lance Guidry will now prowl the Lions' sidelines as the defensive coordinator. Guidry spent the past six seasons at McNeese - with the last three coming as head coach. Since Guidry began coaching in 1994 as a McNeese graduate assistant, he's spent a total of 12 seasons in Lake Charles. But he's not the only familiar face coaching the Lions.
Joining Guidry on Southeastern's sidelines will be former McNeese co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Kerry Joseph. Joseph served on Guidry's staff the past three seasons following a record-setting McNeese playing career in the mid-90s.
As for the players in the game, Southeastern returns the SLC's leading passer from a year ago in Chason Virgil. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2018 and he may be better set up for bigger numbers this season. Former quarterback Lorenzo Nunez is officially a full-time receiver now and All-Southland receiver and returner Juwan Petit-Frere is back to put up big numbers again.
Defensively, SLU left plenty to be desired allowing over 33 points and 458 yards per game. Guidry should help rectify some of the struggles with his excellent scheme. He'll have plenty to work with as LSU defensive back transfer Xavier Lewis returns as does defensive lineman Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund. Both players were All-Southland honorable mention players in 2018.
Last year, the Lions held the Cowboys to just six points after a dominant defensive performance coached by Guidry. The question remains— how will the Pokes respond seeing their old coach on the other sideline? We’ll be in for a fun one and easily, the top McNeese matchup of the 2019 season.