SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - We are just seven weeks away from KPLC’s coverage of TDL: Two-A-Days and starting June 22, 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. SFA, October 31
The opening game for the list may have had the most competition with three different games having a strong case. We went with the Lumberjacks because it was a home game, SFA won two of three to close 2019 and both schools aren't eligible to make the postseason in 2020.
The McNeese-SFA rivalry has been one dominated by the Pokes over the last three seasons with the Pokes outscoring the 'Jacks 85-20. However, SFA looks to continue the progress made on the field behind Colby Carthel last season.
Following an 0-4 start, the Lumberjacks closed out the year with a 3-5 record including a win over a Lamar team that was receiving Top 25 votes. Quarterback Trae Self returns after throwing for over 2,500 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. Also back is his top weapon in wide receiver Xavier Gipson. Gipson was a second-team All-Southland conference member as both a receiver and a returner in 2019. Also back is leading tackler Trenton Gordon and all-conference cornerback Willie Roberts.
This game will have plenty of uncertainties coming in, but SFA has plenty to prove and the Pokes don’t want to stop the winning streak.
6. Lamar, November 21
This matchup has not been much of a rivalry with McNeese winning four of five and eight of ten since the Lamar program was resurrected. The Pokes scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter a year ago to down the Cardinals 27-3.
Lamar made some changes in the offseason hiring former Air Force offensive coordinator and most recently San Diego State quarterbacks’ coach, Blane Morgan to lead the program. Morgan had a strong resume developing quarterbacks at SDSU and is expected to do the same with the Cardinals.
Lamar welcomes back SLC first-team defensive back Michael Lawson after he totaled 94 tackles and led the league with five interceptions. In addition, he was an all-conference punt returner.
On offense, the Cardinals will likely see a lot of new faces. The quarterback race is long from decided as just last week they landed a transfer commitment from Eastern Kentucky QB Austin Scott. At the skill positions, Barbe alum Kirkland Banks leads the way after totaling 36 receptions for 506 yards and a score in 2019.
The Battle of the Border has been a McNeese dominated series but with both schools landing new coaches this offseason it remains to be seen if the dynamic of the matchup will change too.
5. Sam Houston State, October 24
Admittedly, five years ago this game was a much bigger rivalry with both the Bearkats and Cowboys competing for the Southland crown. Over the last ten meetings, this has been a back-and-forth series with SHSU holding a 4-6 edge. Sam Houston is one of only two SLC schools to hold a winning record over McNeese this past decade.
Once again due to the success of the Bearkats over the last ten years, many expect SHSU to make another run to the playoffs with Athlon Sports having them ranked No. 16 in the preseason standings.
The defense was impressive for the Bearkats a year while the offense juggled around multiple quarterbacks. SHSU was the No. 1 team in the Southland in total defense and points allowed— a far cry from its finish the year prior. The defense will look to continue its dominance behind pre-season All-American Trace Mascorro (five sacks, 15 tackles for a loss in 2019) and senior bowl prospect Zyon McCollum (nine career interceptions).
The offense getting back to its explosive ways will be important for the Bearkats as quarterback Eric Schmid takes over full time with the transfer of Ty Brock to Central Michigan. Schmid showed flashes in six starts a season ago throwing for 1,733 yards with 12 TDs and 5 interceptions. Leading rusher Donovan Williams is back as well along with All-American offensive lineman Colby Thomas.
McNeese will aim to snap a three-game losing streak to the Bearkats and they’ll have to do so in Huntsville. The Cowboys haven’t downed the Kats outside of Cowboy Stadium since 2010.
4. Southeastern, September 26
Another team McNeese has struggled with in recent seasons is the Lions. McNeese is 3-5 vs. SLU over the last eight meetings although the home team has won each matchup since 2014.
A year ago despite a playoff run, Southeastern was upended by the Pokes in a game that saw Cody Orgeron light up his former coach's defense to the tune of 248 yards and three touchdowns including a game-winning 33-yard dagger to Trevor Begue with 2:21 left to go.
SLU had some major changes this offseason with defensive coordinator Lance Guidry leaving after just one season in Hammond. The former McNeese coach joined the Florida Atlantic staff back in January.
The Southeastern offense returns plenty with quarterback Cole Kelley leading the way following 20 touchdowns scored a year ago. South Alabama transfer Cephus Johnson may also play a role at QB. Also back is SLU's three leading wide receivers in CJ Turner, Austin Mitchell and Javon Conner who combined for 2,538 yards and 22 TDs in 2019.
The other side looks to be just as experienced with All-American Ferlando Jordan back to lead the Lions' secondary and lading tackler Alexis Ramos back as well.
While the storylines won't be as good going into the matchup this season, SLU is still a preseason nationally ranked team and this series seems to always breed interesting games.
3. Central Arkansas, October 3
The Bears may be the talk of the Southland in 2020. UCA is considered to be a top-11 program in the FCS this season as both Athlon Sports and HERO Sports has the Bears high in their rankings.
This series has produced a handful of tight games in recent seasons with the last two meetings being decided by nine or fewer points. Good news for McNeese is that the game will be held in Lake Charles as the Pokes are 4-2 all-time vs. the Bears at home.
This season UCA comes in with an experienced quarterback as Breylin Smith returns after setting the school's single-season passing record with 3,704 yards and tying the touchdown record with 32. He'll have plenty of weapons with wide receivers Tyler Hudson (reigning SLC freshman of the year) and Lujuan Winningham back after the duo combined for 20 touchdown receptions in 2019.
Defensively, UCA may not be as stout as years past, but the Bears bring back All-American cornerback Robert Rochell (10 career interceptions). The Louisiana native leads a defense that also touts returning All-Southland standouts Nathan Grant and TJ Campbell.
If the Pokes were to win the Southland, this may be the most important for the Pokes if McNeese aims to capture a Southland crown in 2020.
2. Nicholls, November 7
The Nicholls-McNeese series has become one of the better matchups in the Southland over the last three years. The Colonels' rise to an SLC power started with the 2017 season-opening win over the Pokes.
Nicholls is once again expected to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season as the Colonels landed 14th on the Athlon Sports preseason Top-25 poll.
The Colonel offense should be interesting in 2020 as LSU and Missouri transfer Lindsey Scott Jr. is expected to take over the quarterback duties from four-year starter Chase Fourcade. The offense (at least early) will likely lean on the running game as record-setting running back Julien Gums is back after totaling 1,232 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in 2019. In addition, All-Southland receiver Dai'Jean Dixon will be looking to set the all-time receiving record for Nicholls. Those mentioned above will benefit behind an experienced line anchored by All-American P.J. Burkhalter.
Nicholls' defense has plenty to replace with the loss of Sully Laiche and Allen Pittman, but defensive back Kevin Moore returns after a stellar junior season. The Nicholls defense will have to find new leaders in 2020.
This game should be a fun one as McNeese will aim to continue its five-game home winning streak in the series.
1. UL Lafayette, September 5
The No. 1 entry couldn't have been any easier to select. When the Cowboys and Cajuns line up it's must-watch for the weekly build-up alone.
In what used to be an annual rivalry, this will be just the third meeting since 1986. McNeese and UL Lafayette has split the last two meetings with the Cajuns winning the most recent one in 2016 behind a three-touchdown game from LSU transfer Anthony Jennings.
The Ragin' Cajuns will come into the game large favorites thanks to the job Billy Napier has done in Lafayette. The Cajuns were 11-3 a year ago winning the LendingTree Bowl over Miami (Ohio).
UL Lafayette was top-10 nationally a year ago averaging nearly 500 yards per game while scoring 37.9 points per contest. Quarterback Levi Lewis returns after throwing for 26 TDs in his first season as the full-time starter. The Cajuns also bring back a dynamic duo at running back in seniors Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell. The pair has totaled 5,203 rushing yards and 61 touchdowns in their productive careers. The offensive line is hyper experienced as well with all five projected starters having been a starter previous.
The Cajuns' defense was much better in 2019 although UL Lafayette lost its defensive coordinator to Baylor. The defense is expected to be led by a veteran group in the front seven which includes former four-star Tayland Humphrey.
The Cajuns have lofty expectations in 2020, but the run to a possible Top-25 ranking will have to go through McNeese as the rivals open the season vs. one another for the first-time ever.