FRISCO, Texas – Central Arkansas is the preseason favorite for the 2020 Southland Conference football season, the league announced Wednesday. The defending co-champions received 12 first-place votes and 190 total points to garner the top spot in the poll.
Sam Houston State was voted second with four first-place votes and 170 points. Defending co-champion Nicholls follows closely in third place, earning six first-place votes and 169 points. Southeastern Louisiana collected 157 points to rank fourth in the preseason poll.
McNeese (113) is slated as the fifth-place team, followed by UIW (104) and Abilene Christian (101). Rounding out the poll is Stephen F. Austin (60), Houston Baptist (59), Northwestern State (49) and Lamar (38).
Central Arkansas enters 2020 with a league-high 13 total preseason all-conference picks after the Bears went 9-4 overall and 7-2 in league play on their way to a conference title and a national seed (No. 8) for the second time in the last three seasons. UCA’s season ended with a second-round loss to Illinois State.
Led by junior quarterback Breylin Smith and senior defensive back Robert Rochell, the Bears grabbed eight of the 28 first-team slots. Smith, a 2019 Second-Team All-Southland pick, ranked in the top-10 among FCS quarterbacks in completions per game (24.31), passing touchdowns (32) and passing yards (3,04) a year ago, and Rochell enters his final season after ranking ninth nationally in passes defended per game (1.4).
After back-to-back five-loss campaigns, Sam Houston State is seeking a return to the postseason. Nicholls (9-5, 7-2 SLC) claimed a share of the league crown for the second-straight season, defeating North Dakota at home in the opening round before falling in the second round to eventual national champion North Dakota State. Southeastern Louisiana (8-5, 6-3 SLC) returned to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2014, topping Villanova in the first round but losing to Montana in the second round.
The Southland Conference preseason poll is voted on by each head coach and football sports information director. Each voter ranks their predicted order of regular-season finish, not including their own team. First-place votes are worth 10 points, second-place votes are worth nine and so on to one point for 10th place.