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« CSN So South: Teams Deal with Weather as Well as OpponentsCSN National All-Stars, 9/8/2008 »

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CSN Down South: Who Needs What as Business Picks Up

By Jason Plotkin, CSN Down South Columnist

The Southland Conference has been predictable through the first two weeks of the season. But this is not the conference that many of us have come to know, and a large part of that has been due to scheduling. Well my friends, business is about to pick up, and pick up in a huge way.

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There are several attractive games this week, including a contest featuring two nationally ranked teams when Cal Poly visits McNeese State. That contest will attract national attention from the FCS community.

Additionally, there are three regional rivalries as Grambling visits Northwestern State, Prairie View A&M heads to Sam Houston State, and Central Arkansas plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Little Rock.

Each of the three should draw good crowds as the schools are all close in proximity to their rivals. The Grambling-NSU and SHSU-PV games could end up being hotly contested. The same cannot be said for the UCA-UAPB contest as the Golden Lions have not done anything to put fear into any opponent, though as we’ve learned – there’s Any Given Saturday.

Perhaps after this week we’ll begin to have an idea of how the conference will shape up when league play starts in early October.

With the season under way, we can get a better assessment of what needs that teams have and more specifically, what they will need this week. Even for the one SLC team with a bye, there’s an obvious need that must be resolved before its next game. Southeastern Louisiana needs Brian Babin back behind center. The quarterback should return this week and must play a key role if the Lions are to have a chance to defeat South Dakota.

The Coyotes are coming in after losing to a ranked Northern Iowa team on the road. They also are coming in after giving up just under 200 rushing yards. Can SLU’s Jay Lucas make his long-awaited opening splash? If there was ever a chance, this would be it.

Northwestern State must find a way into the end zone. Grambling’s defense had an impressive shutdown of Alcorn State last week, and everyone within a few football fields of Nachitoches knows that this game between the Demons and Tigers carries much significance for each school. NSU head coach Scott Stokers wants to show that this year’s squad can win a meaningful game while a Grambling victory would be one more statement to the SWAC that it’s ready to take on all comers in the West Division.

Nicholls State, meanwhile, needs to play a game. Hurricane Gustav threw off last weekend’s scheduled contest against New Mexico State, and Hurricane Ike could play havoc with this week’s game and a few other SLC contests. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Jay Thomas and his players reported on Sunday night while class will resume Wednesday for the school. Bowie State should provide nice fodder for the Colonels, who should not have much problem getting amped up because they are the last team in the nation to hit the field.

Sam Houston State needs to reaffirm that it has a running game. The Bearkat faithful were pleased with the opening contest - on the ground and through the air. But can the runningbacks that made a statement against a Division II foe in East Central Oklahoma, do it against a defense that includes perhaps the best FCS defensive player outside of Nicholls State’s LaDarius Webb that they’ll see this season?

Zach East, named College Sporting News Defensive Player of the Week after PV’s victory over Texas Southern, has a knack for finding the ball. A potent running game coupled with a Bearkat air attack will stretch East and the Panther defense.

Stephen F. Austin needs to just take care of business. When you are facing a sub-Division I foe, you need to win. Yes, we know SFA has had problems against such foes in recent memory. It did take care of Langston two weeks ago before getting thumped hard by TCU last week. We talked highly about Jeremy Moses in our last venture Down South, and this will be another chance for the QB to show his talent as Kentucky Weslayan is not a team that should pose much of a threat. KWU lost 79-7 to a SLU team that finished 3-8 last year. This one could get ugly.

Central Arkansas needs to stay focused against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. UAPB has losses to Arkansas-Monticello and was blanked by Henderson State last week, the same HSU team that UCA easily defeated in week one.

Last week,the Bears let penalties and questionable officiating bother them. Clint Conque’s team should have put away UC-Davis early and just couldn’t do it, needing a last-minute interception to preserve a victory against a good Aggies team. UAPB is on the other side of the spectrum and UCA will need to stay focused, pile up the points and just let the reserves gain experience.

McNeese State needs to show it remembers how to play under the lights. According to reports from McNeeese fans, the lights did not hold up against Delta State. Well, this week, hopefully the stadium lights can stay on. We’ve all seen what the Pokes can do under the lights against a major foe. McNeese, you are playing a major squad this week in this week’s game of the week! Cal Poly has an FBS victory to its credit this year (San Diego State) before losing to Montana when its kicker couldn’t bail it out. This is a tough team and the Pokes have faltered in big games late in the season when it matters most. But this is a chance for coach Matt Viator to see what his team can give him in a big game.

Lastly, Texas State needs to enjoy the bye week while figuring out personnel issues. Bradley George was ineffective and fumbled three times against SMU last week. The Bobcats need a game-changing quarterback and they might have found a reasonable replacement as you will read in Southland Stars this week. One positive note for the Bobcats is that their depth at runningback continues to develop.

Southland Stars

Clint Toon, anyone? The Texas State quarterback relieved George and went 19 of 27 for 225 yards. The senior who came to San Marcos from Kilgore College threw four touchdowns as he saw his team fall behind 30-6. Slowly, but surely, the Bobcats worked themselves back in the game, eventually falling to the Mustangs by 11.

If Batman had Robin, Toon had Cameron Luke. Luke caught three of the four TD passes (9, 17 and 29 yards) thrown by Toon as the Bobcats made a furious rally. If you needed Toon to gain some yardage on the ground, he did that, too. He rushed seven times for 33 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per carry, which are solid numbers.

Will Toon emerge as the starter when the Bobcats take the field next? They resume play Sept. 20 in Greeley, Colo., when they face North Colorado. This will be a nice test for head coach Brad Wright and his staff, who will need to name a starting quarterback before then.

Lagniappe – A Bit Extra To Write Home About

* Lamar made a splash last week when it named Roger Hinshaw (defensive coordinator), Tommy Mainord (offensive coordinator) and James Brown (offensive coach) to the staff. All three names resonate with fans in the region. Hinshaw was an assistant at Arkansas and Rice under Ken Hatfield. Mainord most recently was an assistant at Southland school Sam Houston State, following Bearkat head coach Todd Whitten to Huntsville from Tarleton. Brown was a four-year letter winner at Texas at QB and led the Horns to a Sugar Bowl berth.

* The Southland Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conferences share practically the same regional shell. The conferences share the states of Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. With the SWAC bringing to an end the nine-game mandate, we have seen an increase in contests between the two conferences this year as five meetings are planned. Look for more in future years, including a SHSU return trip to Prairie View, Alcorn State traveling to Southeastern Louisiana, a third straight Texas Southern visit to Texas State and in 2010, Southern finally repaying a visit to McNeese State after their contest was called in 2005 due to Katrina.

* Northwestern State opened up its practice facilities to Louisiana College. The Wildcats from nearby Pineville took the short trip up I-49 to practice at Turpin Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of their contest over the weekend against Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla. Yes, that is the same Bacone College that lost by 70 points to Sam Houston State a few years ago.

* One more Northwestern State tidbit as the Demons moved up their game against Grambling to 2 from 6 p.m. The athletic department did not provide much insight into the decision, but it was probably worried about the lost revenues associated with not having the Grambling band make an appearance. Did the move to 2 p.m benefit the players any? One thing is for certain, being in the south and playing in the afternoon will make for very hot field conditions.