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CSN Down South: Time to Unite Once More in Wake of Cancellations
By Jason Plotkin, CSN Down South Columnist
Canceled. Canceled. Canceled. Canceled. Four Southland Conference games were canceled this past weekend. A football fan’s worst nightmare.
Games between McNeese State and Cal Poly, Sam Houston State and Prairie View A&M, and Stephen F. Austin and Kentucky Weslayan were called off due to Hurricane Ike. Meanwhile, Nicholls State’s home opener against Bowie State was erased due to continuing complications left by Hurricane Gustav.
The best part about sports is that they have the power to unite and distract. Those four Southland school fan bases will soon reunite at the venues they have spent many Saturdays at through the years and return to their favorite distraction from all that the world brings – hurricanes included.
After last week, it’s time for the conference to unite once more to get back on track as it relates to a mission shared by all the teams. That mission, to regain the conference’s status in the eyes of those who follow the Football Championship Subdivision as the league faces a challenging slate of nonconference games this week.
Fresh off a bye week, Texas State heads to Greeley, Colo., to face Big Sky opponent Northern Colorado. The Bears are 2-0 at home against Southland schools since making the transition to Division I, picking up victories against Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana. On the flip side, UNC was 0-2 on the road against SLC teams until beating the Bobcats in a 2006 meeting in San Marcos, which ended up being the Bears’ lone victory of a 1-10 campaign.
Head coach Brad Wright has addressed the quarterback question and Clint Toon is his man. Can Toon put together back-to-back strong efforts and give the SLC a triumph over a Big Sky foe? That remains to be seen.
Southeastern Louisiana travels across the Pelican State to battle Louisiana Tech. The Lions and the Bulldogs played similar opposition in Mississippi State earlier this year with Tech getting a victory at home while SLU falling on the road to the SEC school. The Lions have been battle-tested against FBS competition more times than any other SLC school as of late. Yet to grab a victory in these contests, SLU has not exactly been run off the field either.
With Brian Babin back behind center, the passing game is efficient, but I’m not sold yet on Jay Lucas at runningback. In three games, he has had only one in which he showed his true ability. Until Babin and Lucas are on the same page week to week, no one can take the Lions seriously as a team to compete in SLC play. The floor is theirs to make their case.
SHSU could be in for trouble against an FBS school as it takes on Kansas. The Jayhawks fell to South Florida last week in a nationally televised game on a late interception that brought to an end any chance KU had for victory. This will be the first test for the Bearkats, who look to find a nice balance between their running and passing games. Both facets showed what they are capable of against a sub-Division I opponent.
Recent showings against the Big 12 have been subpar, however, and while it would be a large statement if the Bearkats were to win, they are heading into a stadium in which the Jayhawks’ fans and the team expect to rebound in a strong way following last week’s loss.
Western Illinois might be the most dangerous 1-2 team in the country. In its two losses, WIU came up short against Arkansas and South Dakota State on the road. With the schedule turning to Missouri Valley play next week, the Leathernecks want to go in with their heads held high. Stephen F. Austin is 1-1 with a victory against NAIA Langston while the loss came to Texas Christian. A strong defense awaits QB Jeremy Moses and the Lumberjacks, who need to put points on the board early. If they don’t, look for WIU to control the clock in a MVFC victory over SFA.
Northwestern State. Take two for Cal Poly as it makes its second attempt in two weeks to visit Louisiana. The frustration of a close loss to Montana is hopefully behind for the Mustangs, who face a Demons team fresh off a nice triumph against Grambling. They will look to see just as much defensive production from the Purple Swarm defense that allowed no third-down conversions for the G-Men.
Northwestern had a nice 99-yard drive late in the game and that kind of production with limited turnovers will ultimately amount to success. To date, consistency has been an issue, but if there’s a time for Scott Stoker’s squad to be consistent, this is it.
For Central Arkansas, it plays a Quincy team that shouldn’t pose much of a threat. This opportunity for the Bears might give them a chance to start quickly. The last two weeks have been slow starts for Nathan Brown as Clint Conque’s team couldn’t put points on the board early against UC-Davis and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. A big challenge with Tulsa looms the following week, and UCA needs to correct any shortcomings with offensive schemes this week.
Will Nicholls State finally hit the football field? Last week, it was set to be the last Southland team to hit the gridiron after its season opener against New Mexico State was a wash resulting in an early bye. Now, it’s the last team at any level of NCAA football to play a game, as it will try once more a week after Bowie State was struck from the schedule as it heads to Memphis. Will the long layoff hurt the Colonels? Or will they be itching so much to get on the field that we’ll see an inspired performance? There will be many scouts for this contest as LaDarius Webb will be in the spotlight for what should be a big challenge for the NFL prospect.
No star shined brighter this weekend than Southeastern’s Brian Babin. Babin, who suffered a concussion in the season opener against Alcorn State, took the field this week after sitting out last weekend’s contest against Mississippi State. The junior put himself back on the map as a legitimate quarterback in the league, registering a career-high 330 passing yards while completing 27 of 44 for two touchdowns against South Dakota in a contest that came down to the wire 31-30.
The stats might have been even more impressive for the Lions, who had two touchdowns called back and a few more penalties than head coach Mike Lucas would have liked to see in their home opener. Yet, having Babin back and throwing as he is capable of, and Jay Lucas making a sighting is a good sign for a team that with consistent play could find itself among those at the top of the conference standings at the end of the year.
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Lagniappe – A Bit Extra To Write Home About
* There is no video that shows more of the problems that Nicholls faced in returning to Guidry Stadium in the wake of Hurricane Gustav than this video that was posted on YouTube. In the video, which I have been told was shot from the dorms just to the side of the football stadium a little more than 1,000 feet away, you can see the stadium lights swaying during the storm. It’s an unbelieveable video and should hit home with any fans who have yet to see this video during the last week. You can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5vd68K1Urw
* The news that probably fell under the radar this last week due to the storms was the SLC Television Network taking another huge step in developing credibility for the fledgling network. The SLC and Fox College Sports reached an agreement to television the network, putting the conference in close to 10 million digital cable households with a potential reach into more than 54 million households. The league is working on getting basketball games on to the network, which has started airing the conference’s monthly magazine show, too. It was heavy on McNeese sports this past month. Look for FCS Sports to cover the volleyball and baseball championship games as part of the agreement.
* Another nugget from the Northwestern State media relations staff: Despite having dental surgery on Thursday, Phil LeBlanc still held for kicker Robert Weeks last weekend. The surgery was necessary after LeBlanc was involved in a collision the previous week against Baylor. LeBlanc was not cleared to play defense.