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Surviving in the SLC
Sometimes the football team which enters Southland Conference play with the least amount of injuries already has the lead in the standings before conference games even begin.
SLC teams, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State and McNeese State included, are kind of caught in tough situations, as are most Football Championship Subdivision teams.
They must play “money” games in their nonconference season against larger Bowl Championship Subdivision schools in order to help supplement the schools’ athletic budgets.
The money made goes to equipment, travel expenses and other things it takes to help fund college sports teams which is tougher to do at FCS schools than at a BCS schools.
BCS teams pay FCS team to come in and play them before their big-time college conference seasons begin. For example Nicholls plays at three FBS teams this season in Oregon State, South Alabama and Tulsa.
BCS teams have more scholarship players, and in many cases are bigger, stronger and faster than the teams at the FCS level.
I’m not saying that FCS teams can’t compete and even beat FBS team because it does happen, but the cost to the FCS teams in playing many of these games come in the form of injuries.
And with the Southland Conference expected to be as tough as ever this season, it makes for a difficult situation.
Teams must play brutal nonconference schedules against teams like Oregon State, South Alabama, Tulsa, Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss, Hawaii, Texas Tech, Nevada, Baylor, Missouri and SMU and then must remain healthy enough to compete in the conference and hopefully garner one of the just 24 spots in the FCS playoffs.
Nicholls was devastated by injuries last year and had a hard time getting on track in conference after playing Western Michigan and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Sam Houston State, an SLC team that won the conference last season at 7-0, went 14-1 overall and only lost in the FCS title game to North Dakota State, 17-6.
The Bearkats only played one FBS team last season in New Mexico and won 48-45 after opening up conference with a 31-10 over Central Arkansas. From there, Sam Houston rolled off 12 more wins in a row and played for the national title.
“Look at what happened with Sam last year, not only did they do a great job of coaching and playing obviously, but they go down and beat New Mexico, which was their money game, and they got some confidence and got rolling, and really didn’t miss anybody (because of injuries) the whole season,” McNeese coach Matt Viator said. “If you can gain some confidence and stay healthy the whole season, which they did, then you have a chance to make a run.”
What the Bearkats did last year was truly special, but in the SLC, it’s all about winning within the conference before anything else.
“Our goal is to try to win the conference and to accomplish what Sam Houston did last year, it’s just the icing on the cake, but we have never looked past the conference,” Viator said. “Our goal in (nonconference) is to win as many games as we can, but then play as well as we can in the conference and try and win the conference and see what we can do in the playoffs. Unfortunately, if you don’t do well in this conference, there is no playoffs.”
By Kelly McElroy, Daily Comet