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Louisiana squads look to stay in Southland title hunt
The Southland Conference has regularly gotten two teams into the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) postseason playoffs/tournament. But it’s been a decade and a half, since way back in 1998, that the SLC got three teams into the 20-team tournament.
That’s the mountain that Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State and McNeese State are trying to climb heading down the home stretch of the 2012 season. And the Lions can take a major step this weekend, although they’ll have to pull off a pretty big upset to do it.
Central Arkansas, Sam Houston State and SLU all have one conference loss, but UCA controls its own destiny with head-up wins over both of the other one-loss teams. The Bears host Northwestern State on Saturday in their last conference game, and a win gives them the SLC title and the league’s automatic berth into the playoffs.
That leaves everyone else aiming for at-large berths, of which there are only 10 available (10 leagues get automatic berths for their champions, the SWAC and the Ivy League do not send their winners into the playoffs). SLU (3-1) is at Sam Houston Saturday (2 p.m.), with the winner in sole possession of second place and controlling its own destiny.
“We’re really still in the infant stages of this program,” said SLU first-year coach Ron Roberts. “But somewhere along the line, when is that breakout game going to occur?”
It could have happened last Saturday, when the Lions were within one score of Central Arkansas before UCA took advantage of SLU mistakes in a 34-14 win that put the Bears firmly in charge of the league race.
Northwestern has two league losses (2-2) and can’t afford any more, which makes it tough considering the Demons are at UCA Saturday in a 7 p.m. regionally-televised game and host Sam Houston the following week. NSU has to run the table – including a Nov. 17 road finale at Stephen F. Austin in the Battle for Chief Caddo – but if the Demons can pull off that trick they’re headed to the postseason.
But two years ago, NSU was in a similar situation, and came from two touchdowns down to post a shocking 24-19 win. The Demons stayed alive in the race with a pulsating 27-26 win over Nicholls State last Saturday, when John Shaughnessy hit two 42-yard field goals in the final quarter.
McNeese has three conference losses but probably won’t get any more with Nicholls State and Lamar remaining on the league schedule. The Cowboys need a rash of upsets across the country to have a viable chance, but they’re currently 27th in one national FCS rating service and the Southland is ranked fourth among the country’s FCS leagues.
“Up until last week, we were just trying to win a game,” said Cowboy coach Matt Viator, whose team knocked off Stephen F. Austin 35-24 on Saturday and visits the Colonels this Saturday. “So I haven’t even looked at all of that.”