Southland conference stronger than ever

2 weeks ago 0

Last year at this time the Sam Houston State Bearkat football team was a perfect 9-0 and had an offense that was setting records in the process. No team had played the Bearkats within 13 points all season, and yet SHSU was ranked fifth in the FCS playoff committee’s poll. In a season where the Bearkats were historically dominant, the playoff committee gave them no respect despite being the only undefeated team remaining in the FCS.

Some would say the Bearkats have actually underachieved in 2017 coming off their dominating 2016 season. It took a last minute drive to beat Northwestern State at home, a team that has not even threatened SHSU on the scoreboard in recent years. The Kats matched up against Stephen F. Austin at a neutral site where the SHSU fans easily outnumbered SFA’s and the Jacks were without their starting quarterback. Surprisingly (and perhaps unacceptably), the game was within one score with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. While there have been some dominant performances, like a 66-17 win against a ranked Nicholls State team on Sept. 23, there has also been a 41-30 loss on the road to Central Arkansas. The Bearkats have not been the offensive juggernaut that they were all of last season, but despite the slight dip in success they sit in almost the exact same spot in the polls they were one year ago. Last year the Bearkats were fifth; this year they are currently sitting sixth in the FCS playoff committee rankings.

A season ago, the Bearkats were given no respect. This had more to do with the strength of the conference, however, than the talent of the team. The Kats lacked the respect they deserve because the Southland Conference was given no respect. The committee had only one other SLC team ranked, and after that no team even sniffed the rankings. This year the Bearkats were ranked sixth, and the Bears of UCA were ranked number four. Even in the coaches poll, two fellow Southland members were ranked in the top 20 with Nicholls State and McNeese State coming in at 17 and 18 in the most recent standings released Monday morning. The Southland is just a better and deeper conference than they were a season ago. Despite the Bearkats struggles at times this year, they sit in a very good position.

The Bearkats sitting at number six in the committee rankings is big because the top eight teams get a bye and then get to host a second-round playoff game. It seemed almost certain the Bearkats had lost their opportunity to host a playoff game after their mid-season loss. That is not the case, however, and with two very winnable games the Bearkats could be looking at not only hosting a second-round game, but if all breaks right in the last two weeks in the Big Sky conference the Bearkats could possibly find themselves as a top-four seed. They have the rest of the Southland Conference to thank for that.