NCAA Football

Central Arkansas favored in experienced Southland Conference

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - Much of the football talk in the Southland Conference on Wednesday was on … football?

Yes, for a change this summer it was despite the uncertainty of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 11-school FCS conference became the first in Division I to hold a virtual media day.

Defending co-champ Central Arkansas was installed as the favorite in the Southland preseason poll with Sam Houston State picked second and Nicholls, last year's other co-champ, third. Southeastern Louisiana, which joined the conference champs as a third Southland qualifier in the 2019 FCS playoffs, was picked fourth.

Not surprisingly, the day's conversation was laced with COVID-19 topics, but Southland commissioner Tom Burnett, coaches and some of the conference's top players tried to "Zoom" the conference call toward preseason camp and an actual season. Central Arkansas is scheduled to be one of the first teams to open the season, against Ohio Valley Conference co-champ Austin Peay in the annual FCS Kickoff Aug. 29 in Montgomery, Alabama.

"The challenges are very real," Burnett said, "and the clock is ticking on all us individually. You are likely aware of everything that's happening in this conversation. All of that being said, both our presidents and athletic director groups are still intent on a pathway to fall competition - understanding that everything is done with the health and safety of our student-athletes and our game participants at the forefront."

The level of experience with Southland teams was evident with the conference's preseason team released last week: 43 of the 59 selections earned a form of 2019 all-conference postseason honors.

Central Arkansas led the way with 13 selections on the preseason team, including first-team returnees in wide receiver Lujuan Winningham and cornerback Robert Rochell. Last year, the Bears (9-4, 7-2) were one of three FCS teams to knock off an FBS program (Western Kentucky) and made the FCS playoffs for a third time in four seasons, but a second-round, home loss to Illinois State as the No. 8 seed left them hungry for a deeper run.

"Look, we've got a good team coming back," third-year coach Nathan Brown said. "We're poised and ready to play the 2020 season. We felt that we left a lot on the boat last year.

"We're excited. We're preparing as if the season's playing. We haven't heard otherwise."

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SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE PRESEASON POLL

Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors Voting

1. Central Arkansas (12 first-place votes), 190 points

2. Sam Houston State (4), 170

3. Nicholls (6), 169

4. Southeastern Louisiana, 157

5. McNeese, 113 (ineligible due to NCAA APR penalties)

6. UIW, 104

7. Abilene Christian, 101

8. Stephen F. Austin, 60

9. Houston Baptist, 59

10. Northwestern State, 49

11. Lamar, 38

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SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE PRESEASON TEAM

First Team

Offense

QB - Breylin Smith, Central Arkansas, Jr.

RB - Julien Gums, Nicholls, Jr.

RB - Donovan Williams, Sam Houston State, Jr.

TE/HB - Brandon Hohenstein, Abilene Christian, Sr.

WR - Lujuan Winningham, Central Arkansas, Jr.

WR - Da'Jean Dixon, Nicholls, Sr.

WR - Cyron Sutton, McNeese, Sr.

OL - P.J. Burkhalter, Nicholls, R-Sr.

OL - Colby Thomas, Sam Houston State, Sr.

OL - Jair Joseph, Nicholls, Sr.

OL - Jaylen Hendrix, Central Arkansas, Jr.

OL - Toby Sanderson, Central Arkansas, Sr.

PK - Bailey Giffen, Lamar, Sr.

P - Matt McRobert, Sam Houston State, R-Sr.

Defense

DL - Trace Mascorro, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DL - Joseph Wallace, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DL - Nathan Grant, Central Arkansas, Sr.

DL - Kameron Hill, Abilene Christian, Sr.

LB - Alexis Ramos, Southeastern Louisiana, Sr.

LB - T.J. Campbell, Central Arkansas, Jr.

LB - Ja'Quay Pough, Northwestern State, Sr.

DB - Ferlando Jordan, Southeastern Louisiana, R-Jr.

DB - Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas, Sr.

DB - Michael Lawson, Lamar, Sr.

DB - Darion Dunn, McNeese, Sr.

DB - Kevin Moore III, Nicholls, Sr.

KR - Cameron Myers, Central Arkansas, R-So.

PR - Michael Lawson, Lamar, Sr.

Second Team

Offense

QB - Bailey Zappe, Houston Baptist, Sr.

RB - Billy McCrary, Abilene Christian, Sr.

RB - Dreshawn Minnieweather, Houston Baptist, Sr.

TE/HB - Matt DeBlaiso, Southeastern Louisiana, Sr.

TE/HB - Jack Short, Central Arkansas, Sr.

WR - Tyler Hudson, Central Arkansas, So.

WR - Xavier Gipson, Stephen F. Austin, So.

WR - Ben Ratzlaff, Houston Baptist, Sr.

WR - Jerreth Sterns, Houston Baptist, Jr.

WR - Austin Mitchell, Southeastern Louisiana, R-Sr.

OL - Eleasah Anderson, Sam Houston State, R-Jr.

OL - Mikhail Hill, Nicholls, R-Jr.

OL - Jeremiah James, Nicholls, R-So.

OL - Drew Jones, Southeastern Louisiana, Sr.

OL - Kade Parmelly, Abilene Christian, Sr.

PK - Hayden Ray, Central Arkansas, Jr.

P - Blake Patterson, Houston Baptist, Sr.

Defense

DL - Jevon Leon, Sam Houston State, So.

DL - A'Javius Brown, Central Arkansas, Sr.

DL - Josh Carr Jr., Southeastern Louisiana, Jr.

DL - J.W. Jones, Central Arkansas, Sr.

LB - Kelechi Anyalabechi, UIW, Jr.

LB - Caleb Johnson, Houston Baptist, Sr.

LB - Evan Veron, Nicholls, Sr.

DB - Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State, Sr.

DB - Cory McCoy, McNeese, Sr.

DB - Shemar Bartholomew, Northwestern State, Jr.

DB - Jaylon Jimmerson, UIW, So.

DB - Jaylen Thomas, Sam Houston State, Sr.

KR - Xavier Gipson, Stephen F. Austin, So.

PR - Cyron Sutton, McNeese, Sr.

Updated July 22, 2020