SFA Picked High In Both Preseason Football Polls
July 30, 2004
PLANO, Texas -- Three-time defending Southland Conference football champion McNeese State University has been picked by the head coaches of the league to once again capture the SLC title. Unlike a year ago, the Cowboys are not the overwhelming picks in 2004 as they narrowly edged second-place Stephen F. Austin State University in the coaches' voting and were picked second to the Lumberjacks in this year's sports information directors poll.
McNeese received three first-place votes from the head coaches while SFA picked up two and Northwestern State University got one nod as the teams to beat. McNeese, which has won its last 16 Southland Conference games, dating back to the 2001 season, tallied 23 points from the coaches while SFA picked up 22. Northwestern State is a close third with 18 points while Sam Houston State University (12), Nicholls State University (10) and Texas State University (5) round out the coaches selections. SFA picked up three first-place votes from the SIDs, McNeese received two and Northwestern State one to finish in that order in the poll. Nicholls State and Sam Houston State flip-flop spots in the SID's predicted order with Texas State rounding out the list.
Last year, McNeese posted a 10-2 record and won the league title with a 5-0 mark. The Cowboys, who were ranked No. 1 nationally all but one week in 2003, played in the NCAA I-AA playoffs for the third straight year and the 11th time in the past 13 years. McNeese returns 49 lettermen from that squad, including five starters on offense, four on defense and both the punter and place kicker.
Quarterback Scott Pendarvis, who ranked second in the SLC in both passing and total offense last year, returns for his senior season. He completed 142-of-244 passes for 2,186 yards and 18 touchdowns and now ranks fourth on McNeese's all-time passing chart with 4,673 yards. SFA returns a number of offensive weapons from the 2003 team, which posted a 7-4 record and finished second to McNeese with a 4-1 league mark. The 'Jacks have added transfer running back Derek Farmer from Texas A&M. Quarterback Michael Williams returns after earning first-team All-SLC honors a year ago. In addition, three of the five offensive starters up front return for the Lumberjacks.
Northwestern State is expected to be in the hunt with the return of 53 lettermen, including six standouts named preseason first-team All-SLC. Derrick Johnese leads that group as the junior is the top returning running back in the league after compiling 923 yards and 11 touchdowns a season ago.
Sam Houston State University is expected to be much improved with a lot of excitement generated by a couple of transfer quarterbacks. Texas A&M transfer Dustin Long and Oklahoma transfer Noah Allen went through spring practices with the Bearkats and will battle for the starting spot this fall. Long (6-3, 210) was listed as the starter after a very solid showing in spring drills.
Jarod Fuller and Vincent Cartwright return as starting receivers for the Bearkats after finishing first and sixth in the Southland in receptions per game last year. Fuller, a sophomore, averaged 5.33 catches while Cartwright came in at 3.30 a game. Teammate Bernard Campbell ranked tied for seventh with 3.00 a game and returns for his senior season. Add to that list, four returnees who are preseason first-team All-SLC picks in tight end Corey Roberts, running back Jason Godfrey and offensive linemen Steve Izevbizua and Chris Louvier.
Nicholls State continued its climb up the standings a year ago to finish in sole possession of third place in the Southland. The much-improved Colonels finished tied for seventh in both 1999 and 2000, climbed to sixth in 2001, tied for third in 2002 and took over third place a year ago. Now, the challenge will be replacing eight offensive and seven defensive starters off the 2003 squad.
Texas State University first-year head coach David Bailiff will take on an aggressive schedule with six road games, including a battle with the Baylor Bears, as he starts the rebuilding process. A former player and assistant coach of the Bobcats, Bailiff was hired on Feb. 5 by his alma mater after a 4-8 season in 2003.