HOUSTON - Sam Houston State is picked first and Stephen F. Austin is slated sixth in the Southland Conference football preseason poll as voted upon by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
The conference office unveiled the predicted order of finish Thursday in conjunction with Southland Conference Football Media Day at the Hilton Americas hotel in downtown Houston.
The Lumberjacks picked up 114 total points, finishing 46 points better than seventh-place Lamar and just 19 points behind fifth-place Nicholls.
Defending conference champion and rival Sam Houston State earned 20 first-place votes. Central Arkansas received two first-place nods and was chosen to finish second in league, followed by McNeese with 163 total points and Southeastern Louisiana with 136 points. Abilene Christian (68) was selected to finish eighth, rounded out by Houston Baptist (56) ninth, Northwestern State (49) 10th and Incarnate Word (48) 11th.
The preseason selection was expected by fourth-year head coach Clint Conque after SFA went 5-6 in 2016 and finished sixth in the Southland with a 4-5 conference record. Despite finishing one game below .500 last season, the ‘Jacks started 3-1 start and upended then 13th-ranked McNeese 31-28 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. SFA is attempting to reach the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2014 when the Lumberbacks went 8-5 (5-3 Southland) during Conque’s inaugural season in Nacogdoches.
Seven Lumberjacks were named preseason all-conference a week ago, including a trio of seniors earning first-team recognition and five players placed on the second team. Senior offensive lineman Josh Keith (Katy/Houston Christian/Blinn College), senior defensive end John Franklin (Greenville) and senior punt returner Trae Hart (Mesquite/Dallas First Baptist/Purdue) were each named to the first team as Hart also claimed a spot on the second team as an all-purpose player.
Junior defensive lineman Lamont Alexander (Killeen), sophomore tight end Kiki Hill (Golida), sophomore wide receiver Tamrick Pace (Brownsboro) and sophomore kick returner Alize Ward (San Diego, California) earned preseason second-team honors.
The’Jacks return 37 total letter winners and 17 starters from a year ago, including nine on the offensive side of the ball, seven on defense and one on special teams.
The 91st season of SFA football gets underway in exactly 44 days with the Lumberjacks heading to Dallas for their annual FBS matchup. SFA will take on the Mustangs of SMU Saturday, Sept. 2, with a 6 p.m. kickoff from Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The ’Jacks will begin the home portion of the 2017 schedule with a non-conference tilt versus Southern Utah the following week on Saturday, Sept. 9. Southland play will begin on Saturday, Sept. 16, when SFA welcomes Incarnate Word to Homer Bryce Stadium.
Conque, defensive lineman Alexander and wide receiver Pace were in Houston for 2017 Southland Conference Football Media Day.
2017 Southland Conference Football Preseason Poll
Pl. School (First-place votes) Pts.
1. Sam Houston State (20) 200
2. Central Arkansas (2) 177
3. McNeese 163
4. Southeastern Louisiana 136
5. Nicholls 133
6. Stephen F. Austin 114
7. Lamar 68
8. Abilene Christian 66
9. Houston Baptist 56
10. Northwestern State 49
11. Incarnate Word 48