Having garnered early respect, McNeese State is out to keep it _lowres

McNeese State quarterback Daniel Sams (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

McNeese State coach Matt Viator didn’t put much stock in the preseason predictions leading up to Southland Conference Media Day.

When the league’s coaches awarded the Cowboys one first-place vote and picked them to finish third in the conference, he simply said his staff and players appreciate the respect. Only four McNeese players landed on preseason All-Southland teams, but Viator noted that the squads are selected based on last year’s performance.

The 10th-year coach has been in the conference long enough to know off-the-field accolades have little bearing on a team’s success.

“Each year is a different year,” he said. “So once you line up on Saturday night, all that is out the door.”

Viator’s players are especially eager for the first Saturday night of the season: The Cowboys will travel to Tiger Stadium for a night game against LSU, which Viator characterized as an opportunity to compete against the best.

“You dream of playing on a team like that or playing against a team like that,” senior offensive lineman Quentin Marsh said. “Going into a stadium with that much excitement and the things that you know about that kind of stadium and that team, with the legacy they have, it’s going to be a great experience.”

McNeese also started last season against a “Power Five” conference opponent, dropping a 31-24 nailbiter at Nebraska. The Cowboys raced to a 6-2 record and were in contention for the Southland title before falling victim to injuries and losing their final three games.

“How the season ended last year, we don’t want it to end like that again,” Marsh said.

Viator has 17 returning starters, including nine from an offense that produced nearly 400 yards per game.

The Cowboys’ biggest loss was All-America left tackle Antoine Everett, who started 25 straight games and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the NFL draft.

McNeese will rely on the arm and legs of senior quarterback Daniel Sams, who is coming off his second thumb surgery in as many years. Viator said the Kansas State transfer looks better throwing the ball after undergoing a different type of procedure.

The Cowboys bolstered their defensive front with the addition of former Texas A&M defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who is eligible to play as a sophomore. He saw action in 11 games and recorded 30 tackles as a freshman before sitting out last season after he was dismissed by the Aggies.

“He was very productive for us this spring,” Viator said. “He was a little bit out of shape, which I guess was due to inactivity. But we worked on that this summer. If you look at him, he has trimmed down and is in a lot better shape. Hopefully he can help us the way we think he can.”