COACH: Ken Collums
PLAYERS: DE Nick Richardson and TE Jonathan Parker
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: When Abilene Christian won in 2013, it won big. Though the Wildcats only went 6-5, they outscored their opponents 370-114 in their victories. During his junior campaign, QB John David Baker was a force, completing 247 of 369 passes for 3,376 yards and 35 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Heading into his senior season, Baker will look to improve on those numbers as he runs up the score against the rest of the Southland.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @ACUSports (Abilene Christian sports)
COACH: Steve Campbell
PLAYERS: WR Dezmin Lewis and DE Jonathan Woodard
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Central Arkansas was 7-5 last season, but a new regime is here. Campbell was hired to push the Bears to the top of the Southland after 10 years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He’ll have senior QB Ryan Howard back after he threw for 1,848 yards and 18 touchdowns.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @UCAsports (Central Arkansas sports)
COACH: Vic Shealy
PLAYERS: TE Kenneth Bibbins and LB Garrett Dolan
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Houston Baptist was 3-4 in 2013, its wins coming against Wayland Baptist, Oklahoma Baptist and Texas College. Offensively, Shealy will look to rebound after a season when his squad was outperformed by its opponents in all categories. Redshirt freshman Ka’Darius Baker will also look to improve his numbers after throwing for 1,083 yards and four touchdowns last season.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @HBUHuskies (Houston Baptist sports)
COACH: Larry Kennan
PLAYERS: QB Trent Brittain and S Brandon Tanksley
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: After three straight seasons of winning three games or fewer, Incarnate Word rebounded in 2013 by going 6-5. Though the Cardinals were outscored by their opponents overall last season, their running game was solid: Four rushers had 60 or more carries and totaled 20 touchdowns. Senior receiver Casey Jennings returns after making 54 receptions for 738 yards and five touchdowns.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @UIWAthletics (Incarnate Word sports)
COACH: Ray Woodard
PLAYERS: QB Caleb Berry and WR Reggie Begelton
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: As a freshman, running back Kade Harrington had a season to remember. The Kingwood, Texas, native rushed for 880 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 73.3 yards per game. Harrington set a Lamar freshman rushing record, and with a year under his belt, he’ll be looking to bust the door wide open this season.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @LamarCards (Lamar sports)
COACH: Matt Viator
PLAYERS: OL Antione Everett and DL Everett Ellefsen
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: McNeese rose near the top of the Southland in 2013, going 10-3 and advancing to the FCS playoffs, where it lost 31-10 to Jacksonville State. That said, the Cowboys lost two weapons from their arsenal. Cody Stroud and Marcus Wiltz, the former starting quarterback and running back, combined for 4,139 yards and 39 touchdowns last season, but both have run out of eligibility. The Cowboys will have to rely on one of four new quarterbacks, plus junior rusher Kelvin Bennett, who ran for 774 yards and four scores.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @McNeeseFootball (McNeese State football)
COACH: Charlie Stubbs
PLAYERS: OL Rafe Plaisance and LB Davin Bovie
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The past three seasons have been brutal for Nicholls State: The Colonels have combined to win only six contests in that span. The 2013 campaign was a step in the right direction after they finished 4-8, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Last season, then-sophomore quarterback Tuskani Figaro was the team’s leading passer and rusher, totaling 2,238 yards and 15 touchdowns. Now as a junior, he will look to continue to slowly improve Nicholls State’s record.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @GeauxColonels (Nicholls State sports)
COACH: Jay Thomas
PLAYERS: QB Zach Adkins and CB Imoan Claiborne
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Northwestern State finished 6-6 last season, including three wins in four contests against Southland opponents to close the year. As a junior, Demons quarterback Zach Adkins was the star in Natchitoches, completing 244 of 378 passes for 2,712 yards and 21 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He also ran for 224 yards and three scores. In his senior year, look for Adkins to connect regularly with junior Ed Eagan, who caught 44 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @NSUDemons (Northwestern State sports)
Sam Houston State
COACH: K.C. Keeler
PLAYERS: RB Keshawn Hill and DB Michael Wade
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Sam Houston State completed a stellar regular season with an 8-4 record before advancing to the FCS playoffs, where it lost to Southeastern 30-29. That said, SHSU is in a similar situation to McNeese: It also lost its star starting quarterback and running back. Brian Bell (2,490 passing yards, plus 614 rushing for 41 total touchdowns) and Timothy Flanders (1,430 yards on the ground and 14 scores) were everything for the offense last season, but both ran out of eligibility (and Flanders is now with the Saints). The Bearkats will have to find production elsewhere — possibly in 5-foot-10 senior running back Hill, who rushed for 536 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @BearkatSports (Sam Houston State sports)
COACH: Ron Roberts
PLAYERS: QB Bryan Bennett and LB Isiah Corbett
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This could be the year for Southeastern following its 11-3 finish last season. Bennett enters his final campaign with the Lions after tearing opposing defenses apart in 2013, throwing for 3,165 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for a team-leading 1,046 yards and 16 scores. Junior receiver Jeff Smiley returns after making 57 receptions for 744 yards and six touchdowns, and the majority of the Lions receiving corps is upperclassmen. SLU should return as a force in the Southland, barring any health issues for Bennett.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @SLUAthletics (Southeastern Louisiana sports)
Stephen F. Austin
COACH: Clint Conque
PLAYERS: OL Byron Williams and S Trey Vallier
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: It wasn’t a fantastic year for the Lumberjacks in 2013 after they finished 3-9 overall and 1-6 in Southland play. With the departure of former starting quarterback Brady Attaway, 2014 will be even more of an uphill battle. Senior running back Gus Johnson returns to the club after rushing for 1,061 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and he’ll have to put the offense on his back if the squad wants to have any success this fall.
FOLLOW ALONG ON TWITTER: @SFA_Athletics (Stephen F. Austin sports)