LAKE CHARLES — Finishing with a 10-3 record is a difficult task to replicate in consecutive years, and it will only be more difficult for McNeese State coach Matt Viator now that his primary weapon is gone.

Cody Stroud, McNeese’s former quarterback, lit up opposing defenses last season when he threw for 2,935 yards and 28 touchdowns — averaging 225.8 yards per game.

Viator said he’d certainly miss his gunslinger when preseason camp rolls around.

“Cody actually started a couple of his games his freshman year, and he started three years, and that’s hard to replace,” Viator said. “I don’t care who you get.”

To ease the pain of losing his senior passer, the Cowboys added former Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams, who threw for 452 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 807 yards and 11 scores last season.

Sams had surgery on his hand following spring practice at Kansas State, and he was finally cleared to throw Monday.

“I think he’s going to bring a little experience to us, and if you look at last year, he started in some big-time venues,” Viator said. “I think competition is a great thing, and I look forward to Daniel coming in and competing with our other guys.”

Tough return

In his first season back in the Southland Conference, leading Northwestern State last year after a six-year stint at Nicholls State from 2004-09, Jay Thomas was quickly reminded how tough the league can be.

All Thomas has to do is take one peek at the Demons’ 2013 results to see how rough their rollercoaster season was.

After winning three of their first five games, the Demons lost two straight. They then defeated Langston 37-0, but dropped their next three — all in the SLC.

“The Southland Conference is so tough from top to bottom,” Thomas said. “You’ve got really good football players and great coaches, so week in and week out, it’s a struggle.”

The Demons won three of their final four contests, gathering momentum for this season.

“These guys had made their mind up that they wanted to finish strong,” said Thomas, a Baker native. “The team made a commitment that it wanted to finish strong in November, and we were fortunate enough that the ball bounced our way down the stretch.”

Replay coming to SLC

The Southland Conference will become the first FCS conference to initiate full NCAA replay at all games this season regardless of television coverage.

The conference announced the transition last week, when it officially partnered with DVSport’s HD Replay system.

In previous seasons, the Southland had full replay during its conference playoffs — but after meeting with the coaches and athletic directors, the conference felt the need to make it a full-time system.

SLC Commissioner Tom Burnett said it will take a heavy commitment to ensure the system runs smoothly.

During games, replay operations will happen in a press box booth in each stadium with a replay official, a communicator, a technician and a sideline assistant.

“We’re very proud to be the first one to do it,” Burnett said. “That being said, there is a financial commitment from the conference to pay for this. There is some burden on the schools as well, but that will be toward the regular-season operations.”

Not thinking about ‘Death Valley’

New Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler made it very clear Wednesday: he doesn’t want his players even thinking about LSU.

The Bearkats will travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU on Sept. 6, easily Sam Houston’s toughest game this season.

“We haven’t even really talked about it,” Keeler said. “Now have I gotten text messages saying, ‘Hey, make sure you leave a seat for me.’ Absolutely, but those are things I need to deal with. But I really try to keep the kids away from talking about playing that game.”

Say thanks to Tom

Third-year Incarnate Word coach Larry Kennan, a member of the Saints’ coaching staff in 1995, talked about what Saints owner Tom Benson means to the San Antonio school and its football program in particular.

The 6,000-seat on-campus football stadium that opened in 2008 is named the Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.

“He’s everything to our football program because without him, we wouldn’t have a football program,” Kennan said. “Mr. Benson donated a ton of money and a lot of time, and we put his name on the stadium. We’re indebted to him because without him, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the same.”

Advocate sportswriter Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.