GoBearkats.com Sam Houston State, which finished its 2011 regular-season campaign with a perfect 11-0 record and a 7-0 mark in league play, has been tabbed as the favorite heading into the 2012 season as voted on by the league’s coaches, the conference Tuesday at its annual football media day at L’Auberge du Lac Resort.
Sam Houston received seven out of a possible eight first-place votes and 49 points total in the poll. Stephen F. Austin received the final first-place vote. Head coaches could not vote for their own team.
The Bearkats, who lost in the national championship game after winning their first 14 games, return 19 starters and 50 lettermen, including the reigning conference player of the year Tim Flanders, offensive player of the year Richard Sincere and defensive player of the year Darnell Taylor.
Eight starters return on the offensive side for the Bearkats, nine on the defensive side and two on special teams.
Stephen F. Austin, which finished third last season with a 5-2 conference record, is the coaches’ pick to finish second, receiving 39 points. The Lumberjacks return 52 players with on-the-field experience, including 19 returning starters. Leading the way for SFA is junior defensive lineman Willie Jefferson, who was selected as the league’s newcomer of the year last season.
The Bearkats and the Lumberjacks will meet Saturday, Oct. 6, in the annual “Battle of the Piney Woods” rivalry game at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Central Arkansas, coming off its first Division I postseason appearance after finishing second with a 6-1 record in league play, is picked third, garnering 38 points from the coaches. The Bears have to replace all-conference quarterback Nathan Dick, but return 15 starters and 45 letterwinners from last year’s team, including linebacker Seth Allison, who is one of the top tacklers in the Southland.
Sam Houston will open Southland Conference action in Conway against the Bears in a game to be televised on the Southland Conference TV Network.
McNeese State was tabbed fourth, which is where the Cowboys finished of the 2011 season with a 4-3 mark. McNeese received 34 points in the coaches’ poll. The Cowboys return 15 starters and 53 players with experience including three-time all-conference selection defensive back Michael Bronson, who led the team in tackles last year with 80 and was second on the team with three interceptions.
Northwestern State was selected fifth as the Demons received in 21 points. The Demons finished with a 3-4 mark in conference play but return 20 starters including two-time all-conference linebacker Derek Rose, who notched 45 solo and 61 total tackles last season.
Southeastern Louisiana, which is under the direction of new head coach Ron Roberts, was selected fifth by the coaches. The Lions return 20 starters to a team that only won one conference game last year and finished seventh.
The remaining spots include Lamar and Nicholls State, which were picked to finish seventh and eighth, respectively.