Sam Houston State has been favored to head the Southland Conference for a third consecutive conference title in 2013 based on the league’s coaches and sports information director polls.
The Bearkats are the reigning SLC champions and accumulated six of the possible eight first-place votes and 48 total points in each poll. Central Arkansas, who shares the 2012 SLC title, secured the second spot in both polls.
The Sports Network anticipates UCA to remain on the Bearkats’ heels with a head-to-head match to close the conference season in Conway, Ark. Last season, the Bears ousted SHSU 24-20 in the final four minutes of the second half; capitalizing off late interceptions.
“Central Arkansas’s win in the head-to-head matchup was the difference maker in the Bears earning [co-champions],” Sports Network said in their SLC preview.
Sports Network’s poll lists SHSU and UCA in the top two spots to claim the conference championship in 2013.
The Bearkats are favored to return to the FCS national championship for a third consecutive year after North Dakota State outlasted the Bearkats in consecutive NCAA FCS national championship appearances in 2011 and 2012.
NDSU holds the top spot in NCAA FCS rankings with 23 first place votes as SHSU sits in fourth place with one first place vote.
SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said this year’s motto is “the highest expectations,” to bring home a win from Frisco, Texas.
Fritz said there is not added pressure to produce a repeat performance of the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He added the 2013 signing class has developed durable roster depth on the offensive attack. A strong fight between freshmen quarterbacks Don King III and Jared Johnson for the back-up spot behind fourth year starter Brian Bell has produced a successful offseason from the quarterback position, Fritz said.
According to The Sports Network, SHSU’s returning offensive core will compensate for the loss of Daxton Swanson, Darnell and Darius Taylor at the defensive side of the ball. Returning senior running back Timothy Flanders, accompanied by sophomore wide receiver Chance Nelson and senior Richard Sincere, head the offensive attack. Flanders is starting his senior season 461 yards from becoming the all-time leading rusher in the Southland Conference.
To maintain a strong offensive core, deepening the depth on the offensive line has been a priority during the offseason, Fritz said.
“We need to develop three or four guys who can add depth,” Fritz said. “All the freshmen are competing for that role now.”
Sophomore left tackle Donald Jackson III is the sole returning starting front man for SHSU, and is accompanied by senior lineman Matt Boyles. Boyles has recorded 16 starts in his four years as a Bearkat.
Of the 18 freshmen in the 2013 signing class, five are listed as offensive linemen including 2012 High School State Champion Aaron Sowell from Katy High School.
The Bearkats will kick-off the 2013 season with a home opener against SLC freshman Houston Baptist University.
This season will mark the inaugural football season for the Huskies after announcing head coach Vic Shealy in April 2012 and signing its first recruiting class in August.
SHSU will square off against Texas A&M in College Station for the second consecutive season on Sept. 7
Tickets to each game are available online at http://www.gobearkats.com.