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FCS College Football: 5 Key Players, Games, Questions in Southland Conference

FCS College Football: 5 Key Players, Games, Questions in Southland Conference

FCS College Football: 5 Key Players, Games, Questions in Southland Conference

The Missouri Valley, Big Sky, and CAA are the big three conferences in the FCS, but the Southland Conference has separated itself as next in line with its depth of quality teams.

Think of it this way: Sam Houston State had the second-most wins in the FCS (99) during the 2010s and didn't even make out of the Southland into the FCS playoffs each of the past two seasons.

The 2020 campaign looks to be one of the strongest with Central Arkansas, Nicholls, and Southeastern Louisiana seeking return trips to the postseason. With a nine-game conference schedule, it’s a matter of survival.

As teams move toward the 2020 season, here are five key players, games and questions in the Southland:

5 Key Players

1. Breylin Smith, QB, Central Arkansas: Smith's top three wide receivers are back after he passed for a UCA single-season record 3,704 yards.

2. Julien Gums, RB, Nicholls: Gums got better as his sophomore season progressed and finished with 1,232 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground — both school records.

3. Bailey Zappe, QB, Houston Baptist: In the Huskies' best Division I season, Zappe led the Southland in passing yards (3,811) and touchdown passes (35).

4. Ferlando Jordan, CB, Southeastern Louisiana: Jordan's 255 interception return yards last season were the third-most in the FCS in the last 17 years.

5. Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston State: The fourth-year starter has NFL size (6-4, 190) and skill set (nine interceptions).

5 Key Games

1. Nicholls at Central Arkansas (Sept. 26): Last year's Southland co-champs will chart the direction of the conference race.

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2. Southeastern Louisiana at Nicholls (Nov. 19): The 2019 River Bell Classic — a 28-27 Nicholls win — was the Southland game of the year.

3. Central Arkansas at Sam Houston State (Nov. 7): The Bearkats' stout defense will have two weeks to prepare for the Central Arkansas passing attack.

4. McNeese at Sam Houston State (Oct. 24): Not eligible for the postseason, the Cowboys can still play spoiler, and in what better game than against the rival Bearkats?

5. Nicholls at Houston Baptist (Oct. 24): Bailey Zappe will try to literally throw a surprise into the conference title race.

5 Key Questions

1. #SouthlandStrong? Is the conference strong enough to gain four playoff teams for the first time?

2. How will the loss of one of the better senior classes in program history affect two-time defending champ Nicholls?

3. Will a full season out of quarterback Eric Schmid spur Sam Houston State back to the postseason?

4. Can Lamar and UIW reverse losing records last season after making their first playoff appearances in 2018?

5. Will Central Arkansas handle the lofty preseason expectations?

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State Athletics)