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McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud passing over Sam Houston State defender during a game during the 2011 season. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud passing over Sam Houston State defender during a game during the 2011 season. (American Press Archives)

Battle-tested Cowboys set to host second-ranked Bearkats

Last Modified: Monday, October 14, 2013 5:16 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

That certainly didn’t take long.

After going a decade between games with both teams ranked in the top 10, McNeese State will have the chance to do it for the second time in three games when the No. 9 Cowboys (5-1, 1-0 SLC) host second-ranked Sam Houston State (5-1, 1-0) on Saturday.

The Bearkats will be the highest-ranked team to visit Cowboy Stadium since No. 1 Georgia Southern in 2003.

“It’s not very often two top-10 teams get to the opportunity to play,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “And I don’t want to act like I’m bragging, but it’s not very often that we're home underdogs. Especially in a situation where we have a good team this year. But we will certainly be the underdogs this week, and that sounds like fun too.”

The Cowboys are obviously hoping for a better outcome than their previous top-10 duel this year, a 41-6 loss at the hands of then-No. 5 Northern Iowa.

Viator thinks that game, along with the following week’s win at then-No. 15 Central Arkansas, have left the Cowboys properly tested for what they will face on Saturday.

“The schedule has put us in a good situation from a competitive nature,” Viator said. “The other good thing is we’ve played such a tough schedule and the injury situation has been minimized for us. At this time of year the past couple years we’ve been down a bunch of troops.”

The exception to that rule is wide receiver Wes Briscoe, who underwent season-ending knee surgery and is expected to get the year back as a medical redshirt next season.

“Although it hurts not to have a guy like Wes who has started the last three years, we’re excited about the health moving forward,” Viator said.

The Cowboys may be battle-tested this season, but it does not guarantee a positive result on Saturday.

Since the start of the 2011 season, Sam Houston’s only regular-season FCS loss was at UCA last year. The Bearkats’ other five losses have been against North Dakota State in the national championship game (twice), Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M (twice) and a Baylor team that beat then-FBS No. 2 Kansas State.  

“I’ve been impressed the past several years by the consistency with their players,” Viator said. “(Brian) Bell, (Tim) Flanders, (Richard) Sincere — those guys come to play every week and play at a high level. And the other thing that’s been impressive is how healthy they’ve been. It’s a big challenge for us. Obviously there’s a lot riding on the game.”

The stakes will certainly be higher than any McNeese regular-season home game in the last decade, if not longer.

In addition to positioning itself well for a potential first-round playoff bye, the winner will have a leg up in what promises to be a bruising Southland Conference race.

Even once-lowly Lamar showed it won’t be a pushover this year after holding the Bearkats to a season-low in points last week. Sam Houston had to grind out a 14-3 win, marking the first time it has been held below 20 points by a team other than North Dakota State in coach Willie Fritz’s four-year tenure.

“There’s a lot riding on the game. It’s big in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Viator said. “However, there’s five more conference games, and we understand that. But it’s a great opportunity for us to come out and compete and embrace a great challenge.”

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