Last Modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 10:34 AM
The entire nation will catch a glimpse of Sam Houston State football when the Bearkats visit Eastern Washington on Aug. 23 for the ESPN FCS Kickoff — a made-for-TV event intended to give the masses their college football fix a week before the rest of Division I opens play.
Many throughout the country will be asking the same thing as those in the Southland Conference: Who are these guys?
The familiar crew that has led Sam Houston State to three consecutive playoff appearances and two Football Championship Subdivision title games, from the coach down to the most important players, are all departed from Huntsville.
The Bearkats lose five starters on offense, including quarterback Brian Bell, receiving standouts Richard Sincere and Torrance Williams, and running back Tim Flanders, the SLC’s all-time leading rusher. They lose eight starters on defense — three defensive backs, both linebackers and three linemen.
And then there’s the leadership of Willie Fritz, who left for newly minted Football Bowl Subdivision program Georgia Southern after turning the moribund Bearkats into a powerhouse.
Despite all that, new coach K.C. Keeler — formerly of Delaware, where he won the 2003 national title — is keeping expectations high. At his introductory news conference he made it clear his goal was to duplicate that feat at Sam Houston.
Unless Sam Houston transforms into Tennessee from the year after Peyton Manning’s graduation, a national title is not a realistic goal for this season’s squad. But the Bearkats still think they can compete with McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana for the conference title.
Sam Houston dodges the Lions on the schedule and gets the Cowboys at home after a bye week. The Bearkats have won 22 straight at Bowers Stadium and don’t figure to be tripped up by Alabama State or Colorado State-Pueblo before McNeese visits on Oct. 11.
“We’re here to win,” said Bearkats defensive back Michael Wade. “The coaching staff and the players are on the same page. We want to do more than just win a conference championship. We’re looking to do well in the playoffs as well.”
Getting there will be the tricky part.
HICKEY’S PICK: 7-5, 5-3 SLC.