(Rick Hickman/American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 11:15 AMIt was 45 years ago this week that man first landed on the moon. And, if we were still there, it would be possible to see the flashy conference championship rings worn by Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts and players Isiah Corbett and Bryan Bennett at Southland Conference media day in Lake Charles.
The Lions were picked to add to that bling in both Southland Conference preseason polls released on Wednesday, receiving nine of 11 first-place votes in the coaches’ poll and 10 of 11 in the sports information directors’ poll.
“To not win 10 games this year would be hard for me to handle,” said a totally frank Roberts.
McNeese State hopes to have something to say about that forecast.
The Cowboys were the only other team to receive first-place votes in either poll and were picked to finish second by a wide margin.
Like everyone else in the vicinity, McNeese senior defensive end Everett Ellefsen got a good look at the jewelry worn by the Lions. And he’s making sure his teammates who weren’t in attendance will have the same opportunity.
“I’ve seen the rings. I have the pictures on my phone,” Ellefsen said. “I’ll have them printed out and ready to go for camp all over everybody’s lockers. Hammond is close to my hometown (Mandeville) and I’ve got a lot of friends that go there, so that’s been on my mind a long time.
“The way everything’s picked it’s supposed look close to the same this year. As long as we take care of our business, I think there’s nothing that can stop us but ourselves.”
The teams will settle matters on the field rather than the dais on Nov. 15, by which time the rest of the league’s members are hoping to throw some wrenches into the presumptive title bout.
A pair of perennial playoff contenders with new coaches — Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas — were picked next in the pecking order, and Northwestern State is a possible dark horse, selected to finish fifth.
Former Delaware coach K.C. Keeler took over for Willie Fritz at SHSU, while Steve Campbell was hired at UCA when Clint Conque left for conference rival Stephen F. Austin.
“The Southland Conference is so tough, top to bottom,” said Demons coach Jay Thomas. “You’ve got great players and coaches. Week in and week out, it’s a struggle.”
In terms of Football Championship Subdivision playoff qualifiers, the conference is coming off its most successful season since 2001 after sending three teams to the postseason last year.
But one final goal remains elusive for Southland programs: winning the whole thing. Five Southland teams have reached the title game since Louisiana-Monroe won it all in 1987 (when it was known as Division I-AA), but none have taken home the hardware.
SLU is making little secret that it aspires to be the team that brings that streak to an end. But not without delving into some respectful clichés.
“Our goals are to win conference and win the national championship,” said Corbett, SLU’s all-conference linebacker. “But our first goal is to win the first game, and take it game by game.”
McNeese has it own much-ballyhooed postseason drought that it intends to snap this year. The Cowboys have lost six consecutive playoff games dating to its loss to Western Kentucky in the 2002 national championship game.
Cowboys head coach Matt Viator is prepared to try fording that river once again this November, but for now the focus is on reaching that point.
“In terms of the playoffs, we haven’t had a lot of success,” Viator said. “But hopefully we have the opportunity to get back there again. That would be great. We’ll try to figure something out better. But one step at a time. This league is very tough, and it is hard to get there.”