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Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Gazzolo Column: A lot on the line for Cowboys this weekend

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 10:40 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Saturday night we will find out an awful lot about the state of the McNeese football program.

And we are not just talking about on the field.

That will be a much easier read. The scoreboard will tell us all we need to know about just where the Cowboys stand against the elite in not only their conference but also their division.

The No. 2 team in the Football Championship Subdivision comes to town, having finished national runner-up in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

San Houston State brings a swagger to Cowboy Stadium befitting the Southland Conference favorite.

All this and it is homecoming for McNeese.

That makes this the perfect weekend to find out just how far back the McNeese State program has climbed over the last year, and if it is ready to claim its former position as one of the nation’s elite.

For that, the Bearkats seem the perfect measuring stick.

But there is more to this game than will meet the eye when glancing at the final score.

We will also find out just where the program sits in the minds of the area’s fans.

There is no question that the program has taken a hit over the past couple of years. The Cowboys have slipped into the middle of the pack when it came to the SLC, and maybe into the back of the minds of those who used to follow it more closely.

They have also missed the playoffs the past few years and not really contended for a conference crown.

Those struggles on the field have led to waning interest.

Coupled with LSU’s extreme success the past decade or so, and more games on television every fall, the Cowboys seemed to have lost some of their local luster.

Some people were even talking that it might be time for a coaching change, forgetting that Matt Viator has never produced a losing season.

For them, he just hasn’t been winning enough.

They don’t want to hear about financial differences between schools in Louisiana and Texas, or about increased competition for recruits with Lamar again playing football and the success going on in Lafayette.

Fans just want results.

They have promised to return to the stands if they got them.

Well, the Cowboys are giving them the results they want this year so it will be interesting to see if they put their backsides where their mouths are and turn out to watch the game between two teams ranked in the top 10.

I heard that fans are ready to support the Cowboys once they started winning again. Now they get their chance.

With a conference championship likely riding on the outcome, this is possibly the biggest home game in the Viator era.

Interest has seemed to be up around the campus and town thanks to a good start. But the Cowboys haven’t played at home in a month and often out of site is out of mind, especially with LSU once again on a hot streak.

In the past many fans have tailgated outside Cowboy Stadium before the game only to remain there and watch LSU on their televisions as McNeese kicks off inside.

Maybe now, with so much at stake, those fans will find their way inside the stadium to once again see the Cowboys. If not, then they aren’t likely to return anytime soon.

Yes, this is a big game for the McNeese football program both on and off the field.

We should know by late Saturday a lot more about the direction of the program.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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