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Mercurial Demons difficult to forecast in SLC race

Last Modified: Monday, August 11, 2014 10:51 AM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Perhaps no team in the Southland Conference is more difficult to forecast in 2014 than Northwestern State.

If the right pieces fall into place, it’s not unfathomable to see the Demons rising all the way to the league’s top three under second-year coach Jay Thomas. It’s just as easy to picture Northwestern replicating last year’s .500 finish, or possibly taking a tiny step back with three new starters on the offensive line.

A schedule that sends the Demons on the road for four straight weeks following the season opener helps add to that ambiguity. After playing two Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Northwestern gets tossed into the deep end of conference play by opening at Southeastern Louisiana.

Despite that rough start, one could also argue Northwestern has the best shot for the Southland to score its seemingly annual win over an FBS opponent when it visits a likely-to-be-winless Louisiana Tech team in Week 4.

Thomas thinks last year’s solid finish — Northwestern won three of four down the stretch, with a blowout loss to McNeese the only setback — can propel a decent start despite the road-heavy beginning.

“Last year at home we played really, really well. Our guys are going to understand that were going to have to be ‘Road Warriors’ this season for the stretch at the beginning of the season,” Thomas said. “They will be up for the challenge, and I always enjoy the road.”

The Demons should be fairly solid against the pass, with preseason all-conference first teamers Fred Thomas and Imoan Claiborne shoring up the secondary at cornerback. Defensive lineman Deon Simon is also on the first team, while JeMarcus Marshall made the second team.

Whether more inexperienced players at linebacker and safety can meet their level of play may determine how successful Northwestern’s season turns out.

If the three new starters on the offensive line fit in, the Demons should gel on that side of the ball. The other eight starters are returners and look to improve a unit that was last in the league in total offense despite averaging 390 yards per game.

HICKEY’S PICK: 6-6, 4-4 in Southland.

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