Battle-tested Cowboys set to host second-ranked Bearkats

By 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.”