Gazzolo Column: No easy pickings on homecoming

By By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Usually during the week of homecoming, there are old war stories told, friendly reunions joined, more than a few lies spread

and of course one or two love affairs rekindled.

McNeese State’s football team is hoping for all those this week as they welcome home graduates and welcome back a few fans

they might have lost the last couple of years.

More importantly, the Cowboys are also hoping to have a reunion of their own, one with the Southland championship trophy.

It might only be two games into the conference season, but McNeese has positioned itself perfectly for a run at regaining

the league’s penthouse when it comes to football.

But in order to do so, the Cowboys will have to play their best game of the season.

McNeese didn’t bring a pushover to town to celebrate. Nichols State isn’t walking throughout the tunnel at Cowboy Stadium

Saturday night.

Instead, that will be Sam Houston State, the Southland’s two-time defending champion and twice national title runner-up that

will be on the other side of Louis Bonnette Field.

That’s the same Sam Houston State ranked second in the nation and the heavy favorite to win this year’s league crown — they’re

also expected to make another long run in the Football Championship Series playoff, as well.

One could argue that this is the biggest game for McNeese since the playoff loss to New Hampshire in 2009.

You could even make a case for this being the biggest game in the Matt Viator era.

The Cowboys entered this season talking about turning things around, about becoming once again one of the country’s elite

FCS programs.

They have slipped over the past few years, losing ground to teams like Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas and even Steven

F. Austin to some extent.

Slipping back into the middle of the Southland pack has left the Cowboys and their faithful with a bad taste in their mouths,

and some of that has spilled out into harsh words about just where the programs is and where it is headed.

It’s hard to say how hot Viator’s seat really was, but another season without the playoffs would surely have made it hotter.

But the coaching staff has warned all to stay patient, that this would not be a one-year fix.

Well, a win against Sam Houston would fix a lot.

It would all but guarantee a return to the playoffs for the Cowboys, and give them a leg up on hosting a home game even.

That’s a long way from last year, when this team was playing down the stretch to get off the postseason bubble. They couldn’t

do it, either.

However, beating the Bearkats would

mean the future was now for McNeese. They would be playing for a lot

down the stretch.

Even one loss would likely mean they won a share of the league

title and probably go into the postseason as the conference’s

No. 1 seed.

The Cowboys may be ahead of schedule. The coaches might be right, the future is bright.

But on Saturday night the present will be at hand and a championship is there to be won.

It may take a lot of work, but it’s better than playing for nothing.

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