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SLC welcomes newbies

Last Modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014 12:02 PM

By Albert Burford / American Press

The fresh football season means new teams for the Southland Conference.

As the college landscape continues to shift and teams shuffle from conference to conference, the SLC has picked up three newcomers in Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word.

ACU is making a return to the conference after leaving in 1972. The Wildcats are expected to be the strongest newcomer. They were picked in preseason polls by league coaches and sports information directors to finish eighth in the league, in front of the two other new teams and Nicholls State. ACU won championships in the Division II Lone Star Conference in 2008 and 2010, but won’t be eligible to play for an SLC championship or playoff bid this season as it completes the transition to Division I.

“It’s obviously a little bit disappointing,” said Wildcats tight end Jonathan Parker. “You come into a program that’s well established at the Division II level and you’re winning the conference and going to the playoffs and you’re expecting that same thing all four or five years that you’re here. We’ve come to this transition and we can’t do that. Obviously as a player, and competitor, it’s disappointing.”

Parker said he won’t let the fact that ACU can’t make the playoffs change the way the team plays during the season. Teammate Nick Richardson went a little further.

“The playoffs don’t matter. We want to win,” Richardson said. “Any player that signs up to play football wants to win. As long as you can come out winning, other teams will see what you’re doing.”

HBU enters the SLC in its first full season of football. Last year the Huskies started their program and played a seven-game exhibition schedule that featured Football Championship Subdivision, Division II and NAIA opponents.

Huskies head coach Vic Shealy knows what his team is up against.

“I believe the SLC conference is the best FCS conference in the country,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a part of a conference that is respected and there’s a responsibility with having that brand attached to you. Certainly, we understand it’s a tall order just to compete.”

The SLC coaches and sports information directors agreed with that sentiment, picking HBU to finish last in the league.

HBU tight end Kenneth Bibbins, a transfer from Houston, said it’s humbling to see the reality of everyone else’s expectations. Linebacker Garrett Dolan said he plans to use the polls as motivation.

“It really just instills a fire inside you and you just want to get out there and grind with your guys every day and prove everybody wrong — that you don’t belong at the bottom, you belong at the top,” he said.

Shealy said he will be “very disappointed” if HBU doesn’t find a way to win a conference game this season.

IW moved to Division I as an FCS independent last season after five seasons in Division II. As soon as the Cardinals moved up, they began to prepare for the jump to the SLC with a 2013 schedule that included Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas and Southeastern Louisiana as well as ACU and HBU.

The Cardinals’ 2014 slate is even more challenging, as they’ll face four FCS playoff teams from 2013, including three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State.

“It’s an honor to be able to play in this division,” said quarterback Trent Brittain. “The competition level is going to make us better. We expect to be good, but we know the SLC is a great conference. So we’re just excited to see where we go with it.”

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