Jim Gazzolo column: SLC needs McNeese to rise

Published 8:58 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

In just a few days, McNeese State will open one of its most important football camps in program history.

On paper, the Cowboys have the look of a much-improved team, picking up 20 transfers from the Football Bowl Subdivision level and several others as they look to bounce back from their toughest season, a 1-10 record with the lone win coming via forfeit.

It is important to McNeese that its football program regain some of its luster for both the athletic department and the university.

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A winning football team has been the norm at McNeese, so the past few years have been tough on the fan base.

However, the school is not the only institution in need of a Cowboy comeback. The Southland Conference could use it as well.

The fall of the league has gone hand-in-hand with the Cowboys’ slide, and that is no coincidence. Every strong conference needs a true flag barrier. The Southland is no different.

Since McNeese’s troubles, and the exit of the five teams in 2021, the SLC has been struggling to regain the attention it once received in the Football Championship Subdivision world.

Last year the Southland received one bid to the FCS playoffs. That went to co-champ Nicholls State, which did not win a game outside the conference. Left at home was Incarnate Word, which was ranked in the top 10 most of the season, won a share of the league title and scored a win outside the SLC.

However, UIW lost to Nicholls, which cost the Cardinals the automatic bid a year after they reached the national semifinals. That’s a tough pill for the league to swallow and shows just how far it has fallen.

It wasn’t long ago that the Southland Conference had three teams make the playoffs and almost always received at least two bids. Now there are no guarantees.

That’s why the league needs a strong McNeese, to top the ticket if you like. Incarnate Word would benefit from that as well as the rest of the conference.

This can also be said for Stephen F. Austin, which returns to the SLC after a three-year sabbatical in the Western Athletic Conference. SFA has a pretty solid football history and recently has fallen on tough times.

A strong SFA to rival a once-again strong McNeese would be a huge deal for the Southland Conference, which in recent years seems to be gaining momentum as a basketball league.

The conference could also benefit from others to bounce back, like Southeastern Louisiana which is coming off a subpar year. It would also really be good for the SLC if Lamar, which seems to be on the rise, could take that next step on the national level.

Lamar has strong national name recognition from past basketball successes and like McNeese seems to be a school that could bust out and become a larger force.

SLC Commissioner Chris Grant has said as much in the past, saying it was time for his league to “win” some of their marquee games on the national FCS level instead of just being happy to compete in those games.

An improved McNeese State is needed to help make that happen.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com