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Well, everybody, we've reached the dog days of summer.

Football season is close, but it feels so far away.

McNeese State fans are anxious to get back into The Hole to see the Cowboys chase another Southland Conference title.

I will say that, for the people who use the summer to get a fair amount of time off (of which I am one of them), don't be in a huge rush for football season to get here. Because once it's here, it's very much here. Enjoy this time with family or relaxing by yourself. Everybody will be plenty busy once the season starts.

With that being said, I do want to whet the appetite of the fans looking forward to games by ranking the Cowboy's schedule from 1-12 in order of games I'm most looking forward to down to the least.

There are multiple criteria for these rankings: quality and tradition of the opponent, ability to sell out the game, the venue — if it's a road game — and other miscellaneous story lines.

Let's get to it.

1. Southern University, Aug. 31 — There are so many reasons why this game is the one I'm most excited about. An in-state opponent traveling 2 hours west on Interstate 10 with a massive fan base. I expect that this game will not only sell out, but easily sell out. Whether it's because of the McNeese or Southern fans remains to be seen. But SU fans don't have a hard time filling the 74,000-seat Superdome, so reaching their allotment of tickets in the 17,000-seat Cowboy Stadium should be a breeze.

On the field, the Jaguars should provide for quality opposition and a stiff test in Cowboys head coach Sterlin Gilbert's debut game. The Jags lost in the SWAC Championship game and bring back a lot of talent. On top of that, former McNeese player and assistant coach Wayne Cordova is on the SU staff.

It's the McNeese home opener and it will be a unique experience for everyone who goes. It'll be a 6 p.m. start, although I think it should kickoff way earlier to avoid competing with the 6:30 p.m. LSU-Georgia Southern game. But that's for another column.

2. At Oklahoma State, Sept. 7 — This should be McNeese's toughest game of the season. On the road at a quality Football Bowl Subdivision opponent playing its home opener with a 6 p.m. start. The orange-and-black Cowboys fans will be hyped and ready to go.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing the OSU campus and the athletic facilities. Going to Boone Pickens Stadium will knock another major stadium off of my bucket list (which includes Notre Dame Stadium, Kyle Field and Doak Campbell Stadium).

Cowboys vs. Cowboys. "Go Pokes" versus "Geaux Pokes." It should be fun.

3. Southeastern Louisiana, Oct. 5 — This 4 p.m. game wasn't initially going to be this high on the list. But then the Lions hired former McNeese head coach Lance Guidry as its defensive coordinator. And after that, they went and hired legendary Cowboys player and assistant coach Kerry Joseph to its coaching staff.

So Guidry and Joseph come back to their old stomping grounds for a conference game that both teams will need to win. Knowing Guidry's personality, he will want everything from this game, even if he gives the cliché coach-speak leading up to it.

4. At Lamar, Nov. 23 — This is a tough one, because no one knows just how important this game will be as the regular season-finale.

Last season it basically determined the third playoff berth for the SLC. It's a rivalry game, so I believe it will be competitive regardless of either team's record. With a 3 p.m. start, it might be chilly, but not as cold as starting at night.

But, if it is a meaningful game in the standings, watch out.

5. Sam Houston State, Sept. 28 — The Bearkats were down last season, but I think they will bounce back and be one of the better teams in the SLC. They are still a big brand in the conference and the Football Championship Subdivision.

It will also be McNeese's first conference home game (6 p.m.). I think this will be the next-biggest home crowd of the season behind Southern.

6. At Abilene Christian, Sept. 21 — The Cowboys open conference play with a 500-mile trip. ACU was tough last season in Lake Charles and I imagine that they will be even tougher at home.

I've never been west of San Antonio in the state of Texas, so going to Abilene for a couple of days will be an interesting experience.

7. Alcorn State, Sept. 14 — Right off, I think this game needs to be a 2 p.m. kickoff, no later than 3 p.m. LSU plays Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m. and I truly believe that not competing against them for eyeballs will benefit the Cowboys as far as butts in seats.

As it is, kickoff is scheduled to 6 p.m.

I don't think ASU will travel like Southern, but it could bring a decent crowd.

The Braves return the 2018 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Noah Johnson, among other weapons. Alcorn won the SWAC last season and it brings back a lot of that talent. While not the toughest opponent, the Braves are probably in the top three toughest games.

8. At Stephen F. Austin, Oct. 26 — The Lumberjacks, like McNeese, have a new head coach in Colby Carthel. There is hype around SFA, but it will have to prove it on the field just like McNeese will before I get overly excited. Going on the road should make for a fun experience.

9. At Nicholls State, Nov. 16 — Coming off a bye week, the Cowboys travel to Thibodaux to face a Nicholls team that many are predicting to win the SLC.

If that's the case, the Colonels could be looking to clinch or get closer to clinching the conference against McNeese in the penultimate week of the season. Will the Cowboys be trying to play spoiler or trying to leap the Colonels for first-place? We will see.

10. At Central Arkansas, Oct. 12 — Another one of the longer road trips at roughly 400 miles. UCA's Conway campus is beautiful, but I've been there before so that takes some shine from it.

The Bears were average last season but gave McNeese a good game. The 6 p.m. kickoff means I'll get to check out Little Rock at night before I travel back to Lake Charles the next day.

11. Northwestern State, Nov. 2 — The Demons were more than pleased to beat McNeese last season and break a 14-year losing streak.

It's late in the season so it could be an important game for either team, or possibly both. If it's not, though, I fear a substandard crowd. I also hope it's not as cold as last season's game in Natchitoches was.

Oh yeah, LSU has a bye this week, so knock yourself out with a 4 p.m. kickoff for senior day.

12. Houston Baptist, Oct. 19 — It's McNeese's homecoming. That's about all I got.

This should — let me stress the should — be McNeese's easiest game based on projections. But the Huskies gave the Cowboys a lot to handle last season, so projections won't mean much.

But, just being honest, HBU doesn't move the meter much for me.


David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at dberry@americanpress.com

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