Down the stretch they come.
For Southland Conference teams, really, for all Football Championship Subdivision teams, it’s down to the last two weeks of the regular season. For most teams, that means the final two conference games.
They’re in the Last Chance Saloon. Last chance to wrap up a conference championship, or the last chance to make a statement win to add to the résumé as they pursue an at-large playoff berth.
McNeese State is among the teams that might have a chance to make the playoffs, through its own good play the last month as well as the craziness in the SLC.
When the Cowboys sat at 1-3 in conference play, conventional wisdom said that one more loss would just about eliminate them from playoff contention. Since then they have won three consecutive games, albeit against three of the bottom teams in the SLC. But three wins is three wins no matter who you play or how you win.
I honestly figured that the best chance for McNeese to earn an at-large bid would be for one team to easily run away with the conference title and automatic berth. Then the Cowboys could hope for chaos behind that to steal an at-large bid.
Well, chaos happened all right. So much so that McNeese is one game behind first place. The catch is, first place is shared by four teams. When you think of the phrase, “so close, but yet so far,” this is what you think of.
Going into the penultimate week of the FCS regular season, who besides McNeese should McNeese fans be rooting for? I did some digging and learned the best-case scenario, as well as the most realistic scenarios to get the Cowboys into the playoffs.
Follow along as I go from the most to least realistic scenarios.
l Win out: Obviously, McNeese’s playoff hopes go the way of bell-bottom jeans if the Cowboys lose to either Nicholls State or Lamar. Both games are on the road. Nicholls is not only tough but also fighting for a playoff spot. Lamar is a rival, although the Cardinals have been blitzed by injuries, especially at the quarterback position. The Cardinals haven’t played well as of late, but you just know that they’d love to spoil McNeese’s season finale and keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs. Kind of like they did last season.
So yeah, McNeese needs to win the last two and finish the season on a five-game winning streak. No problem right?
l Need help from Nicholls: Assume McNeese beats Nicholls, McNeese needs to hope that the Colonels don’t get too down about the loss. That’s because McNeese would greatly benefit from Nicholls ending the season with a victory over Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions beat Central Arkansas 34-0 last week in Conway, one of the most impressive victories of the season for any SLC team. SLU travels to play Abilene Christian, which is inconsistent, but can certainly play well enough to beat the Lions.
If SLU loses one more game and McNeese wins out, the Cowboys would own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Two Lions losses to end the season gets them out of playoff contention.
Either way, hope for help.
l Root for UCA to lose out: The Bears own the head-to-head advantage over McNeese, so having them lose once won’t help unless there’s a crazy pileup for a three, four or five-way tie at the top of the conference. UCA finishes the season with Stephen F. Austin and Incarnate Word. While the Bears should beat SFA, the Lumberjacks did just upset UIW last weekend. And UIW has disappointed this season, loser of three in a row. But those Cardinals have enough firepower to make something happen on any given Saturday.
Again, UCA losing out eliminates it from postseason consideration.
l PRAY for two miracle upsets: Sam Houston State plays Northwestern State and Houston Baptist in its final two games. NSU has played better as of late and beat Lamar last week. The Demons could give SHSU problems, but I don’t see the Bearkats losing that game. And I absolutely don’t see them losing to HBU, which has reverted to normal HBU after having won four in a row at one point.
l ONE MORE: There is a scenario that could have a four-way tie for first place atop the SLC standings at the end of the regular season. If that happens, there’s even more number crunching that has to take place. I’m already running short on space, so I can’t share all those wonderful scenarios with you right now. But if that happens, it will be a doozy.
No matter what though, McNeese needs a win starting Saturday. So root for that above all else.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com