It really does seem like yesterday that I was stuck in traffic in Houston on the way to cover Southland Conference Football Media Day.
But that was all the way back in July, and we're now a little more than a month from the year 2020.
The 2019 McNeese State football season has come and gone, and I think Cowboys head coach Sterlin Gilbert should consider it a success, not that he cares what I think. But a 7-5 record with a win over playoff-bound Southeastern Louisiana as well as wins over Alcorn State and Southern University — at least half of the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game — was definitely a good debut season for Gilbert, despite not making the playoffs.
Before the season, I looked at the schedule and figured McNeese would win five or six games. They won, seven, which means they slightly exceeded my expectations. The one game I got most wrong was the Alcorn game. Even though the Cowboys were at home, I thought the Braves would just have too much for them. Truth be told, if that game went on 5 more minutes, Alcorn may have had too much for them. McNeese held on for dear life to end that game, but it got the win.
I thought McNeese would beat Southern and lose to Oklahoma State, which happened. Once conference play started, I figured the Cowboys would struggle at the start, then get to the soft portion of the schedule and finish the season strong. So the Cowboys kind of did what I thought, except I believed they'd beat Abilene Christian and lose to SLU.
Looking at the 7-5 record, I think it fits the 2019 McNeese Cowboys. A slightly above-average team with some good wins, but no terrible losses. They beat most of the teams they were better than and lost most of the games to teams that were better than them, in conference play. The two nonconference wins were good, but I think I overrated both teams going into the season.
As a way to wrap up the season, I'm going to look at some of the most memorable moments and dish out superlatives — good and bad.
And away we go.
GAME OF THE YEAR: This came down to two choices for me, but I had to go with McNeese's dramatic 38-34 win over Southeastern Louisiana. Gilbert's McNeese squad faced SLU defensive coordinator and former Cowboys head coach Lance Guidry. The Cowboys jumped out to a 24-3 lead and looked like they'd cruise to an easy win. But the Lions scored 24 straight points to take an early fourth-quarter lead. The teams traded leads four times in the quarter, and a 33-yard touchdown pass from Cody Orgeron to Trevor Begue was the winner with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
It had to be satisfying for Gilbert to win that particular game given the story lines leading up to it. On top of that, it was a thriller. HONORABLE MENTION: McNeese beating Southern 34-28 in front of a record crowd.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Another tough category with a few good candidates, but I went with senior defensive end Chris Livings. The Barbe High graduate led the team in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (12). He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 52. Livings was named the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and he finished 1.5 sacks shy of owning the McNeese all-time record. He leaves McNeese as one of nine players in SLC history to record 30 or more career sacks. Livings' best game this season was a six-tackle, three-sack effort against Northwestern State in which he also forced a fumble.
He was always a great sound bite with the media, and he could have a future in media if he wanted it. But he earned this superlative from me because of his play on the field. HONORABLE MENTION: WR Cyron Sutton, WR Trevor Begue, DB Cory McCoy, DB Darion Dunn, OL Grant Burguillos.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Quarterback Cody Orgeron took his lumps in 2018 as a part-time starter and even at the start of the 2019 season as the full-time guy. But his numbers for the season (2,628 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions) indicate someone who took a major step forward. For good measure, he added 482 yards and three touchdowns rushing. If he can make another step like that for next season, he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the SLC. HONORABLE MENTION: DB Andre Sam, LB Andrew Hyacinth.
BEST NEWCOMER: McNeese needed linebackers bad after losing its top three from the 2018 season. Junior college transfer Kody Fulp came in and did a good job, finishing second on the team in tackles (83) and sixth in tackles for loss with five. He's got two more seasons at McNeese, which is a good thing for the defense. HONORABLE MENTION: LB Justin Jackson, LB Carlos Scott, RB Elijah Mack
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: If I'm going relative to preseason expectations, it has to be wide receiver Davion Curtis. I don't know why he didn't put up numbers, and I'm not blaming him or the coaching staff. But after great spring and fall practices, Curtis managed 16 receptions for 141 yards and one touchdown. Only 8.8 yards per catch. There were times I forgot he was on the team and wondered if he was.
The good news is, he has one more season to get right. With the way the season went, I'd imagine he's eager to do so.
Now that the 2019 season has a bow on it, my next column will look ahead to what 2020 holds for the Cowboys.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org