Bad ending, but some things to look forward to for Cowboys

There’s no way around it: McNeese football blew it to end the season.

As teams around the country sat with each other and watched the Football Championship Subdivision playoff selection show, the Cowboys didn’t even need to show up to worry about being one of the famed “first three out”.

It’s a massive disappointment for a team that had the Southland Conference title and a potential national seed and first round bye within their control. To go from that to seeing three SLC teams in the playoffs ahead of you is nothing less than a failure to end the season.

While the wounds of the season’s conclusion are still fresh, I want to take this chance and look forward to next season and why I think the future could be bright for the Cowboys. I’m going to go unit by unit, position group by position group. Obviously, I can’t account for players transferring in or out, just who’s currently on the roster that’s projected to come back next season.

Let’s start on offense, at the glamor position: quarterback. James Tabary is gone and, despite a rough senior year, a lot of production leaves with him. I wouldn’t automatically pencil Cody Orgeron in as the starter just because he got playing time this past season. He still has to work on becoming a much better passer.

Plus, redshirt freshman Cam Smith was highly-touted coming out of high school. Fans clamored for him to play in 2018, but the coaches didn’t think he was ready. Smith, along with Matt Keller, Andrew McBride and Zach Hayes will get a chance to compete with Orgeron in the spring to see who should be the signal-caller in 2019.

At running back, McNeese loses David Hamm and Ryan Ross, who combined to account for 660 yards and five touchdowns in 2018.

Justin Pratt will be a senior and could be asked to shoulder the running load for the Cowboys. But Mac Briscoe should also be in line to see more carries. Reggie Williams and J’Cobi Skinner are two fast backs who should add a change of pace next season.

When it comes to wide receivers and tight ends, I think this could be a place where the coaching staff looks hard for an FBS transfer.

There were too many times in 2018 when the receivers didn’t help the quarterback out (look no further than the Lamar game).

Kylon Highshaw, Josh Batiste, Rodnell Cruell, and Tre Roberts are all gone. Those four combined for 37 receptions, 404 yards, and four touchdowns in 2018; the majority of that came from Highshaw.

Parker Orgeron has another year of eligibility, but he’s dealt with multiple concussions while at McNeese, and another one could have severe long-term consequences. No guarantee he comes back, but if he does, he will instantly make the offense better.

Cyron Sutton has great big-play ability. I think he’ll take another step and be even better next season. Trevor Begue was solid and Nate Briscoe should see more targets as well. McNeese’s tight ends could be huge, with Lawayne Ross, Trey Conerly, and Austin Nelson coming back, among others.

The offensive line struggled through injuries and some poor play throughout the season, but had one of its better collective performances against Lamar. They didn’t give up a sack and helped the Cowboys rush for nine yards per carry.

Jimmy Converse and Kyle Zenon graduate, so the Cowboys have to find a new left tackle to replace Zenon and someone to replace the versatility that Converse had across the line. Collin Fountain and Tyrae Johnson should return next year after injuries ended their seasons prematurely.

Defensively, there are big losses, but still plenty of reason for excitement. Only one defensive lineman graduates (Harris Tafah) and multiple others should return from season-ending injuries. If healthy, the defensive line could be the DWA’s strength next season. Chris Livings could break the McNeese career sack record in 2019.

Linebacker is the position that will arguably be hit hardest by graduation. B.J. Blunt, Tre Porter, and Christian Jacobs are all out of here.

Blunt and Jacobs were the two leading tacklers for the Cowboys. Those three combined for 196 tackles, 27.6 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks.

Darius Daniels, Tahj Samuel, and Dajun Jenkins are the only linebackers listed on the roster that return. Look for McNeese to comb the FBS and junior college transfer ranks to add another linebacker or two.

Every defensive back — with the exceptions of Kyree McLean and seldom-used senior Kamon Darby — should return next season. The Cowboy secondary had a lot of young players get experience in 2018. It hurt at times, but it should benefit them in 2019.

The special teams will have a challenge replacing punter Alex Kjellsten, who put up all-conference type numbers in 2018. Gunnar Raborn was good, not great as a senior, but finding a new kicker won’t be easy either. Look for Gunnar’s brother Bailey Raborn as a possibility to be the new punter.

There are still a lot of things to factor when looking at the 2019 McNeese football team: whole or partial coaching staff changes, transfers, injuries, disciplinary issues. I’ll go into what offseason changes I think need to be made soon, but there is plenty of reason for optimism for McNeese fans.

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