#32 McNeese State FCS Football 2015 Preview

George Hammond

McNeese State Cowboys

Overall Rank: #32
#4 Southland

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A near miss at Nebraska to open the season and three consecutive losses to end it resulted in a so-so season for McNeese State, which will look for much better results in 2015. The Cowboys nearly pulled off a shocker in Lincoln, Neb., last September when they went toe-to-toe with the Big Ten power. But Ameer Abdullah’s 58-yard pass reception that resulted in a touchdown gave the Cornhuskers a 31-24 win with just 20 seconds remaining. McNeese State strung together three straight wins after that heartbreaking loss, but it was done in at the end of the season by consecutive losses to Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Lamar to close out the season. The result? The Cowboys finished at 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Southland Conference. Matt Viator enters his 10th season as head coach, and he is the only league coach to never post a losing record with a minimum of eight years under their belt.
2014 Record: 6-5, 4-4
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Matt Viator (62-27 at McNeese State and overall)
Co-Offensive Coordinator: Tim Leger
Defensive Coordinator: Lance Guidry

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Daniel Sams, QB, 711 yards
Passing: Tyler Bolfing, QB, 990 yards
Receiving: Khalil Thomas, WR, 271 yards
Tackles: Brent Spikes, DB, 83
Sacks: Brian Hine, DE, 4
Interceptions: Brent Spikes, DB, 4

Other Key Returnees: RB Ryan Ross, RB Derrick Milton, RB, Dylan Long, OL Quentin Marsh, WR David Bush, TE Zach Hetrick, LB Bo Brown, LB Wallace Scott

Key Losses: OL Antoine Everett, WR Jereon McGilvery, WR Ernest Celestie, DL Kevin Dorn, Sean Brown, DL Everett Ellefsen, FS Aaron Sam, PK Alex Kjellsten.

Not many teams nationwide have the firepower and depth the Cowboys have in their ground game (17th nationally in 2014). If you include quarterback Daniel Sams, who is the leading returning rusher from 2014, McNeese State has a group of running backs that combined to rush for 2,397 yards and 27 touchdowns last year. The group includes: sophomore Ryan Ross (599 yards and seven TDs), senior Derrick Milton (387 yards and six TDs), senior Kelvin Bennett (354 yards and two TDs) and senior Dylan Long (10 TDs). McNeese has two quarterbacks: Sams, who had offseason surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand, and Tyler Bolfing (990 passing yards and six TDs). The offensive line returns four starters but must replace All-American Antone Everett. Defensively, senior cornerback Brent Spikes returns and is one of the best in the nation. Last year, Spikes tied a school record with three interceptions in one game and set a school and conference mark with 148 interception return yards.

Concern must focus on the defensive front where only senior end Brian Hine returns in a starting position, although the Cowboys are hoping for significant production from Texas A&M sophomore transfer Isaiah Golden. Last year, the Cowboys were No. 1 in the Southland against the run, but it might be difficult to match that distinction this year. The other key loss defensively is in the secondary where all-SLC free safety Aaron Sam is gone. McNeese State also must fill the void left by the departure of wide receivers Jereon McGilvery (433 yards) and Ernest Celestie.

The Bottom Line:
As seen by Viator’s record, McNeese State isn’t accustomed to losing. The veteran coach has established a winning program and the Cowboys believe they can bounce back in 2015 and return to the FCS playoffs after last year’s absence. But it won’t be easy with conference foes Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin expecting big years, too. If you look at McNeese State statistically last year, the numbers are good – perhaps better than a 6-5 record would indicate. But there’s one number that does stand out: The Cowboys averaged 32.4 points a game yet that was good enough for just eighth in the high-flying Southland Conference. McNeese opens against LSU in just the second meeting ever between the two schools. LSU won 32-10 in 2010. Despite the difficult opener, the Cowboys – with nine returning offensive starters and seven on defense – should be in the hunt for a Southland title.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 221.9 (17th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 174.6 (91, 8)
Total Offense: 396.5 (51, 8)
Scoring Offense: 32.4 (28, 8)  
Rushing Defense: 112.5 (14, 1)
Pass Defense: 217.6 (65, 6)
Total Defense: 330.2 (24, 2)
Scoring Defense: 22.7 (33, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.36 (35, 4)
Sacks: 2.36 (37, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (55, 4)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#82 Bryce Jones
#168 Grant Burguillos


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