#11 McNeese State FCS Football 2016 Preview

McNeese State Cowboys
Overall Rank: #11
#2 Southland
McNeese State was a tough team to get a read on last season. In the end, they only played one game against a non-Southland opponent and that was Mississippi College, a team they beat 37-0. The opener against LSU was cancelled and the Cowboys were matched up with Sam Houston State again in the second round of the playoffs. In the regular season, McNeese State beat SHSU 27-10 at home to cap off a perfect regular season. Less than a month later, it was Sam Houston State that got the best of the Cowboys and knocked them out of the playoffs.
2015 Record: 10-1, 9-0
2015 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Lance Guidry (0-0 at McNeese State, 1-1 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Landon Hoefer, Kerry Joseph
Defensive Coordinator: Tommy Restivo
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ryan Ross, RB, 891 yards
Passing: Grant Ashcraft, QB, 95 yards
Receiving: Kent Shelby, WR, 668 yards
Tackles: Ashari Goins, LB, 62
Sacks: Ashari Goins, LB, 4.0; Jammerio Gross-Whitaker, DL, 4.0
Interceptions: Jermaine Antoine, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR Tavarious Battiste, TE Zach Hetrick, DB Dominique Hill, DL Isaiah Golden
Key Losses: QB Daniel Sams, RB Derrick Milton, WR David Bush, OL Quinton Marsh, OL Ben Jones, DB Brent Spikes, LB Bo Brown, DB Wallace Scott, DL Cameron Smith, P Jean Breaux
Nobody had an easy time cracking the McNeese State defense. Of their ten regular season games, nine opponents scored two touchdowns or fewer. It was only Northwestern State who managed to score 27 points against the Cowboys. There are some holes to fill, most notably linebacker Bo Brown and defensive backs Wallace Scott and Brent Spikes, but this should be one of the best defenses in the conference again in 2016. Jammerio Gross-Whitaker leads a talented defensive line that also returns Isaiah Golden. Linebacker Ashari Goins recorded 62 tackles and 4.0 sacks last season and will be the new leader of the unit. Even though there are losses in the secondary, Dominique Hill and Jermaine Antoine are a very good duo to build around. New coach Lance Guidry will just have to get more production from players like Josh Washington to keep the opposition from throwing too much on McNeese State.
Quarterback Daniel Sams accounted for much of the McNeese State offense last season. He threw for 1,666 yards and led the team in rushing as well with 934 yards. In total he accounted for 24 touchdowns. On a team that was not particularly explosive offensively, losing Sams is huge. Grant Ashcraft is expected to take over, but the 6-6, 219 pound junior is a very different type of quarterback. He is going to stand tall in the pocket and stay there. With receivers Kent Shelby, Tavarious Battiste and tight end Zach Hetrick, the passing game should improve under Ashcraft. But without Sams’ ability to run, the offense could get stagnant if Ashcraft struggles throwing the ball. That will put more pressure on the running game too. Ryan Ross is back after rushing for 891 yards and nine scores. Dylan Long is a bruiser of a back who can punch the ball into the end zone. In 2013 and 2014 he rushed for a total of 20 touchdowns before missing last season with an injury. He will be a very important player to have in those short yardage situations now that Sams is not around to run the ball into the end zone.
The Bottom Line:
McNeese State should have some time to adjust to an offense without a running quarterback. Besides the Southland opener against Stephen F. Austin, the Cowboys should not be tested again until mid-October when they face a tougher stretch of games. It starts with a home contest against Central Arkansas and then there is a tough trip to Northwestern State, the team that was able to crack the McNeese State defense last season. The big one though is on November 5th at Sam Houston State. That game should decide the Southland title, but even with a loss there, McNeese State should have a good enough resume to get back to the playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 233.3 (16th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 164.5 (94, 6)
Total Offense: 397.8 (47, 5)
Scoring Offense: 30.2 (36, 3)
Rushing Defense: 87.4 (4, 1)
Pass Defense: 212.8 (60, 4)
Total Defense: 300.2 (11, 1)
Scoring Defense: 13.2 (3, 1)
Turnover Margin: 0.36 (34, 3)
Sacks: 2.18 (46, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.36 (29, 2)
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#33 Gabe Foster
#55 Collin Fountain
#126 Parker Orgeron