McNeese State Preview

With eight returning offensive starters and an influx of transfers from a record-setting offense, the McNeese State Cowboys are expected to contend for their first Southland Conference championship since 2009.

Scoring a school-record 520 points last season, the Cowboys (10-3, 6-1) ended a two-year FCS playoff drought before losing to Jacksonville State 31-10 in the first round.

Led by 2013 SLC Offensive Player of the Year Colby Stroud, the Pokes ranked second in the conference with 40 points per game and fourth in total offense with 451 yards per game (242 passing, 209 rushing).

As the Cowboys seek to advance in the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 national runner-up season, replacing Stroud is at the top of the priority list.

Junior Daniel Sams, a transfer from Kansas State, is challenging junior Tyler Bolfing, sophomore Will Briscoe and redshirt freshman Grant Ashcraft for the starting job. An honorable mention All-Conference selection, the Slidell Salmen product led Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 38-of-53 passes for 452 yards, four scores and four interceptions.

Holdovers Kelvin Bennett (108 carries, 773 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Dylan Long (79-335-10) will be joined in a deep backfield by Arkansas transfer Nate Holmes and Mississippi State transfer Derrick Milton. All four are juniors.

Senior wide receiver Ernest Celestie (31 receptions, 565 yards) and junior David Bush (20-194-1) are the top returning receivers. Senior Wes Briscoe (9-115-1) and freshman Kent Shelby are also expected to contribute. Briscoe was awarded a medical redshirt following a season-ending Week 4 knee injury while Shelby sat out the season due to NCAA clearinghouse issues. True freshman Jamari Payne of Bastrop could also figure into the receiving corps equation.

First-team All-SLC senior left tackle Antoine Everett returns to anchor the offensive line along with juniors Nick Gorman and Quentin Marsh.

Six defensive starters return from a unit which ranked fourth in the Southland by allowing 28.5 points per game.

Senior ends Everett Ellefson (44 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception), a first-team All-SLC honoree, and Kevin Dorn (52 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT) are joined up front by senior Sean Brown (30 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack). Junior Brian Hine, a transfer from Cisco (Texas) Community College, is also expected to make an impact. True freshman Johnnie Marsaw of Collinston, who signed with the Pokes out of Bastrop High, is among the candidates vying for playing time on the D-line.

Junior Bo Brown (75 tackles, 12 TFL, 4 sacks) and senior Deonte Thompson head the linebacker corps.

Senior Aaron Sam (82 tackles, 8.5 TFL) moves from cornerback to free safety after leading the team in tackles last season. Also back in the secondary is junior cornerback Gabe Hamner (48 tackles, 2 INTs, 10 pass breakups).

Junior Jean Breaux will handle the punting.

Freshman Alex Kjellsten, who redshirted at LSU last season, has been impressive during preseason workouts.