Sam Houston State, which reached the national championship game for the second consecutive year in 2012, was picked to win its third straight Southland Conference championship in 2013, according to the league's pre-season poll, which was released at the league's annual Football Media Day at the L'auberge Resort.
Sam Houston was the top pick by both the coaches and sports information directors, receiving six out of a possible eight first-place votes and 48 points total in each poll. Central Arkansas -- which tied Sam Houston for the 2012 league title, beat the Bearkats during the regular season and earned the league's automatic bid to the playoffs -- picked up a first-place vote from the coaches and the final two from the SIDs while Stephen F. Austin received the final first-place vote from the coaches.
ACU is in its first year at the Football Championship Series level, but because it is not officially part of the Southland Conference in football in 2013, the Wildcats were not part of the pre-season poll. The Wildcats of head coach will open their independent season on Aug. 31 in Abilene when they host Concordia (Ala.) College at Shotwell Stadium.
In the coaches' poll, McNeese State was picked to finish third with 37 points, followed by Stephen F. Austin in fourth (one first-place vote and 32 points), Southeastern Louisiana in fifth (26 points), Northwestern (La.) State in sixth (17 points), Lamar in seventh place (14 points) and Nicholls State (La.) in eighth (eight points).
In the SID poll, McNeese State was third with 33 points, followed by Southeastern Louisiana in fourth with 30 points, Stephen F. Austin in fifth with 27 points, Nicholls State and Northwestern State tied for sixth (18 points apiece) and Lamar in eight place (15 points).
Earlier in the week, the league announced its pre-season all-conference teams, and that squad is led by four of the conference's individual award winners from the 2012 season. That list is led by Sam Houston State senior running back Tim Flanders, who is the two-time Layer of the Year in the league.
Last year's Offensive Player of the Year, Central Arkansas quarterback Wynrick Smothsers, also returns for 2013, as does his teammate, sophomore Jonathan Woodard, who last year earned Freshman of the Year honors. Lamar junior Kevin Johnson, who last yea earned Newcomer of the Year honors, also returns to the fold.
Abilene Christian University head coach
On 2013 season:
"We're looking forward to this season for several reasons, not the least of which is that it's going to be a historic season for ACU football. We'll be playing at a different level and that's exciting, but we also know that we've got to raise our level of play not only this year, but in the years to come. The thing we've got going for us is that we play really good football and we've done that for years. We're going to continue to do that and I look forward to seeing how it translates to the Southland Conference."
On the excitement generated by the move to the Southland Conference:
"Our university, our fans and our city are excited about the move and excited about the chance to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the country at the FCS level. But it also kind of humbles you when you come here (to SLC Media Day) and see the calibre of coaches in the room and the talented players and it makes you realize you'd better be ready to go to work every day to get yourself better."
Information for this story provided by ACU Athletics.