Southland Conference 2021 Week 1 Preview

Southland Conference Game of the Week

GAME PREVIEW: Incarnate Word at Youngstown State
Where: Stambaugh Stadium; Youngstown, Ohio
TV/Streaming: ESPN+

Three consecutive losses to end the spring season left a bitter taste with Incarnate Word.  The Cardinals were poised to make their second appearance in the playoffs in the last three years before the season ending skid.  UIW announced a contract extension for head coach Eric Morris through the 2026 season.  He has a 14-15 record (13-10 in Southland) through three seasons, including a share of the conference title and an FCS playoff bid in 2018.  Coach Doug Phillips took over at Youngstown State this past spring season after most recently being on the Cincinnati coaching staff. He was previously a graduate assistant at Youngstown State in 1991 and 1992.  On the field, the Penguins struggled, with their lone victory being a 28-10 home win over South Dakota on March 20.

Incarnate Word Cardinals (3-3, 3-3 in Southland) in 2021

CSJ Team Preview: Incarnate Word

The UIW offense was spectacular in the spring, averaging 42 points per game due to the emergence of Jerry Rice Award winner Cameron Ward (2,260 yards, 24 TDs).  Ward has plenty of weapons in receivers Robert Ferrel (474 yards, 6 TDs) and Darion Chafin (373 yards, 4 TDs).  The Cardinals’ ground attack took a huge step forward in the spring with Kevin Brown gaining 775 yards and five touchdowns behind an improved offensive line.  Linebacker Kelechi Anyalabechi played in four games in the spring and led the team with 42 tackles (22 solo, 20 assisted) and had one tackle for loss; he was named first team All-Southland Conference.

Youngstown State Penguins (1-6, 1-6 in Missouri Valley) in 2021

CSJ Team Preview: Youngstown State

Redshirt freshman quarterback Mark Waid performed well in six games, completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 527 yards.  The offense was run-heavy, averaging 166.7 rushing yards and 100.4 passing yards per game; the Penguins scored 15.4 points per game.  Senior and All-Missouri Valley first-team linebacker Grant Dixon, who led the team in total tackles with 55, will lead a defense that gave up 312.1 yards per game and 21.9 points per game. 

Fearless Prediction

Youngstown State will be better this season but so will the UIW defense – they allowed 42 points per game last spring.  The defense that will get the key stops when it needs to, leading the Cardinals to victory.

Incarnate Word 34 Youngstown State 31

Other games

Houston Baptist at New Mexico
TV/Streaming: My50/Mountain West Network

With the transfer of Bailey Zappe, Houston Baptist will have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2017.  New Mexico’s rushing attack is strong – and defensive coordinator Rocky Long should get the defense in order.

New Mexico 51 Houston Baptist 24

Nicholls at Memphis
Streaming: ESPN+

Nicholls QB Lindsey Scott Jr. showcased his dual-threat ability in the spring.  The Tigers return 15 starters from an 8-3 team.

Memphis 45 Nicholls 27

West Florida at McNeese
TV/Streaming: CST, ESPN+

The West Florida Argonauts won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2019.  Dual-threat quarterback Cody Orgeron had a tremendous spring for McNeese, passing for 1,560 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 257 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

McNeese 31 West Florida 20

North Alabama at Southeastern Louisiana
Streaming: ESPN3

Head coach Frank Scelfo has Southeastern poised to make a run at the Southland title and an FCS playoff berth this year. Walter Payton Award finalist Cole Kelley (2,662 yards, 18 TDs) will lead the Lions at quarterback.  

Southeastern 42 North Alabama 24

Northwestern State at North Texas
Streaming: ESPN3

North Texas has playmakers at skill positions and a solid offensive line – their offense has potential for fireworks.

North Texas 42 Northwestern State 20