Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Southland Conference powers may need to take a look in the rear-view mirror.
Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas have clearly been the best two teams in the Southland Conference the last two seasons - but both have suffered some key losses, which will aid McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana as they try to close the gap in the conference title race.
Sam Houston State has reached the last two FCS national championship games, losing to North Dakota State, but last season it also lost to Central Arkansas and shared the conference crown.
Think opponents are tired of seeing Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell, running back Timothy Flanders and wide receiver Richard Sincere? Well, they have to deal with them again in which will remain a high-scoring offense.
Southeastern Louisiana struggled offensively last season despite posting its best conference record (5-2) since joining in 2005. Coach Ron Roberts has bolstered his lineup with many transfers.
Over the last two seasons, Stephen F. Austin quarterback Brady Attaway has thrown for 6,852 yards and 56 touchdowns. He will be firing the ball all over the field again, but as a senior, he needs to cut down on the interceptions (43 over the last two seasons).
Central Arkansas' Wynrick Smothers is among the best quarterbacks in the FCS, but the Bears are replacing last year's top two running backs and wide receivers. Willie Matthews gets a crack in the backfield and wide receiver Dezmin Lewis should build off an excellent 2012 season.
Northwestern State didn't quite get over the hump under coach Bradley Dale Peveto. New coach Jay Thomas has opened up most of the positions to put everybody on guard.
Nicholls has gone 0-7 in conference play in each of the past two seasons. Coach Charlie Stubbs is giving Beaux Hebert, son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert, a chance to win the signal-caller duties. Last year's starter, Landry Klann, is the favorite to keep the job, but he's been turnover-plagued.
OH, YES, THEM AGAIN
McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud has made 24 career starts and some of the young skills position players around him have grown up. It doesn't extend to Stroud's offensive line, which is replacing four starters.
Stephen F. Austin safety Jordan Aubrey will no longer line up in the secondary with his twin brother Josh, but he has been granted another season of eligibility and will play a big role on the Lumberjacks' defense.
If you look at Central Arkansas defensive end Jonathan Woodard's production last season, it's hard to believe he was only a freshman.
The conference's impact player of the year could be Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett, who transferred in from the University of Oregon.
Kelvin Bennett's school-record 96-yard touchdown run in McNeese State's final game last season was an indication of what opposing defenses are up against this season.
Lamar lost its top two running backs, and sophomore Desmond Richards showed flashes of excellence last season. He hopes to take over the starting role.
Stephen F. Austin running Gus Johnson broke out as the conference's second- leading rusher and top scorer last season, but speedy Fred Ford is ready to steal some of the thunder away this season.
Central Arkansas will replace an opening at cornerback with either sophomore Dillion Winfrey or senior Dominique Brown.
Nicholls' Chris Bermond could take over at middle linebacker, replacing Southland leading tackler Jordan Piper, as the Colonels fill three of their four starters in the 3-4 defense.
Ryan Mossakowski and Caleb Berry both spent time as Lamar's starting quarterback last season. Sophomore Dillon Barrett and incoming freshman Robert Mitchell hope to have their say in the top job, too.
Junior college transfer Zack Adkins arrives in the summer and is expected to challenge junior Don Canyon to be Northwestern State's starting quarterback. But Canyon first must fend off redshirt freshman Daniel Hazlewood in the spring.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Central Arkansas: March 8-April 13
Lamar: March 19-April 16
McNeese State: March 11-April 13
Nicholls: April 9-27
Northwestern State: March 19 to April 20
Sam Houston State: March 20-April 18
Southeastern Louisiana: Feb. 26-March 23
Stephen F. Austin: March 19-April 27