Opening Game: vs. Southwest Baptist, Saturday, 6 p.m. Opening Game: at Baylor, Saturday, 7 p.m. Northwestern State Demons – Preseason Ranking: 8th – 2017 Record/Place: 4-7 (4-5 SLC), T6thBrad Laird enters his first season as head coach in Natchitoches as the Demons are coming off a 4-5 league record last season. He is joined by new offensive coordinator Brad Smiley as well as Mike Lucas who is beginning his second stint as defensive coordinator in 2018. With 14 starters lost and 14 returning, the Demons will look to newcomers to make an impact on both sides of the ball. NSU opens on the road at Texas A&M on Thursday before a SWAC matchup with Grambling at home on Sept. 8. Nicholls Colonels – Preseason Ranking: 2nd – 2017 Record/Place: 8-4 (7-2 SLC), T3rdThe Colonels’ sights are set high in 2018, entering at second place in the preseason poll and returning 18 starters from last season while losing only eight. Nicholls earned an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs in 2017, earning its first ever home postseason contest. The team returns 90 percent of the league’s second-best rushing attack and five all-conference picks from the third-best scoring defense in the Southland from last season. The Colonels open against two FBS opponents on the road, traveling to Kansas on Saturday at 6 p.m. and facing Tulane on Sept. 8. 2018 Southland Football Week One Notes (PDF)FRISCO, Texas – The 55th season of Southland Conference football kicks off Thursday with a pair of evening matchups. Southeastern Louisiana faces ULM on the road at 7 p.m. CT and Northwestern State travels to College Station to take on Texas A&M at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. Opening Game: vs. Prairie View, Sept. 8, 6 p.m. McNeese Cowboys – Preseason Ranking: 4th – 2017 Record/Place: 9-2 (7-2 SLC), T3rdMcNeese aims to maintain its defensive dominance after losing six full-time starters, including all but one in the secondary. The Cowboys led the nation in rushing defense, third down defense, first downs defense and ranked in the top five in three other defensive categories in 2017. On offense, senior quarterback James Tabary returns as he closes in on career school records in touchdown passes and total passing yards. McNeese opens on the road at Northern Colorado on Saturday at 1 p.m. and will work in a midseason nonconference tilt at BYU on Sept. 22. Opening Game: at Kansas, Saturday, 6 p.m. Central Arkansas Bears – Preseason Ranking: 3rd – 2017 Record/Place: 10-2 (9-0 SLC), 1stThe defending Southland champions are tabbed for a third-place finish in 2018, according to the league’s head coaches and SIDs. Entering the season under first-year head coach Nathan Brown, the Bears must replace three individual player superlative winners from 2017, including quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, defensive back George Odum and offensive lineman John Cook. In total, UCA lost 16 starters from last season and will field a largely unproven side on both sides of the ball. The offense will look to the 2017 Freshman of the Year Kierre Crossley at running back to lead a talented corps in the backfield. UCA opens at Tulsa on Saturday at 1 p.m. and hosts Murray State on Sept. 8. Opening Game: vs. Kentucky Christian, Saturday, 6 p.m. Opening Game: at Northern Colorado, Saturday, 3:05 p.m. The Southland is coming off a three-bid year in the FCS playoffs last season and aims for its eighth-straight season with multiple postseason berths. The league has not failed to secure an at-large bid since 2010. Southeastern Louisiana Lions – Preseason Ranking: 5th – 2017 Record/Place: 6-5 (6-3 SLC), 5thThe Lions enter the Frank Scelfo era eyeing their fifth winning season in the last six years. Heading into his first season in charge in Hammond, Scelfo most recently was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at UTSA and senior offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Southeastern returns the 2017 Newcomer of the Year Lorenzo Nunez at quarterback and the bulk of the nation’s third-best rushing offense from last season. All-American kickoff returner Juwan Petit-Frere also returns for 2018. The Lions open on the road at ULM tomorrow at 7 p.m. before traveling to LSU on Sept. 8. Four Southland teams are ranked nationally in preseason top 25 polls, led by Sam Houston State at No. 4 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and STATS FCS Top 25. Central Arkansas is ranked No. 15 and 16, respectively. Nicholls is ranked No. 17 by the FCS Coaches list and No. 18 in the STATS poll, while McNeese is No. 17 and 18, respectively. Opening Game: at Texas A&M, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Opening Game: at Mississippi State, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks – Preseason Ranking: 6th – 2017 Record/Place: 4-7 (4-5 SLC), T6thJeff Byrd was named interim head coach on June 19, entering his second year with the program after serving as SFA’s defensive coordinator last season. The Lumberjacks also have new leadership in the offensive coordinator position with the departure of Gary Crowton. SFA returns standout wide receiver Tamrick Pace as well as its top two tacklers in Trenton Gordon and Alize Ward. In total, the ‘Jacks return 22 starters while only losing seven from the 2017 season. SFA heads to Starkville to face Mississippi State on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and hosts Tarleton State on Sept. 8 before league play begins. Incarnate Word Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 9th – 2017 Record/Place: 1-10 (1-7 SLC), 9thFirst-year head coach Eric Morris leads the Cardinals into 2018 following a ninth-place finish in 2017. A strong core of starters return from last season, including top quarterback Sean Brophy, leading receiver Phillip Baptiste and tackles leader Mar’kel Cooks. Brophy and his receivers will be tested under Morris’ air raid offensive scheme that is being implemented this year. Incarnate Word faces a tough schedule, including two FBS opponents in New Mexico and North Texas to start the season, and four consecutive games against the Southland’s nationally ranked teams (Sam Houston State, Central Arkansas, McNeese and Nicholls). Abilene Christian Wildcats – Preseason Ranking: 7th – 2017 Record/Place: 2-9 (2-7 SLC), 8thThe Wildcats lost 13 starters from last season, including all-time leading tackler Sam Denmark. They are looking to avoid a fourth-straight losing season. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Anthony is set to start under center after recording 776 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns in 2017 in seven appearances (two starts). Second-year head coach Adam Dorrel has also added several transfers to bolster the offensive line. ACU opens on the road at Baylor on Saturday at 7 p.m. and hosts Angelo State on Sept. 8 to conclude its nonconference schedule. Opening Game: at Tulsa, Saturday, 6 p.m. Lamar Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 10th – 2017 Record/Place: 2-9 (1-8 SLC), 10thLamar heads into 2018 with 21 starters from last season, including nine on defense. The defensive unit shined for the Cardinals down the stretch in 2017, surrendering just 29 total points in the final two games of the season. They registered 14 fumble recoveries and 27 turnovers gained on the season. On offense, senior quarterback Darrel Colbert Jr. returns under center after an injury-shortened season last year, part of eight returning starters on the offensive side. Lamar opens the season at home against Kentucky Christian on Saturday before traveling to Lubbock to face Texas Tech on Sept. 8. Sam Houston State Bearkats – Preseason Ranking: 1st – 2017 Record/Place: 12-2 (8-1 SLC), 2ndThe Bearkats enter 2018 as the preseason favorite, coming off an FCS Playoff semifinal appearance in 2017. Sam Houston dropped only one league matchup to the regular season champion Central Arkansas and went on to defeat South Dakota and Kennesaw State before falling at eventual national champion North Dakota State. Despite losing two-time Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe, the Kats return the core of their potent offense, including All-American wide receiver duo of Davion Davis and Nathan Stewart. The team returns 41 letterwinners overall. Sam Houston hosts both of its nonconference contests, welcoming Prairie View and North Dakota to Bowers Stadium. Opening Game: at ULM, Thursday, 7 p.m. Opening Game: at New Mexico, Saturday, 7 p.m. Houston Baptist Huskies – Preseason Ranking: 11th – 2017 Record/Place: 1-10 (0-9 SLC), 11thThe Huskies eye a turnaround season in 2018 after going winless in conference play last season. Sixth-year head coach Vic Shealy will be working with a younger team, having lost 19 starters from 2017. HBU earned a preseason all-conference pick in defensive back Raphael Lewis and return another standout in defensive end Andre Walker. New faces are at the helm on both sides of the ball with offensive coordinator Zack Kittley and defensive coordinator Jeff Mills. The Huskies open at home against Southwest Baptist on Saturday before an early start to the conference slate against McNeese on Sept. 8. Click here for a complete week one TV viewing guide.