Despite 9-2 mark, Cowboys left out of FCS playoffs

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LAKE CHARLES – The news came down shortly before 10 a.m. on Sunday morning before the ESPNU broadcast was to begin to reveal the bracket for the 2017 NCAA Division I FCS Playoffs… McNeese would not be making its Southland Conference record 17th-postseason appearance.

As head coach Lance Guidry learned of the news, he cocked his head and gave one of his classic charming smiles, obviously hiding the disappointment that was felt around all of Cowboy Nation.

“I’m very surprised that a McNeese team at 9-2, with all of the tradition and history we have here, that we didn’t get in,” said Guidry at a press conference later in the morning. “We knew we were a bubble team.”

The Southland Conference was hoping, for the first time ever, to land four teams in the 24-team field. Three made it, including Nicholls, who beat McNeese 37-35 on a last second field goal on a Thursday night in August.

The Cowboys reeled off nine wins in their final 10 games after that defeat.

“We asked the kids to reset after the Nicholls game,” said Guidry. “And they did and we had a chance to play for a conference championship at UCA (UCA won 47-17 on its way to a conference title). We won all the other games on our schedule.

“Congratulations to Nicholls,” said Guidry. “They were 8-3 and we were 9-2, but they beat us head-to-head. They (playoff committee) took them and I understand it.

“My hat’s off to all of the seniors. We asked them to do what we needed them to do. I really hurt for them.”

McNeese becomes the first 9-win team from one of the top six FCS conferences to not make the playoff field since it expanded to 24 teams in 2013.

This year’s field includes five teams with 7-4 records, one of those (New Hampshire) who had two losses that came against teams that finished below .500 while another (South Dakota) who lost four of its last five games, including three straight to end the regular season.

McNeese was banking on getting into the postseason field and winning its first playoff game since the 2002 season.

“That was our goal,” said Guidry. “To get into the playoffs and try to make a run and win some games. We had a couple of kids sit out this past week. Kent (Shelby) had a sprained ankle and Jammerio (Gross-Whitaker) had a little bit of a knee injury. We thought by winning (at Lamar) we’d give them another opportunity to play another game. We handled our business as well as we could but it wasn’t enough to get in.

“When you don’t win conference it’s always in the hands of the committee. The only true way you know you’re in is to win conference.”

Three other 8-3 teams received at-large berths, including Nicholls.

Southland Conference champion Central Arkansas is the No. 4 overall seed and has a first round bye then will play the winner of the New Hampshire/Central Connecticut game on Dec. 2.

Sam Houston State is the No. 6 seed who also has a first round bye, and will play the winner of the Nicholls/South Dakota game.

The Cowboys ranked No. 19 in this week’s STATS FCS Media Poll and was 19th in the Simple Ratings System rankings, the model factors in strength of schedule as well as point differential. This is the system the selection committee uses to help pick the at-large teams

Teams ranked below the Cowboys in the SRS that received an at-large berth includes Elon (20), Northern Arizona (22), Monmouth (23), Nicholls (28), and New Hampshire (31).

McNeese ends the 2017 season with the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense in all of Division I football by allowing just 54.5 yards per game. That number set a new school and Southland Conference record, breaking the old mark of 60.9 ypg held by McNeese and set in 1995.

The Cowboys also end the season ranked No. 5 in the FCS in total defense (262.5), first in third-down conversion defense (23.8 percent), second in first downs defense (150), third in defensive touchdowns (5), sixth in turnovers gained (26) and in red zone defense (63.0 percent), seventh in pass interceptions (16), and ninth in tackles for a loss (8.2 per game).

But the nation won’t get to see that dominance by the Cowboys’ defense this year.

Guidry explains what he would’ve said to the committee had he been given the chance to make his case for the Cowboys to get into the playoffs.

“When you have one of the top defenses in the entire nation, you would want to see that team play in there. Plus if you look at our history, we have a great fan base that will and have supported us really well in the playoffs.”

McNeese will return a lot of talent for 2018 and is expected to be even faster on defense than it was this year.

It should be a great offseason for the Cowboys and there’s no doubt this snub will make them hungrier than ever come opening day in 2018.

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