Viator is entering 8th season as head coach with McNeese State, holding a 52-24 record and being the 2nd fastest head coach in school history to reach 50 wins as the head coach. Interesting note, Viator has never gone through the aches and pains of a losing season, not once.
Tossing the pigskin around will be senior quarterback Cody Stroud, who's beginning his 3rd season as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys. Stroud lit up Southland secondary's for 2,102 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012. Stroud is seeking to be the 5th player in Cowboys history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in their career.
A handful of newcomers will be looking to make an impact for McNeese State in 2013 also. One of those will be tight end Nic Jacobs, who transferred in from LSU. Jacobs appeared in 19 games, making one start, catching 5 passes for 58 yards in his Tigers career. Jacobs was selected pre-season all-Southland Conference second team by the league coaches.
For the upcoming season, a total of seven McNeese players have been named to different College Football Performance Awards watch lists and 12 players have been voted onto the preseason All-Southland Conference teams. Highlighting that deep group will be guard Arinze Agada, safety Terence Cahee, defensive end Everett Ellefsen, cornerback Guy Morgan, and linebacker Deonte Thompson.
An experienced and productive group will lead Viator's ground attack in 2013. Three out of the top four rushers from the 2012 season return, including seniors Marcus Wiltz and Javaris Murray for the Cowboys in 2013. They'll be returning 1,457 of the team's 2,304 rushing yards from last season. The Cowboy's average of 209.5 rushing yards per game in 2012 was ranked 18th nationally and 2nd in the Southland Conference. Also in 2012, McNeese State was 6-0 when rushing for 200 or more yards in a game, 31-3 under Coach Viator when surpassing that mark in his 8 year stint in Lake Charles.
McNeese will be seeking to solidify the "Blue Wall" along their defense front to clog up the middle in 2013. All four of McNeese's defensive line personal started some ball games in 2012. Everett Ellefen, Chris Loveless, Michael Ware, and Kevin Dorn combined for 128 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 37 quarterback hurries, and allowed only 115.4 rushing yards per game, second best in their conference in 2012.
The Cowboys will be filled with youth from top to bottom in 2013. They'll be returning eight starters on offense and seven on defense, with 42 freshman and sophomores on their roster. Some true freshman looking to make a splash on the team will be wide receiver Kent Shelby (6'3, 200), guard Thor Miller (6'3 285), and defensive tackle Antonio McGee (6'0 275).
From the sophomore class, five are listed as starters this Saturday in Tampa Bay. The second year players consist of Quention Marsh, Nick Gorman and Ben Jones along the offensive line, Bo Brown at linebacker and Gabe Hammer at cornerback. In the trenches on the offensive side of the ball, Coach Viator's hogs pass the eye test, averaging 6'3 and 290 pounds.
Entering the 2013 season, head coaches and sports information directions have selected the McNeese State to finish 3rd in the Southland Conference. The last time these two programs met, the Bulls racked up 495 yards of total offense en route to a 41-10 victory of the Cowboys in 2006. Lance Guidry, who was an assistant coach under Coach Taggart at Western Kentucky, will lead McNeese State's defense against Matt Floyd and company this Saturday for the 2nd time.
Don't sit there for a second and think the Cowboys will come in intimated and timid either. McNeese took a trip to Baton Rouge in 2010 and played in front of 92,576 fans against the Tigers. The familiarity is there, we'll see if McNeese can even the series at 1-1 in Tampa Bay this weekend.