The Central Arkansas Bears are on the prowl for their first Southland Conference championship since 2012. The program has improved every season since Steve Campbell took over as head coach in 2014.
Central Arkansas showed it could hang with the big boys last season with a win against an Arkansas State team that ended up winning the Sun Belt. The Bears will get another shot to knock off an FBS opponent when they face Kansas State in their first game of the 2017 slate.
2016 Central Arkansas Football Season In Review
The Southland is one of the most pass-heavy conferences in the FCS, so you need a quality aerial attack to win games in the league. It’s a good thing for Central Arkansas that it has a quarterback that fits the bill in Hayden Hildebrand.
Hildebrand completed over 60 percent of his throws and was a 3,000-yard passer last season. He had two fantastic wide receivers in Desmond Smith and Jatavious Wilson catching the lion’s share of his passes.
That passing attack was much-needed because the running game struggled to get things going at times for the Bears. They averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, but they did have a bulldozer of a back in Carlos Blackman. At 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, Blackman can get the tough yards and was the team’s leader with 616 yards on the ground last season.
No team was better at stopping the run than Central Arkansas in 2016. The Bears’ front seven was staunch, allowing a scant 2.3 yards per carry. The squad was one of eight teams at the FCS level that did not allow 100 rushing yards per game last fall.
2017 Central Arkansas Football Season Preview
Smith and Wilson are gone, so replacing them will be the biggest challenge for this offense. The team is hoping that a JUCO veteran and transfer from the FBS are able to do the job.
Lester Wells was a standout receiver at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC and could be deadly in the slot. He has great speed and will provide Hildebrand a good target in the middle of the field. Meanwhile, Jakari Dillard should also be able to make an immediate impact. The former Texas Tech wide receiver couldn’t crack the depth chart in Lubbock but has the size to succeed at this level.
The offensive line returns all five starters from last year, and Blackmon comes back as well. That should help the running game as it tries to make big strides and lead to a more balanced offense.
The Bears had 114 tackles for loss in 2016 and should have a fantastic front seven once again. This unit will be very difficult to run against and opposing offenses will likely try to move the ball through the air. Central Arkansas’ pass defense gave up 263.5 yards per game and brought over former backup quarterback Kirk Baugh to shore up the unit.
2017 Central Arkansas Football Schedule
September 2: Central Arkansas at Kansas State
September 9: Central Arkansas at Murray State
September 16: Central Arkansas vs. Southeastern Louisiana State
September 30: Central Arkansas vs. Sam Houston State
October 7: Central Arkansas at Houston Baptist
October 14: Central Arkansas vs. Stephen F. Austin
October 21: Central Arkansas at Northwestern State
October 28: Central Arkansas vs. McNeese State
November 4: Central Arkansas at Lamar
November 11: Central Arkansas at Incarnate Word
November 18: Central Arkansas vs. Abilene Christian
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The time is now for Central Arkansas to win the Southland. The Bears play all three of their toughest conference opponents at home and don’t face any of them in back-to-back weeks.
It’s a little crazy that the premier conference game is so early in the season. If the Bears are going to win the league, they are going to have to knock off Sam Houston State in late September.
Central Arkansas will be amped for that game against SHSU. The Bears were hammered by the Bearkats when these teams met late last season, falling behind by as many as 31 points in the first half. Jeremiah Briscoe scorched the Bears secondary for 431 yards and seven touchdowns, and you can be sure they have heard about it all offseason.
With a bye week prior to this game, the Bears will get revenge and knock off the Bearkats in an upset. Take Central Arkansas in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests that week.