HOUSTON, Texas (UCA) - The University of Central Arkansas Bears were picked second in the 2017 Southland Conference preseason football poll released Thursday as part of SLC Media Day activities held at the Hilton Americas.
It was the same spot the Bears finished in the conference race last fall en route to a 10-3 overall record and a home FCS Playoff victory over Illinois State. UCA, which finished 8-1 in league play, won 10 Division I games for the first time since moving to NCAA Division I in 2006. The only SLC loss was to first-place Sam Houston State, which was picked to repeat as SLC champions in the poll of league coaches and sports information directors.
The Bearkats received 200 total votes, including 20 first-place votes. UCA had 177 total and was the only other team to receive any first-place votes with two.
"It's good recognition fot the players, said UCA head coach Steve Campbell, entering his fourth season with the Bears. "But we all know, the one that counts is the one at the end of the year. Our goal every year is to win the conference. The polls are fun for the fans to look at and get the conversion started about the upcoming season, but really they don't mean a whole lot.
"Last year we were picked third or fourth in the preseason, and then the last week of the season we had a chance to win the championship. That's where we want to be every year.'
The Bears had a league-high 12 players named to the preseason All-SLC team last week, including senior rover George Odum and senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, who represented UCA at Thursday's Media Day.
"I think the poll may set expectations for the players,' said Campbell. "But our expectations were high to begin with before the poll ever came out. I guess it says there are other people that think we have a chance to be pretty good, too. But those don't win you any games.'
Hildebrand, from Bossier City, La., passed for 3,051 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall, ranking seventh nationally and second in the SLC in passing yards. He also rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns. Odum, from Millington, Tenn., was a two-time SLC Defensive Player of the Week last season and led the Bears and was ranked eighth in the league with 86 total tackles (league-high 60 solos), playing much of the season with a cast on his left hand.
The Bears open the 2017 season at Big 12 Kansas State on Saturday, Sept. 2 in Manhattan, Kan. Their home opener will also be their conference opener against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, Sept. 16. UCA will host four of the top six teams this fall at First Security Field at Estes Stadium (No. 1 SHSU, No. 3 McNeese State, No. 4. Southeastern, No. 6 Stephen F. Austin).
2017 SLC PRESEASON POLL
Rank Team (first-place votes) Total
1. Sam Houston State (20) 200
2. Central Arkansas (2) 177
3. McNeese 163
4. Southeastern Louisiana 136
5. Nicholls 133
6. Stephen F. Austin 114
7. Lamar 68
8. Abilene Christian 66
9. Houston Baptist 56
10. Northwestern State 49
11. UIW 48