A new hope: Cowboys look to return to prominence

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, August 2, 2022

By Jim Gazzolo

Special to the American Press

With the new season just a month away and camp hours from starting, there is fresh hope on the McNeese State campus after years of frustration.

The belief is that new head coach Gary Goff will be able to turn the once elite football program around and back into the national spotlight.

It has been seven years since the Cowboys last made the postseason and a lot of negative has happed to the team and community it represents. But could this season be different?

Here is a look at seven of the storylines that will shape this season, one for every year of missed postseason chances.

1 — Excitement: Goff has promised to bring excitement and action back to Cowboy Stadium. With kickoff returned to its traditional time of 7 p.m. for home games, this is big for a fan base that has wavered in recent years.

That means an exciting attack, which Goff will bring with what is known as the “Air Raid” offense. This also means a fast-paced game led by big plays that can strike both in the air and over ground.

After watching spring drills and scrimmages there was a lot of gains made by the offense but with so many players new to the program it is hard to tell just where this team is. However, there is a different vibe around the Pokes this time around.

Keeping this up deep into the season is perhaps the biggest key to Goff’s first year.

2 — Kicking game: No one thing had a bigger impact on both the spring and fall seasons in 2021. The Cowboys went just 7-11 in the two seasons, but one could argue that up to seven losses were directly impacted by a poor kick game.

Missed extra points and short field goals often put McNeese coaches in a bind when it came to making decisions in the red zone, forcing the offense to stay on the field on fourth downs instead of trying for field goals.

Goff has added a new group of kickers including Ohio State transfer Garrison Smith to the roster. The hope is Smith or one of the other new legs bring stability and a scoring weapon to town.

3 — Quarterback: This will be the most talked about position battle on a team that has openings all over the field. Just who will be the triggerman of Goff’s offense is the biggest question mark as camp opens.

It will likely come down to one of two transfers, Cam Ransom from Georgia Southern or Knox Kadum by way of Virginia Tech. Both have three years of eligibility remaining. Walker Wood, a wide receiver, has moved back to his original position at quarterback and is a third option.

Goff has said he doesn’t expect a decision on a starter will be made for some time, maybe not even up until kickoff of the season opener in Bozeman, Mont., on Sept. 3. That won’t stop people from asking and talking about it.

4 — Offensive line: No position needed a bigger upgrade from last season than this group. Injured, young and overmatched, the Pokes’ O-line was overrun far too often to sustain any offensive consistency.

Goff went big in both numbers and those he brought in to compete for jobs. The Cowboys also got healthy and hit the weights in their first real offseason in three years.

No other group may end up having a bigger impact on what Goff’s offense will look like than this one.

5 — Talent pool: Those who watched the Cowboys the last few years saw two major issues — lack of numbers and discipline. Hurricanes and academic probation kept players away from Lake Charles.

Goff attacked both of those issues and hit the transfer portal hard. A total of 56 new players are expected in camp from last season with 15 of those transfers, many from the FBS level.

Goff has stated they are here and will need to contribute right away for the Cowboys to have a good season.

6 — Defensive backfield: A staple core a season ago, this group lost its share of talent during the coaching change as several key members of the group hit the transfer portal themselves. It forced Goff to improvise during the spring as the lack of numbers forced McNeese to practice differently.

Help came in the offseason and the numbers are back so much that there will be no forced down time during workouts so players can recover. There are enough to run full drills.

How quick this group comes together will be a big factor in what type of start the Cowboys can get off to.

7 — Change of attitude: Recently the Cowboys have been told how tough they have had it by everyone inside and out of the program. The national media has made a point to tell the town’s story of hurricanes and struggles to recover.

This must end and McNeese must get back its swagger of striving to be the big dog on the Southland Conference block once again if it is to return to prominence. This change may already have begun, but by how much we are not sure just yet.