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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 18 McNeese State at No. 4 Central Arkansas

The Bears are looking to stay undefeated in the Southland Conference

NCAA Football: Central Arkansas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, October 28, 2017, 7 p.m. ET

Location: Estes Stadium, Conway, Arkansas

Where To Watch: ESPN3/WatchESPN

Betting Odds: Central Arkansas -11.5, O/U 49.5

Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com


The Red Beans and Rice Bowl is currently tied 5-5 and this year’s winner will take the series lead and one of the most unique trophies in all of college football. The Central Arkansas Bears are riding high heading into this one. They are 6-1 and this is their highest ranking since joining the ranks of the FCS a decade ago. They have already knocked off Sam Houston State and the McNeese State Cowboys are their last real regular season test.

McNeese State is coming into this game at 6-1 as well, but none of those six wins came against teams that are likely to be in the postseason. The Cowboys did play Nicholls State close at the start of the season, but other than that no one is sure what to make of this team.

Reasons to Like Central Arkansas

There aren’t many quarterbacks quite like Hayden Hildebrand. The senior is having his best season yet with the Bears and is on pace to surpass the 3,000-yard mark despite only averaging 27 throws per game. His yards per attempt average is almost two yards higher than it was in any of his three previous years on campus and he is picking apart defenses with relative ease.

His offensive line has been a big boon to the team’s success. Hildebrand has had time to wait in the pocket and find the open receiver all year long. He has been sacked just five times all year and the line has opened holes in the running game too.

Reasons Not to Like Central Arkansas

The Bears don’t have the best defense around. Granted, few teams have competent defenses in the Southland Conference, but Central Arkansas should be better since it is mostly trying to stop the pass. This team builds up big enough leads that it only has to worry about one aspect of the game, but has struggled to stop it.

Reasons to Like McNeese State

The Cowboys are the one team in the Southland with a fantastic defense. They are allowing just 4.3 yards per play this season and are only behind stalwarts North Dakota State and James Madison in terms of total defense in the country.

A ballhawking secondary has been one of the keys to this defense’s success. McNeese State has 12 interceptions in seven games and that has given this team a +10 turnover margin.

Reasons Not to Like McNeese State

We just don’t know how good this team really is. The only team with a winning record that the Cowboys have defeated is an Alcorn State team that was just ripped apart by Grambling. The best team they have defeated in conference play is a Stephen F. Austin team that is 3-5 with a -98 point differential.

Prediction

McNeese State was really unlucky to lose to Nicholls State earlier this season. The Cowboys won the turnover battle and outgained the Colonels by more than 100 yards, but gave up three big plays and that was the difference in the game.

This defense hasn’t faced a team like Central Arkansas yet, but its performance against Nicholls gives me confidence that it can limit the Bears enough to cover the number here.

Final Score: Central Arkansas 24, McNeese State 21