Game Time: Friday, September 1, 2017, 7 p.m. ET
Location: McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas
Where To Watch: ESPN3/WatchESPN
Betting Odds: Sam Houston State -4.5, O/U 67.5
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
Originally this game was to be played on Sunday, August 27, 2017 at Sam Houston State’s Bowers Stadium, but Hurricane Harvey forced the game to be postponed. Sam Houston State’s campus is scheduled to be closed until September 5 after the city of Huntsville received almost 20 inches of rain from the storm. As a result, the game has now been moved to Baylor University, which is almost two hours northwest of Huntsville.
The Sam Houston State Bearkats have been looking forward to the first game of 2017 ever since their 2016 season campaign ended with a thud. Sam Houston State was annihilated by James Madison 65-7 in the Quarterfinals of last year’s playoffs as its high-powered offense was completely listless against the Dukes defense.
Their opponent in the opener will be the Richmond Spiders, who had their championship hopes dashed by an injury last year. Quarterback Kyle Lauletta was one of the best in the country, leading Richmond to a 37-20 win over Virginia in the season opener. After leading the Spiders to an 8-2 regular season record, and a near-upset of eventual champion James Madison, Lauletta tore his ACL in the last regular season game and that was eventually too much to overcome.
Reasons to Like Sam Houston State
Jeremiah Briscoe is back to wreak havoc on opposing defenses for one more season. The reigning Walter Payton Award winner put up massive numbers last season, throwing for 4,602 yards and 57 touchdowns. Briscoe threw for at least three touchdowns against every team not named James Madison, smashing the school record book in the process. The Bearkats were the only team in the FCS to average more than seven yards per play last year and Briscoe was the reason.
Briscoe will have his top two receivers back and they will be a load for Richmond to handle in this game. Yedidiah Louis was the Southland Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year last season, catching 76 passes for 1,152 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is the team’s best possession receiver and Briscoe’s favorite target. Speedy wide receiver Nathan Stewart averaged 19.3 yards per reception in 2016 and will look to take the top off of the Spiders defense.
Reasons Not to Like Sam Houston State
The Bearkats couldn’t stop anyone when it really mattered. They allowed 442.2 yards per game last season and easily had the worst defense of all the teams that made the FCS Quarterfinals in 2016.
Only five starters return from last year’s unit and the old defensive coordinator is now coaching linebackers at the FBS level. Sam Houston State promoted Clayton Carlin to be the team’s new defensive coordinator after one season as the team’s secondary coach.
The last time Carlin was a defensive coordinator was in 2015, when his Coastal Carolina Chanticleers gave up 524 yards on the ground to The Citadel in a playoff loss. It’s hard to think that his hire will shake things up in Huntsville.
Reasons to Like Richmond
Word is that Lauletta is fully recovered from his injury. Lauletta is a potential NFL draft pick and the key to Richmond’s offense. He had a lot of success as a pro-style quarterback in former coach Danny Rocco’s offense and will be even more of a focal point in new head coach Russ Huesman’s scheme.
Huesman has experience against this Bearkats defense. Last year, he was the coach of Chattanooga and almost upset the Bearkats on their home turf in the playoffs. His Mocs racked up 29 first downs and 531 total yards against this defense in a 41-36 loss and he knows the soft spots.
Reasons Not to Like Richmond
The Spiders are changing up both the offense and the defense and those changes take time. While switching from a pro-style attack to a spread offense isn’t that concerning with a quarterback like Lauletta, changing from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 on defense is. Where the defense struggled last season was against the run and having one less big body won’t help.
Sam Houston State has decided to recommit to the run game after last year’s playoff failure and won’t be afraid to run the ball on this team if it gets the chance.
This will still be a very pro-SHSU crowd, but it won’t be the raucous environment that it would have been in Huntsville. My money is on a close back-and-forth affair that the Bearkats pull out at the end, but Richmond will stay close enough to get the cover.
Final Score: Sam Houston State 31, Richmond 28