Sam Houston enters its first full season as an FBS program in 2023. Though the Bearkats are ineligible for the postseason, they hope to post a bowl-qualifying worthy record to show that the move up from the FCS ranks isn't a fluke.
While at the FCS level, Sam Houston won the CoVid Spring (2021) national title game, and the Bearkats had a ton of success in the Southland Conference with current coach K.C. Keeler and his predecessor Willie Fritz (now doing very well at Tulane). How will the Bearkats fare in their first full C-USA season? Time will tell — and we discuss below.
SAM HOUSTON 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Conference USA
2022 RECORD: 5-4 (played in FCS in 2022)
CONF. FINISH: N/A. Played in FCS
HEAD COACH: K.C. Keeler (10th year at school - 85-27; 30th year overall - 259-100-1)
ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Markel Perry, LB/Sr. (injury issues in 2022 but back strong); Chris Hicks, KR/Fr. (28.7 per KR); Zach Hrbacek, RB/Soph. (495 yards rushing, 3 TDs); Ife Adeyi, WR/Jr.; Ethan Hagler, OL/Jr.; Trevor Williams, LB/Sr. (32 tackles); Kevian Gaither, LB/Jr. (team leading tackler, 79 tackles, 9 TFL); Jevon Leon, DT/Jr.
At the FCS level? Sam Houston would typically outscore you and leave you in the dust. The problem was the Bearkats would run into a playoff roadblock when it comes to the top physical defenses and they couldn't counter. Well — that changed in 2019 when veteran coach K.C. Keeler declared to all of us at Southland Media Days: We are changing our strength and conditioning program.
And it was prophetic — by Spring of 2021 during CoVid? Sam Houston was knocking around elite teams at the FCS level. In this year of 2023 transition, the Bearkats may be more impressive against FBS competition on the defensive side of things while the high-octane offensive attack resets. We'll see if that's how it works out.
THE KEY GAME AND WHY
We'll tell you what: Since the media had FIU and Sam Houston in a tie for last, we'll make that Oct. 18 home game at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas the key game. Look, the Bearkats are new, and they sat a lot of key guys last year to prep for 2023 and who knows?
Maybe these guys are a tad bit rusty, or maybe they're All-C-USA potential. But the program will undoubtedly be hungry for wins. Back to the game? This is a great opportunity as FIU is rebuilding too.
THE TOUGHEST GAME AND WHY
There are some tough ones for the BearKats that dot the schedule, but the one that jumps out because of regional reasons is Houston, which just moved up to the Power Five ranks in the Big 12. Sam Houston isn't literally in the city of Houston, but it's not too far away. The Cougars are good, and that Sept. 23 matchup at TDECU Stadium in Houston will be a serious challenge.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
This is an easy answer: Sam Houston isn't eligible for postseason play (C-USA title game or bowl games). So this question is null and void.
The truth is, the Bearkats are just starting their transition up to the C-USA realm. Let's talk about how far they've come when we get into 2024, before we worry about 2023. This is definitely a learning experience for Sam Houston, but this is a traditionally solid college football program with damned good coaches. Give it some time to adapt to having 85 scholarships, etc.
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