Sam Houston State football: Bearkats ranked No. 5 in FCS, Darius Taylor suspended

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

The Sam Houston State Bearkats moved back into the Top 5 of the FCS rankings after a blowout against McNeese State at Bowers Stadium last Saturday. Also, linebacker Darius Taylor was suspended for an illegal hit.

This Sam Houston State football team is starting to look like last year's, the one that went 14-1, ran away with the Southland Conference title and competed for an FCS national championship. After starting the 2012 season with a disappointing 1-2 record, the Bearkats (5-2, 3-1 SLC) are winners of four straight, three of them conference games and have climbed their way back into the top of the FCS polls.

SHSU rounds out the top five behind top-ranked Eastern Washington, No. 2 Georgia Southern, No. 3 North Dakota State (defending FCS champion) and No. 4 Montana State.

The season started with a routine win against Incarnate Word before the Kats got their bubble busted by Baylor. SHSU held the lead at halftime, but critical turnovers allowed Baylor to regain momentum and run away with it. Then there was the Central Arkansas game, the Southland Conference opener. SHSU traveled to Conway and dominated for most of the game.

But in the last few minutes, UCA came up with a pair of touchdowns that shocked the favored Sam Houston team. That meant the Bearkats were starting out conference play with an 0-1 record and would be playing for their lives for the rest of the season.

SHSU has played like it ever since. In fact, the Kats haven't scored less than 41 points since that loss to UCA. The Battle of the Piney Woods at Reliant Stadium was an all-timer and SHSU pulled away, 51-43. But these last two games, SHSU shut out Nicholls, 41-0. The McNeese game was homecoming and turned out to be the first time SHSU beat the Cowboys two seasons in a row. And it was a 45-10 beating.

Lamar is next on the schedule, and as the league's worst team, the Cardinals shouldn't pose any threats to SHSU. A Lamar win would easily be the biggest upset of the season. From here, it's a three-team race for the Southland Conference title between SHSU, UCA and Southeastern Louisiana.

Speaking of which...

Southland Conference and Darius Taylor suspension

The reaction to the suspension of SHSU linebacker Darius Taylor has basically called into question the integrity of the Southland Conference. It's always difficult to understand how players are punished for "illegal hits" they aren't flagged for during the game.

That's what we have here with Taylor, as the league suspended Taylor for his hit toward the head or neck area of a defenseless Nicholls receiver. Kevin Roberts of Southeastern LA was also suspended for a similar offense.

What's interesting and kind of disturbing about this is that the league's Executive Committee was in charge of enforcing the rulings and that committee just happens to be led by Central Arkansas athletic director Brad Teague.

While the rules clearly state that a player can be punished for illegal hits upon further review, whether it's flagged or not, it doesn't stop the suspicion and obvious conflict of interest of having Central Arkansas in a three-team race with SHSU and Southeastern LA for the conference title, and the UCA athletic director is influential in decisions to suspend the other team's key players.

My question on this is if the league is reviewing unnecessary roughness hits, flagged or not, then how busy, diligent and meticulous is this league? I'm willing to bet not very.

If we go back to the SHSU-UCA game, and UCA defensive back Jestin Love was suspended for just half a game for a similar hit against SHSU quarterback Brian Bell, the double standard looks pretty obvious and clear.

It has a lot of SHSU fans and folks in Huntsville that I've talked to thinking that the program can't live under the umbrella of the Southland Conference for much longer. It lacks credibility, this bogus suspension aside. And if the Kats continue to build and expand this brand with the football team and all of the other successful programs that go with it, perhaps SHSU can move on to something bigger and better in the near future.

SHSU athletic director Bobby Williams had these comments on the suspension:

"It is an unfortunate decision forcing Darius to miss a game. We disagree with the ruling that this was a targeted hit. We asked the league to take a second look at the play in comparison to other similar hits that went unpunished this season and were denied on the appeal."

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