University of Central Arkansas Roster Breakdown
Head Coach: Steve Campbell
Last Season Record: 10-3
Games vs FBS: Arkansas State
Top Rated Players Returning
LB George Odum
LB Chris Chambers
DE Cardell Best
DT Chris Terrell
CB Jaylon Lofton
The Central Arkansas Bears should come into the 2017 season hungry, looking to finish what they couldn’t in 2016. Last year was, statistically, a banner year for the program. They finished the regular season with only one loss, and was the strongest defense in the Southland Conference, just squeaking by a strong McNeese State squad.
The offense was equally impressive, again finishing second in the conference, more than 80 points ahead of the next closest team — again McNeese St. The Bears were about as well-rounded a team as you can get, but it didn’t translate to the ultimate success. Something they hope they can rectify this season. But it won’t be easy. The Bears lost a lot of firepower on offense to graduation, and the Sam Houston State Jaguars look to be just as potent this season as last.
Thankfully for the Bears, most of their biggest defensive contributors are returning. Led by Cardell Best and Chris Terrell up front, and stud linebackers Chris Chambers and George Odum, the Bears look to reign in Sam Houston State and keep their stranglehold on the rest of the Southland Conference. This time getting to the promised land of a championship.
The Bears offense was strong last season, led by strong senior leadership at the skill positions. Led by wide receivers Desmond Smith and Jatavious Wilson, and running back Antwon Wells, the Bears offense was good enough for second in the conference. A conference known for high-flying, air-it-out football. Other than quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, that offensive firepower has all left the friendly confines of Estes Stadium for the next phase of their lives.
Now the honus will be put squarely upon Hildebrand and head coach Steve Campbell to re-tool the offense and replicate, and expand, the success of the 2016 squad. They had the offensive firepower to dominate most of their competition. But when it mattered most, they couldn’t hold up. The 2017 squad may struggle to meet the high standards set by last year’s team, but the defense may be strong enough to make up for their shortcomings.
If you’re going to survive in the Southland Conference, you have to be able to do one of two things. Score with the best of them, or be able to shut down a massive passing attack. The strength of the 2016 Central Arkansas team was, by far, their defense. The offense was strong, but the defense was their bread and butter. With the core group of defenders returning for one more run in 2017, it’s now or never for this group.
Cardell Best and Chris Terrell wreaked havoc upon opposing offenses in 2016, finishing 8th and 9th respectively in tackles for loss. They were even better when it came to disrupting the passing game, with Terrell coming in 6th in the conference with seven sacks, with Best not far behind at 8th with 5.5.
With one more year under their belts, and only one more year to go, both players should be hungry to improve upon those numbers. These two will be the driving force behind what looks to be another dynamite Bears defense.
The secondary for the Bears, on the other hand, may prove to be a bit suspect. They lost their best defender, Tyler Williams to graduation. Williams led the team last season with four interceptions, and led the entire conference in passes defended with 27. That kind of production is hard to replace. Lucky for them, both Tremon Smith and Jaylon Lofton are returning to form another strong core group of senior leadership, this time on the defensive side.
It will be that strong defensive leadership that will ultimately determine how far the 2017 squad goes. If the defense can put the team on its back, and have the young guys on offense gel quickly, the Bears should be a strong title contender this season.