FCS match-ups don’t come any better than tonight when No. 2 ranked Sam Houston visits No. 9 McNeese in Lake Charles, La.

First place in the Southland Conference is up for grabs in the 7 p.m. showdown between two FCS top 10 teams.

The matchup pairs the winningest team in the Southland’s 50-year football history against the league’s dominant team the past two years. Only one can walk away a winner.

The Cowboys own a 156-82-7 overall record since joining the league in 1972. McNeese has won 13 conference titles including three championships since 2006.

Sam Houston is seeking to become the fifth team in Southland Conference history to earn league championships three years in a row.  The Bearkats have gone 30-6 during the past two-and-a-half seasons, winning the conference title and advancing to the NCAA championship game in Frisco both in 2011 and 2012. No other Southland team has made back-to-back appearances in the national finals.

“This is going to be a great game,” SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said. “We have a lot of respect for McNeese and the great program they run. Obviously, we want to win. Like any other game we play, it’s going to put the team that wins in the driver’s seat. They’re an excellent opponent and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Winning against the Cowboys, either in Huntsville or Lake Charles, has been a challenge for the Bearkats over the years..

Since 1988 when Sam Houston joined the Southland Conference, Sam Houston stands 2-11 in Cowboy Stadium. In the two team’s 25 league battles, McNeese owns a 20-5 victory advantage. Sam Houston defeated McNeese State 20-3 in Lake Charles in 1999 and 38-14 at Cowboy Stadium in 2011.

The win in “The Hole” two years ago ended a five-game losing streak in Lake Charles. When the Kats defeated McNeese 45-10 at SHSU homecoming last year, the 2011 and 2012 wins marked the first time Sam Houston has won back-to-back seasons over the Cowboys at the FCS level.

But this group of Sam Houston players has proven themselves on the road.

Since the start of the 2011 Southland championship season, Sam Houston stands 12-6 in games away from Bowers Stadium That includes a 10-4 record at opponents’ home sites with three of the four losses to FBS foes (two at Texas A&M and one at Baylor). Central Arkansas is the only FCS loss on a foe’s home field since 2011. The Kats are 2-2 at neutral sites with two wins over SFA at Reliant Stadium and two losses to North Dakota State in the national championship game at Frisco.

“McNeese has a really good ballclub. It’s going to be a big game,” Bearkats senior cornerback Bookie Sneed said. “They have a well-established offense and their defense is always good. Watching film on them, they’re going away from what they usually do. There’s a lot more passing, but they’re still going to run the ball. They have some really good athletes. It’s going to be a tough challenge and a good game.”

McNeese State and Sam Houston both stand 5-1 for the year and 1-0 in Southland play. The Kats defeated Lamar 14-3 in a defensive struggle at homecoming last Saturday.

McNeese State had a bye last week, but blasted defending co-Southland champion Central Arkansas in both teams’ conference opener in Conway, Ark., on Oct. 5 59-28.

Both the Bearkats’ and Cowboys’ offenses have caused a few sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators. Sam Houston and McNeese boast two of the top offenses in the FCS.

McNeese State, which rolled past Football Bowl Subdivision and American Athletic Conference member South Florida 53-21, is ranked 12th in total offense, averaging 485.8 yards per game, while the Kats are ranked 19th in that category with 461.2 yards per game.

Sam Houston State is the second-highest scoring offense with 45.3 points per game and McNeese State is third (43.8 points).

“We’ve got a lot of respect for McNeese. I like the way they run their program,” Fritz said. “Offensively, they’re doing a super job of being balanced. They’re not putting their quarterback in tough situations. They’re not turning the ball over. They’ve got a very good, explosive offense.”

A capacity crowd is expected at Cowboy Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on KSAM 101.7 FM and the internet at . ESPN3 also will carry the contest.

“It’s going to be phenomenal,” Fritz added. “That’s their tradition, playing night games. I like afternoon games better late in the year. That’s fine. They’ll have homecoming and I’m sure they’ll have a good crowd. It’ll be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”