The University of Central Bears have opened a lead going into the stretch run of the Southland Conference football race.

But as the teams approach the final turn, four teams are breathing down UCA’s neck. There is little margin for a misstep.

UCA is 5-0. Four teams have one loss — Southeastern Louisiana (5-1), Sam Houston State (4-1), McNeese State (4-1) and Nicholls (4-1).

The Bears have almost completed the gauntlet of the leaders. The teams behind them face various degrees of the gauntlet.

UCA may have gotten a break by facing the Southeastern Louisiana Lions before they developed a growl as they are one of the league’s hottest teams.

However, the jungle still awaits the Lions, whose remaining games will have a lot to do with the final pecking order. Still ahead for SLU are Sam Houston, McNeese and Nicholls.

The Bears have a pivotal matchup at home Saturday night against McNeese. Both teams have won six straight. A McNeese State victory changes the dynamic and creates a major logjam.

The path through the lower division has hurdles. Stephen F. Austin has played for Sam Houston and UCA to the wire and has a young team that is one of the league’s most improved units since the start of the season. Northwestern State, which hit the gauntlet early, is dangerous because the Demons are better than 1-5.

It’s the time of the season that teams in the l0wer half of the standings can play loosely and are dangerous enough to pull an upset.

After McNeese, UCA has games remaining against the lower division — Lamar, Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian.

One interesting factor is how much the teams in the SLC can beat each other up and knock somebody out of the postseason playoffs.

The SLC will almost surely get two teams in the FCS playoffs and deserve three or four. The top half of the league is that good. The Southland’s strength is underrated in the polls.

So, the last month of the season will feature not only a jockeying from front-running positions but a fight for survival to postseason.