The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 110 Louisiana-Monroe.
Previewing ULM’s Offense for 2014
The Kolton Browning era is over at ULM. The four-year starting quarterback racked up nearly 12,000 yards of total offense and 99 total TDs before graduating last season. His vacant role is open to four contenders, likely led by NC State transfer Pete Thomas. Brayle Brown — the only returning QB who took a snap at ULM last year — Earnest Carrington and Brian Williams could also get their shot, but Thomas is the favorite to win the job in preseason camp.
A California native, Thomas started for two years at Colorado State (2010-11) and one season at NC State (’13). He struggled in his one season with the Wolfpack (throwing four touchdowns and nine interceptions for a team that went winlesss in the ACC) and then transferred when it was apparent that Jacoby Brissett was going to win the job going forward.
Speedster Tyler Cain is back from a 2013 injury to join returning bruiser Centarius Donald (433 yards, four TDs) for a one-two punch in the backfield, and a physical, veteran line of four seniors and one junior should turn the offense to a more run-heavy style. Leading wideout Rashon Ceaser (65 receptions, 964 yards) paces a solid receiving corps, but talented tight ends Alec Osborne and Harley Scioneaux may provide the most security for the new quarterback.
Previewing ULM’s Defense for 2014
The group has come of age, with nine starters returning. Five of the top six defensive linemen are juniors or seniors, all three starting linebackers are upperclassmen and four starting defensive backs return. “We have been young on defense the last couple of years, but this year we are older and more confident,” Berry says. “This is the first year that we have had enough depth that our 3s (third-string players) are competitive.”
Despite the optimism and apparent depth, ULM must replace top tackler and defensive leader Cameron Blakes at linebacker, and the Warhawks need a more potent pass rush after last season’s team recorded only 16 sacks.
ULM is at least more athletic than past years. Nose tackle Gerrand Johnson and linebackers Ray Stovall and Hunter Kissinger should make the Warhawks strong against the run, but there are questions of consistency against the pass. Junior Mitch Lane, playing the pivotal Hawk position in ULM’s 3-3-5 scheme, needs a big year to bolster the secondary.
Previewing ULM’s Specialists for 2014
Justin Manton had the nation’s fourth-longest punting average (45.8) last season, but his placekicking has been a mere 50-50 proposition. The senior has made only 16-of-32 field goals in his career, and he has had a combined nine kicks/punts blocked over three seasons. Ceaser is a dangerous punt returner.
As usual, ULM has a challenging non-conference schedule with games against Wake Forest, LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. That makes it even tougher to get one of the Sun Belt Conference’s limited bowl slots, as its 6–6 record last season did not land a bid.
“We have got to schedule like that every year from a financial standpoint, so our players are all acclimated to those type of challenges,” Berry says. “It can have an impact with the bowl tie-ins in our conference because of your overall record.”
ULM will have more experience than the majority of its opponents, but a lot rests on the performance of the starting quarterback, especially since Browning provided the team’s identity for so long. Berry’s teams have often overachieved, but with four new Sun Belt members it’s difficult to figure where the Warhawks should rank in the new lineup.