COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Todd Berry, 17-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Farmer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Troy Reffett
ULM went 6–0 in the Sun Belt with a healthy Kolton Browning at quarterback. The Warhawks went 0–2 — with losses to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State — when Browning was sidelined with an injury. It’s safe to say that Browning, the 2012 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, is an important part of the ULM attack. The southpaw threw for 3,049 yard and 29 touchdowns and added 488 yards and seven TDs on the ground as a junior. Browning could top the Sun Belt’s all-time lists in both passing yards and total offense if he can remain healthy as a senior.
Browning, however, is far from a one-man show. Six other starters return on the offensive side of the ball, including a talented stable of skill players. The wideout trio of Je’Ron Hamm, Tavarese Maye and Colby Harper combined to catch 147 passes in 2012 and should be able to compensate for the graduation of leading receiver Brent Leonard. All the running backs return, led by senior Jyruss Edwards, who missed five games with an injury last season. A steady ground game would both complement Browning and protect him from yet another injury.
“We will still lean on Kolton, and he’s gained 20 pounds and really filled out to be more durable,” coach Todd Berry says. “But we need to run the ball to help him. Our offensive line is bigger and more experienced than it’s ever been. If we can run the ball, our offense will be better than at any point last year.”
Arguably ULM’s best defensive lineman (Kentarius Caldwell), linebacker (Cameron Blakes) and defensive back (Mitch Lane) were lost to injury last season. All three are back to anchor a defense that returns nine starters.
ULM is already strong in the secondary. The Warhawks intercepted a league-best 16 passes last season, which helped put their offense in advantageous scoring situations. But the pass rush and run defense could use an upgrade. ULM allowed at least 200 yards rushing in four of its five losses last season.
The top six defensive linemen return. There are some questions in the linebacking corps, where Blakes moves from outside to the middle and Austin Moss returns from injury.
Junior kicker/punter Justin Manton made steady progress in 2012, making 5-of-9 field goals and averaging nearly 40 yards per punt. But the Warhawks’ five made field goals were the third-fewest in the nation. Four ULM games went to overtime last season, where field goals often became a risky option.
Injuries to arguably ULM’s top six players derailed last season’s Sun Belt title hopes. The Warhawks still played in their first FBS bowl, but that ended with a surprisingly lopsided 45–14 loss to Ohio in the Independence Bowl.
This season represents the best shot at a conference crown for Berry and Browning, who guided the program to its best season in two decades of FBS competition in 2012.
“I think this group is hungry. They are not arrogant, but there is a little more swagger than before,” says Berry, who received a new four-year contract in the offseason. “We had to get through some injuries, and we did not end last year like we wanted. So our team doesn’t like how people are talking about them. But those injuries forced other guys to play a lot, and that’s led us to where we are now.”
The Warhawks have pivotal home conference games against Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, both bowl teams a year ago, and a season-ending trip to rival UL Lafayette that could have conference title implications.