COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mark Hudspeth, 9-4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jay Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Stewart
UL Lafayette's offense should put up plenty of points on the scoreboard in Sun Belt play.
The best season in Ragin’ Cajuns history happened for two reasons in 2011 — the emergence of quarterback Blaine Gautier and a big-play cast of wide receivers. Gautier took over full-time in Game 4 and finished with the most passing yards and TDs in school history, including a 470-yard, three-touchdown performance in the New Orleans Bowl. More important, he had only six total interceptions, with nine pick-free games.
Gautier’s junior season was good enough to dispel any notions of a quarterback controversy, even though the Cajuns now have transfer Terrance Broadway eligible after he saw starting duty as a freshman at Houston. “Our quarterback spot’s in good shape for several years,” says coach Mark Hudspeth, who in his first year took UL Lafayette from 3–9 to a 9–4 record and a first-ever bowl appearance as a Division I school.
Gautier’s receiving corps made those passing numbers possible, and that unit returns intact — with the exception of standout tight end Ladarius Green. Javone Lawson, Harry Peoples and Darryl Surgent combined for 149 grabs, 2,307 yards and 15 TDs and give UL Lafayette one of the Sun Belt’s best groups of pass-catchers.
The same quintet started all 13 games in the offensive line last year, and only guard Kyle Plouhar is not returning. Center Andre Huval, guard Daniel Quave and senior tackles Jaron Odom and Leonardo Bates should give Gautier plenty of time to both throw and create — something he did effectively as 2011 progressed.
Tailback Alonzo Harris, who rushed for 700 yards en route to Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors, could be even better as a sophomore.
There are many more questions defensively. The Cajuns returned seven interceptions for scores last year, tying for second-most in FBS history, but half of the back eight is gone. Even worse, no defensive line starters return to the 3-4-4 alignment.
Replacing corner Dwight Bentley and linebacker Lance Kelley will be a tough task, and the depth chart at outside linebacker and safety is still in flux entering the fall. Returning corner Melvin White and safety-turned-corner Jemarlous Moten will get some help from Ole Miss transfers T.J. Worthy and Tig Barksdale in the secondary.
Senior Rover Le’Marcus Gibson, who missed the bowl with a freak pregame injury, and sophomore inside linebacker Jake Molbert improved throughout the season. They’ll have to cover for an inexperienced front, where Emeka Onyenekwu (four career starts) has the most experience.
Senior Brett Baer returns after enjoying one of the nation’s best two-way kicking seasons. He averaged 40.3 yards per punt and converted 18-of-20 field goals, including a 50-yarder in the bowl game on the final play.
Cajun football has never been in better shape or attracted more support, but Hudspeth knows how close the storybook 2011 season came to being another break-even proposition. Six of the Cajuns’ games were decided on the final minutes, and UL Lafayette pulled out wins in five of those six. Three of those five came on the road, though, and a perfect 5–0 home record last year bodes well in a season in which three major players in the Sun Belt title race — Arkansas State, FIU and Western Kentucky — all come to Cajun Field.
Replacing Green’s talents won’t be easy, but the Cajuns are loaded offensively and on special teams, and that might be enough to cover for a revamped and inexperienced defense.