Today, we’re 93 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 93 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
Head coach Mark Hudspeth has reached near god-like status in Lafayette in a short period of time after taking the Ragin’ Cajuns to a nine-win season and a bowl win in 2011.
There’s a substantial buzz surrounding the Ragin’ Cajuns this spring, and justifiably so. Coming off one of the biggest seasons in school history– topped off by a last-second win against San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl– expectations are higher than ever.
The question is, can momentum be maintained?
Quarterback Blaine Gaultier leads the team into 2012, and has several weapons returning at his disposal. In simplest terms, if Gaultier can improve in 2012 the same way he improved between the finish of the 2010 season and the start of the 2011 season, Louisiana may have an unexpected gem on their hands.
Gaultier’s primary target should be wide receiver Javon Lawson, who finished the 2011 season with 1,092 yards on 93 catches and eight touchdowns. Lawson should be one of the Sun Belt Conference’s top receivers this fall and has the potential to turn heads around the country.
Secondary receivers Harry Peoples and Darryl Surgent also have the opportunity to step up into bigger roles and could be a nice addition to a wide receiving corps that needs to produce, and do so consistently for the Ragin’ Cajuns to replicate their 2011 success in 2012.
The running game will be anchored by sophomore Alonzo Harris, who rushed for 700 yards in 2011 and earned the conference’s Newcomer of the Year award.
Although star tight end Ladarius Green has departed for the NFL, the offensive line returns four starters and should be solid. Louisiana will feature a balanced offense that will require all parts to work together and gel, and if they do, another successful season could be well within their sights.
While the Louisiana offense returns many of its key players, the defensive unit won’t be so lucky. With the departure of seven starters, there are plenty of holes to fill, but a talented transfer and recruiting class could fit the bill.
In total, the Cajuns return only four starters, two of which were full-time in safety Jemarlous Moten and linebacker Jake Molbert. Rover Le’Marcus Gibson and cornerback Melvin White also return, but apart from them, starting jobs are up for grabs.
A talented, but once-troubled, group of transfers may fill many of these slots. Former Ole Miss Rebels Delvin Jones (S) and T.J. Worthy (LB) should have the chance to start immediately, and could add talent and depth to a unit that will desperately need both to be competitive this fall.
Nothing’s for certain on Greg Stewart‘s defensive roster, but sometimes those situations yield the greatest accomplishments as young men rise to the occasion. Ragin’ Cajun fans can only hope this is the case when September rolls around.
The Louisiana schedule isn’t particularly daunting apart from a Week 3 visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma to visit the Oklahoma State Cowboys which will almost certainly be an L. The Cajuns open the 2012 campaign with the Lamar Cardinals who finished the 2011 season 4-6 against sub-par competition and should be a cupcake win.
Early games against the Troy Trojans and Florida International are also winnable– while Tulane may present a challenge–and should help the Cajuns hit the ground running in preparation for their Sun Belt Conference opener in Denton at the new Apogee Stadium against the UNT Mean Green on October 16th.
A return trip to the New Orleans Bowl in 2013 is certainly in the Cajuns’ sights and it’s hard to see how they won’t be the Sun Belt’s representative once again.