The Rant Sports 100 in 100 series continues the countdown to college football with No. 54, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
In head coach Mark Hudspeth‘s first two seasons, the team became the first in school history to reach nine wins in back-to-back seasons, claiming the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl championship in 2011 and 2012.
The program’s recent success resulted in more nationally televised games for the Ragin’ Cajuns this year and enabled the athletics department to begin a massive project to upgrade the university’s facilities, starting with stadium expansion and the construction of a football team building.
Will the Ragin’ Cajuns carry the momentum of the last two seasons into 2013?
Hudspeth isn’t a player, but he’s the team’s most important figure. Before he took over, the team hadn’t exceeded seven wins since 1993 and had never played in an FBS bowl game. In his two years as coach, Louisiana is 18-8 with two bowl victories.
On the field, the key player is junior quarterback Terrance Broadway. Broadway took over as starter midway through the year, and he’s the only one of the team’s 2012 MVPs who’ll be back in 2013. A transfer from Houston, Broadway set a school record with 3,611 yards of total offense and was named the New Orleans Bowl MVP.
In seven starts, he threw for 2,842 yards, 17 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher, with 769 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Including Broadway, the Ragin’ Cajuns return their top four rushers from 2012, when they had the second-best run game in the Sun Belt Conference. They must replace offensive tackles Leonardo Bates and Jaron Odom, who had 72 combined starts, but three other starters from last year’s solid, injury-free O-line return.
Senior center Andre Huval, who played all but 12 snaps last season, was named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List for the second-straight year. Junior Daniel Quave carries a 26-game streak of starts at right guard into 2013; his younger brother, Mykheal Quave, also returns and will shift from left guard to left tackle.
Both top receivers from 2012 — Harry Peoples and Javone Lawson — are gone, but Broadway’s third and fourth targets were equally solid. Junior Jamal Robinson is the team’s big play receiver, averaging 24.2 yards per catch last year, with three 100+ yard games. Senior Darryl Surgent, also the team’s kick and punt returner, had 34 catches for 569 yards and four touchdowns; he’ll move to slot receiver this fall. Louisiana also welcomes Tulsa transfer Ricky Johnson, a Conference USA All Freshman player several years ago.
The Ragin’ Cajuns defense, which struggled as the 2012 season progressed, enters the fall with a new defensive coordinator and six new starters.
The team was 112th nationally in pass protection and must replace senior cornerbacks Melvin White and Jemarious Moten and senior safety Rodney Gillis. New coordinator James Willis expects junior college transfers Cedrick Tillman and Corey Trim to help add depth and experience to the secondary immediately. Sophomore T.J. Worthy and transfer Darius ‘Tig’ Barksdale should also see more action at safety.
Louisiana’s defensive leaders look to be linebacker Justin Anderson, the top tackler from 2012, and defensive tackle Christian Ringo, who was second in the conference in sacks last season. Sophomore linebacker Chris Hill, last year’s defensive newcomer of the year, played every game as a freshman and should be a valuable member of the 2013 defense.
Because of injuries, the team played eight different linebackers over the course of the season; six of them are back and will be expected to play at a higher level this time around.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have five nationally televised games in 2013, three of them in ESPN’s midweek slots. The season kicks off with two tough games, at Arkansas and at Kansas State. Louisiana plays their two toughest conference games, at Western Kentucky and at defending Sun Belt Champion Arkansas State, on consecutive Tuesdays in October. The team stays at home for New Mexico State and Troy in early November but faces a tough four-day turnaround between the two.
The Ragin’ Cajuns will log some serious mileage in 2013, with seven games on the road, in six different states (Arkansas twice, Kansas, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky).