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ULM's new coach inherits a tough job, but might have the right experience for it

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At the very least, Matt Viator knows what he's getting himself into.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Hard jobs remain hard

Todd Berry did something that hadn't been done before. Six other coaches had led UL-Monroe into battle at the FBS/I-A level, and none had ever taken the Warhawks to a bowl game. But in 2012, he did just that, and in 2013, he almost did as well. They won 14 games in those two seasons; in only one other two-year span had they ever won even 12 (1980-81).

Berry was in a lot of ways the mid-major version of Jim Grobe at Wake Forest. Both took on nearly impossible jobs at schools with minimal histories. Both dealt with worse budgets, facilities, support, etc., than their conference brethren. Both took unorthodox tactical approaches. And both managed to win games for a bit. Granted, Grobe sustained his success for a longer period of time (28 wins from 2006-08, five bowls overall), the similarities between both the programs and the coaches are obvious. And for both, eventually the bag of tricks ran out.

At ULM, it happened like it does in a lot of places. Your collection of diamonds-in-the-rough runs out of eligibility, and the next set of diamonds aren't diamonds at all. Berry couldn't find a quarterback that fit his system as well as Kolton Browning had in 2012-13. He couldn't find a trio of receivers as effective and durable as Brent Leonard, Je'Ron Hamm, and Tavarese Maye were. He couldn't put together another linebacking corps like the 2012 collection of Ray Stovall, DaCorris Ford, and R.J. Young (34.5 tackles for loss in 2012).

In the end, Berry's tenure fizzled out pretty quickly. From eight wins in 2012, ULM fell to six, then four, then two. Berry was fired after a 1-9 start, and while the Warhawks rallied in his honor (they lost by only two at Hawaii, then beat NMSU), there was justice in the firing. As well as he had done in building hope in Monroe, he was out of answers.

Hard jobs remain hard at all times, and with the state of Louisiana going through pretty hardcore budget issues at the moment, the ULM job might be harder than ever at the moment.  But after expressing interest in some younger up-and-comers -- Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, WKU offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, Grambling head coach Broderick Fobbs -- the school replaced Berry with someone who has pretty specific hard-job-in-Louisiana experience. After 10 seasons at McNeese State, 200 miles away in Lake Charles, Matt Viator was hired in mid-December.

Viator was a steady winner at McNeese. His Cowboys went to the FCS playoffs five times and won at least 10 games three times. He won shares of four Southland Conference titles, and McNeese State actually finished ahead of ULM in the Sagarin ratings in two of the last three years. And again, he knows what it's like to recruit and guide a program in this tricky, unique state.

This was the exact opposite of a sexy hire, but winning in Monroe isn't about sexy. Viator is a successful FCS head coach, and he's brought in some successful FCS coordinators. It's going to take them a while to make something out of a pretty limited collection of talent, but at the least the sophomore class appears promising, and the expectations bar will be pretty low for a while. And they actually wanted the job. That's a plus, too.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-11 | Adj. Record: 1-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 121 | Final S&P+ Rk: 122
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at Georgia 30 14-51 L 3% 0% -9.9 -1.0
12-Sep Nicholls State N/A 47-0 W 83% 100% +16.7
26-Sep at Alabama 1 0-34 L 3% 0% +12.0 +4.0
3-Oct Georgia Southern 48 31-51 L 7% 0% -7.6 -14.0
10-Oct at Tulsa 95 24-34 L 24% 25% +18.1 -0.5
17-Oct Appalachian State 42 14-59 L 7% 0% -30.7 -33.5
24-Oct at Idaho 114 13-27 L 14% 12% -11.1 -12.5
31-Oct at UL-Lafayette 104 24-30 L 33% 45% +8.5 +5.5
7-Nov at Troy 90 14-51 L 2% 0% -23.3 -27.0
14-Nov Arkansas State 71 21-59 L 13% 2% -23.4 -23.5
19-Nov at Texas State 116 3-16 L 6% 2% -4.8 -6.5
28-Nov at Hawaii 120 26-28 L 18% 28% +3.7 -2.0
5-Dec New Mexico State 118 42-35 W 40% 73% +10.0 +7.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 14.5 125 34.5 104
Points Per Game 21.0 111 36.5 113

2. Never a chance

Out of sheer necessity, ULM takes on payout games like few at the FBS level. In the 22 seasons since rejoining FBS, the Warhawks have played 12 of 14 current SEC teams at least once (everyone but South Carolina and Vanderbilt), along with seven Big 12 teams, five Pac-12 teams, four ACC teams, and two Big Ten teams. They've taken on Arkansas 10 times and Auburn nine times. And while that opens up the opportunity for monumental upsets -- they beat Alabama in 2007 and Arkansas in 2012 and have come close quite a few other times -- most of the time it just means blowout losses.

ULM was desperate for traction after a 4-8 campaign in 2014, but the schedule simply wouldn't allow it. The Warhawks played four top-50 opponents in the first six games and lost those four games by an average score of 49-15. Then, following that gauntlet, they played three straight conference road games. Decent performances -- a 10-point loss at Tulsa, a six-point loss at rival UL-Lafayette -- were swallowed up by blowouts, and the Berry era ended with a 16-3 loss at Texas State.

It's a new coaching era now, but the scheduling remains the same. After opening the season with Southern, ULM will mix a pretty rough conference road slate (which includes visits to each of the Sun Belt's top three teams) with trips to Oklahoma, Auburn, and a New Mexico team coming off of its best season in nearly a decade. The good news is that all five home games come against teams projected 106th or worse. The bad news is that post-blowout morale could continue to be an issue.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.22 89 IsoPPP+ 76.4 123
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 34.2% 123 Succ. Rt. + 79.3 122
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 35.7 127 Def. FP+ 35.8 126
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 70 Redzone S&P+ 92.7 103
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 32.9 ACTUAL 30 -2.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 123 119 122 123
RUSHING 124 127 127 126
PASSING 83 118 114 120
Standard Downs 118 121 113
Passing Downs 125 121 126
Q1 Rk 111 1st Down Rk 127
Q2 Rk 115 2nd Down Rk 115
Q3 Rk 109 3rd Down Rk 118
Q4 Rk 128

3. A Matt Kubik offense

Viator's 2015 offense at McNeese State was built around former Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams, who threw for 1,666 yards and rushed for 934. It was a run-heavy attack -- 27 pass attempts and 45 rush attempts per game -- and it chewed up clock for a defense that faced only 64 plays per game.

New offensive coordinator Matt Kubik's Stephen F. Austin offense, meanwhile? A little bit different. The Lumberjacks attempted 38 passes and 35 rushes per game, leaning on more of an efficiency-based passing game and fewer QB rushes (about 10 per game). Five players caught between 21 and 44 passes in 11 games. And whereas the McNeese offense created a power-heavy 69 percent in terms of solo tackles (the higher the ratio of solo tackles, the more spread-ish your offense is), SFA's was a bit more spread-out 74 percent. McNeese averaged about 2.15 snaps per minute; SFA averaged 2.45.

These aren't night-and-day differences, but with a limited attack it will be interesting to see if Viator, who ran the McNeese offense but is handing play-calling duties to Kubik, tries to get Kubik to slow things down a bit. And it will also be interesting to see how much Kubik tries to air things out. Before spending two years as SFA's offensive coordinator, he spent three years as receivers coach for pass-happy Central Arkansas.

ULM will probably not be attempting any sort of high-octane, run- or pass-heavy attack in 2016. Kubik inherits a sophomore quarterback who took some lumps last year (and showed decent mobility), an experienced (but not particularly effective) receiving corps of mostly small guys, a pair of interesting running backs, and a line full of experience and size and no track record of success.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Garrett Smith 6'0, 211 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7886 191 333 2033 17 11 57.4% 23 6.5% 5.5
Earnest Carrington 56 119 539 5 7 47.1% 10 7.8% 3.7
Brayle Brown 3 11 25 0 0 27.3% 2 15.4% 0.9
Brian Williams 6'4, 213 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 5 10 101 3 1 50.0% 0 0.0% 10.1
Chandler Eiland 5'11, 197 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8019








Will Collins 6'11, 211 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7919








Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Kaylon Watson RB 6'0, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 96 331 0 3.4 3.9 28.1% 3 3
Ben Luckett RB 5'11, 214 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 94 509 2 5.4 5.8 38.3% 1 0
Garrett Smith QB 6'0, 211 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7886 85 332 2 3.9 3.8 31.8% 8 3
DeVontae McNeal RB 56 204 2 3.6 5.3 26.8% 3 1
Earnest Carrington QB 24 137 1 5.7 4.9 41.7% 2 1
Brayle Brown QB 12 40 0 3.3 2.9 33.3% 0 0
Brian Williams QB 6'4, 213 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 6 8 0 1.3 4.0 16.7% 0 0
Thomas Koufie RB 5'11, 220 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583
Kayin White RB 5'11, 222 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7400







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Ajalen Holley WR 5'10, 193 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600 114 60 709 52.6% 25.3% 6.2 49.1% 37.7% 1.58
Marcus Green WR 5'8, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7433 106 63 698 59.4% 23.5% 6.6 62.3% 44.3% 1.39
Tyler Cain (2014) WR 5'8, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 59 45 273 76.3% 11.8% 4.6 50.8% N/A N/A
Jared Mapps WR 6'2, 200 Sr. NR NR 49 26 236 53.1% 10.9% 4.8 46.9% 36.7% 1.17
Rashon Ceaser WR 44 31 325 70.5% 9.8% 7.4 61.4% 52.3% 1.28
Kaylon Watson RB 6'0, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 29 20 183 69.0% 6.4% 6.3 72.4% 31.0% 2.06
Harley Scioneaux TE 27 15 197 55.6% 6.0% 7.3 59.3% 48.1% 1.45
Xavier Brown WR 6'0, 186 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400 16 8 69 50.0% 3.5% 4.3 68.8% 43.8% 0.87
D'Marius Gillespie WR 6'0, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 16 6 39 37.5% 3.5% 2.4 62.5% 18.8% 1.21
DeVontae McNeal RB 12 9 104 75.0% 2.7% 8.7 83.3% 25.0% 3.33
Stoney Hawkins TE 6'2, 224 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 10 5 43 50.0% 2.2% 4.3 40.0% 30.0% 1.25
Ben Luckett RB 5'11, 214 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 8 4 26 50.0% 1.8% 3.3 50.0% 37.5% 0.92
Tre' Perrier WR 5'8, 179 Sr. NR NR 7 5 36 71.4% 1.6% 5.1 42.9% 57.1% 0.65
De'Vonte Haggerty WR 5'11, 189 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7500 5 2 17 40.0% 1.1% 3.4 60.0% 20.0% 1.47
Markis McCray WR 5'10, 165 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8044 4 1 4 25.0% 0.9% 1.0 50.0% 0.0% 0.00
Alec Osborne TE 6'3, 234 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7894
Brennen Bradley WR 6'4, 201 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Josh Pederson TE 6'4, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893

4. Hope in the sophomore class

There wasn't much to like about the 2015 ULM offense. The Warhawks were pass-happy, in part because they couldn't run, and they didn't rank in the top 100 in any of the opponent-adjusted offensive stats above.

Kubik's got his work cut out for him, but if you don't have any proven quality, you at least want to see some youth, some guys you might be able to develop into something interesting over time. And if you look at the individual stats above, you find that sophomores provided the most interesting glimpses.

  • Quarterback Garrett Smith completed 57 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns despite minimal run threat, and despite missing the last three games of the year with injury. He had a predictably miserable time against Alabama (17-for-37 for 74 yards and two picks), but his passer rating hit 137 or higher on three occasions, and he went 23-for-29 against Georgia. He has efficiency potential, and he can scramble a bit.
  • Running back Ben Luckett was up and down all year, but he rushed a combined 26 times for 214 yards against SBC heavyweights Appalachian State and Arkansas State, and his advanced stats -- 38 percent opportunity rate, 5.8 highlight yards per opportunity -- were decent. Junior counterpart Kaylon Watson will get a run, too, but Luckett flashed more upside in 2015.
  • Receiver Marcus Green caught 63 passes as a redshirt freshman, and among 2015 ULM wideouts (not including Tyler Cain, who missed the entire season), he had the highest catch rate, success rate, and average yards per target. He had 12 catches for 149 against Troy and 12 for 103 against Hawaii. He could develop into a strong possession option.

The receiving corps is small, and aside from maybe Luckett, we don't know if there's a big-play threat on the roster. But you could see the components of a nice efficiency offense developing over the next year or two.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 76.2 2.58 1.59 32.0% 68.0% 20.9% 81.1 5.4% 9.6%
Rank 126 110 128 121 50 88 95 75 99
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Colby Mitchell C 13 24
Frank Sutton, Jr. LG 6'3, 302 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 19
Chase Regian RT 6'3, 297 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 7 19
Rey Baltazar LT 6'5, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 13 13
Jeff Savage RG 6'2, 297 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985 13 13
Keaton Baggs RT 6'5, 297 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 5 5
Jimmy Chung LG
0 1
Brady Willcutt LT 6'1, 280 So. NR NR 0 0
Brian Thlang C 6'1, 299 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7683 0 0
Jake Snyder RG 6'2, 291 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 0 0
Brandon Bridgers LT 6'4, 299 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 0 0
T.J. Fiailoa OL 6'4, 340 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167

Samuel Williams OL 6'7, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8254


5. Size and experience up front, at least

From a preview perspective, you're basically gauging a line by looking at last year's stats, returning starts, and general size and recruiting rankings. ULM checks two of the four boxes ... but probably the two least important. They return five players who have started 69 career games. Good! The 11 players listed above average 6'3, 298. Good enough!

The two other boxes, however, remain unchecked. While ULM was pretty good in short yardage situations and not completely awful at keeping defenders out of the backfield, they couldn't create opportunities for their (admittedly shaky) running backs. And while two incoming freshmen (TJ Tiailoa and Samuel Williams) were each three-star recruits per the 247Sports Composite, they're freshmen. It's hard to imagine an incredible amount of upside here.

Viator did land a pretty seasoned offensive line coach, however. Rob Sale was Georgia's OL coach last year after spending three years with Viator at McNeese State. He might be able to mold something pretty interesting there within a year or two.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 94 IsoPPP+ 98.4 72
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.3% 59 Succ. Rt. + 97.5 73
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.6 101 Off. FP+ 27.8 104
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 66 Redzone S&P+ 93.1 98
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.8 ACTUAL 14.0 -3.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 93 72 73 72
RUSHING 105 46 62 39
PASSING 55 100 85 112
Standard Downs 57 60 60
Passing Downs 96 100 95
Q1 Rk 93 1st Down Rk 74
Q2 Rk 91 2nd Down Rk 73
Q3 Rk 65 3rd Down Rk 79
Q4 Rk 43

6. A Mike Collins defense

New defensive coordinator Mike Collins spent the last three seasons as Sam Houston State's DC after serving as a Viator assistant from 2008-12. At SHSU, he had the pieces to attack, and he did so. The Bearkats recorded 122 tackles for loss with a havoc rate of 19.7 percent, which would have ranked 12th at the FBS level. SHSU stuffed the run, created a lot of third-and-longs, and attempted to render opponents one-dimensional. They took risks, got burned a few times, and made a lot of stops.

In its better moments, ULM was similar. Looking at unadjusted numbers above, the Warhawks ranked 59th in success rate but 94th in IsoPPP; they allowed 25 passes of 30-plus yards (105th in FBS), but when they forced a third down, it was a long one (average distance to go: 7.4, 47th in FBS).

Of course, that was last year's personnel. Not only is Collins going to attempt to transition from Berry's unique 3-3-5 attack, but he's going to do so without four of last year's top five linemen and all three starting linebackers.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 102 2.78 3.24 39.8% 63.0% 21.8% 100.3 5.0% 8.0%
Rank 49 45 67 83 46 45 65 65 53
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gerrand Johnson DT 12 48.5 6.1% 10.0 3.5 0 3 1 0
Ben Banogu DE
13 35.0 4.4% 14.5 5.0 0 2 2 0
Lorenzo Jackson DE 13 21.5 2.7% 4.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Colton Moorehead DE 6'3, 257 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7867 13 13.5 1.7% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jackson Randle DT 13 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Derion Ford DT 6'0, 290 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 7 3.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
David Elias, Jr. DT 6'2, 274 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 5 3.0 0.4% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jacob Tyson DE 6'1, 273 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519
Donald Louis, Jr. DE 6'2, 271 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8017
Sam Miller DE 6'3, 219 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8082
Jaylen Veasley DT 6'2, 278 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7948
Shaquille Warren DE 6'2, 246 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659
Howard Houston, Jr. DT 6'1, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000
Tyler Johnson DT 6'3, 283 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7600
Ty Shelby DE 6'5, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8194








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Hunter Kissinger LB 11 106.0 13.3% 11.5 2.0 1 0 0 0
Michael Johnson LB 13 80.0 10.0% 13.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Cody Robinson LB 9 39.5 4.9% 5.0 3.5 0 1 1 0
David Griffith LB 6'0, 211 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 13 30.0 3.8% 6.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
Braxton Moore LB 5'11, 221 Sr. NR NR 10 18.5 2.3% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Caleb Tucker LB 6'2, 231 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8306 13 18.0 2.3% 5.0 2.5 0 1 0 0
Tevyn Cagins LB 6'2, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7100 13 15.5 1.9% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jarred Dunn LB 6'0, 219 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500 11 6.5 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Cody McGuire LB 6'2, 231 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7494 13 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sterling Doss LB 6'0, 225 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700
Chase Day LB 6'1, 216 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759
Kyle Nevels LB 6'3, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859








7. Playing time available!

The good news: The few returnees who actually saw the field in 2015 flashed some play-making potential. End Colton Moorehead made a couple of plays, tackle David Elias Jr. made 2.5 of his three tackles behind the line, linebackers David Griffith and Caleb Tucker combined for 11 tackles for loss in occasional action, etc.

The bad news: Wow, is the front seven going to be young this year. Moorehead is a senior, and Elias and Tucker are juniors, but almost everybody else on the two-deep will either be sophomores, redshirt freshmen, or February signees. There is a lack of discipline, a propensity for breakdown, that comes with playing inexperienced personnel, and it will probably handcuff Collins' ability to attack like he wants to.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Trey Caldwell CB 13 46.0 5.8% 5.5 0 1 10 0 0
Tre' Hunter S 6'0, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200 12 45.5 5.7% 0.5 0 2 2 1 0
Lenzy Pipkins CB 6'0, 201 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900 13 41.0 5.1% 1 1 0 2 1 0
Wesley Thompson S 6'1, 193 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 13 40.0 5.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mitch Lane S 9 36.5 4.6% 1 1 0 2 0 0
Roland Jenkins S 5'11, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700 13 22.5 2.8% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Marquis McCullum S 5'11, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 16.5 2.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Alex Johnson S 5'11, 197 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7800 13 16.0 2.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Townsend S 6'0, 175 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 13 15.5 1.9% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Justin Backus S 6'2, 184 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7600 4 14.0 1.8% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Junior Williams CB 12 11.5 1.4% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Marcus Hubbard CB 5'9, 173 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7644 13 11.0 1.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Ferrando Joseph CB 5'10, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 12 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brynden Vance S 6'0, 195 So. NR NR 10 3.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Grant Dotsy CB 5'10, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300
Cortez Sisco, Jr. S 5'11, 199 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8377
Xavier Dias S 5'10, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126
Terry Ausborne, Jr. DB 5'11, 172 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583
Jayrin Wilson CB 5'11, 165 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Logan Latin CB 5'9, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8006

8. The lone play-maker is gone

Depth and experience won't, however, be an issue in the secondary. Between playing five DBs in most situations and dealing with quite a few injuries, 12 different ULM defensive backs recorded at least 11 tackles in 2015. That eight of them return is undoubtedly a good thing, even if ULM's pass defense was pretty sketchy. The problem: The one guy who could absolutely make plays -- corner Trey Caldwell -- is one of the three departees. He alone had 5.5 tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed; the aforementioned eight returnees combiend for four and nine, respectively. Yikes.

Berry's parting gift to Viator and Collins might come in handy in the coming years. Per 247, he's leaving behind three-star redshirt freshmen on the line (Donald Louis Jr. and Sam Miller) and in the secondary (Cortez Sisco Jr. and Xavier Dias). Viator added a couple more decent recruits and some JUCOs, and it's not hard to see a 2017 ULM defense combining strong experience with decent athleticism and depth.

But that's 2017. In 2016, Collins will be forced to choose between taking risks that get you burned a lot and playing things rather safe, hoping to prevent big plays, and giving up a lot of long, exhausting drives. Those aren't great options.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Chris Qualls 87 36.7 3 37 21 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Craig Ford 6'2, 168 So. 56 56.7 6 1 10.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Craig Ford 6'2, 168 So. 33-33 7-10 70.0% 2-4 50.0%
Spencer Perkins 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Trey Caldwell KR 14 23.1 0
Marcus Green KR 5'8, 190 So. 10 20.2 0
Junior Williams PR 6 -0.5 0
Rashon Ceaser PR 3 5.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 126
Field Goal Efficiency 116
Punt Return Success Rate 108
Kick Return Success Rate 27
Punt Success Rate 118
Kickoff Success Rate 117

9. When rebuilding is a positive

As with the defensive front seven, there will be a lot of new names in ULM's 2016 special teams unit. But in this case, that's not necessarily bad news. Last year ULM returned kickoffs relatively well and did everything else poorly. Return man Marcus Green is back, as is sophomore place-kicker Craig Ford, but at the least, punting and punt returns will be manned by new guys.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Southern U. NR 16.9 84%
10-Sep at Oklahoma 4 -41.9 1%
1-Oct at Auburn 24 -32.4 3%
22-Oct at New Mexico 102 -11.5 25%
TBA Idaho 108 -1.7 46%
TBA South Alabama 115 -0.1 50%
TBA Texas State 120 1.1 53%
TBA UL-Lafayette 106 -2.4 45%
TBA at Appalachian State 59 -23.5 9%
TBA at Arkansas State 89 -16.3 17%
TBA at Georgia Southern 52 -24.3 8%
TBA at Georgia State 105 -10.7 27%
Projected wins: 3.7
Five-Year F/+ Rk -25.1% (105)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 118 / 123
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -16 / -15.1
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.4
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 65% (78%, 51%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 2.9 (-0.9)

10. Every home game is winnable

There are indeed two ways to look at ULM's schedule. The first is that a brutal road slate, which features visits to Oklahoma, Auburn, and five other teams that bowled in 2015, will absolutely wipe away any semblance of depth and confidence that Viator is attempting to build.

The other, more optimistic way: Yeah, at least five or six of these seven road games are out of reach, but every home game is winnable. We don't yet know the Sun Belt schedule, so we don't know how the games will be distributed, but if Viator can keep morale up during and after some tough road trips, the Warhawks could threaten to go 4-8 or 5-7. That's not amazing, but for a team that has lost 18 of its last 21 games, that could be markable progress.

In terms of fit, it's hard to imagine a better hire for ULM than Viator. He proved at McNeese State that he could navigate Louisiana waters and put a strong-for-its-level team on the field. Because of the competition, the ULM job is probably harder than that one, but he could be up for the challenge. But if he's going to find success, it will likely be with the players who are currently freshmen and sophomores. There are wins on the table in 2016, but the measuring stick will be how frequently this team shows promise and development, not how frequently it wins.