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1. Starting over
When you do a podcast for a while, you start to form a set of core concepts, topics you end up revisiting pretty frequently. My podcast with Steven Godfrey, Podcast Ain't Played Nobody, has found a few of those over these last few months, and one of them is the timing of a coach's jump.
This offeason, Ball State head coach Pete Lembo took a job as Maryland's assistant head coach, special teams coordinator, and tight ends coach. Moves like this often have to do with money -- Dan Enos makes a lot more money as Arkansas' offensive coordinator than he did as Central Michigan's head coach -- but in Lembo's case, it was also a move made to stay ahead of the posse. After winning 19 games in 2012-13 and finding himself listed as a candidate for quite a few power-conference gigs, Lembo's stock fell quickly as Ball State went just 8-16 in 2014-15.
As far as we know, Lembo didn't turn down any specific power job following the 2013 season; he wasn't holding out for something bigger or anything like that. Still, his window closed.
Lembo's just the latest example. The difference between decent coaches and really good ones isn't really all that big, and circumstance dictates a lot of your success. Gary Darnell went 31-15 at WMU from 1997-00 and nearly landed a few different power-conference gigs; he wasn't a demonstrably dumber, worse coach when he was going 15-31 in the same job from 2001-04. But most mid-major jobs are always going to be hard. You're always swimming upstream, and a bad break here or a lost assistant there can cost you greatly.
I'm using Lembo as the primary focus here, but I could just as easily use UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth. A former North Alabama head coach and Mississippi State assistant, Hudspeth came to Lafayette in 2011 and immediately turned around the Ragin' Cajuns' fortunes. For a long time, this was a program that seemed to have some promise, located in the middle of a recruiting hotbed. But the Cajuns could never turn the corner. They went either 6-5 or 6-6 four times between 2005-09, but when Hudspeth came to town, they had still never attended a bowl.
Hudspeth's first four seasons all resulted in 9-4 records and New Orleans Bowl wins. Almost overnight, UL-Lafayette became one of the most confident, athletic teams in the Sun Belt, rising to 69th in the S&P+ rankings in 2012, then peaking at 60th in 2014. Hudspeth was mentioned as a candidate for quite a few jobs and seemed to be a likely candidate for Dan Mullen's successor at Mississippi State if Mullen ever left.
Hudspeth is still only 47 years old and, combined with his North Alabama tenure, he has engineered nine seasons with nine-plus wins in 12 years as a head coach.
He's also now overseeing a program that went 4-8 last year and is dealing with NCAA issues. After losing quite a few difference-makers from the awesome 2014 squad, UL entered 2015 with perilous depth and less experience; the Cajuns then proceeded to get wrecked by either injuries, ineffectiveness, or both at quarterback, on the offensive line, and throughout the defense. They fell from 55th to 106th in Off. S&P+ and from 78th to 111th in Def. S&P+.
They were also accused of pretty significant NCAA violations in October stemming from an assistant coach and a "friendly" ACT testing center.
The NCAA accepted the school's self-imposed, less-than-crippling sanctions -- a reduction of 11 scholarships over three years, vacated wins from 2011, and no postseason ban -- and in theory, everyone now moves on. But Hudspeth's name wasn't on the lips of search firms this past offseason either. Maybe he missed his window, or maybe he's a good enough coach that he'll create another one. Regardless, he and UL-Lafayette are married to each other for a bit longer, and we'll find out whether this is a happy or strained marriage moving forward. Hudspeth isn't any worse a coach than he was 12 months ago, but his job is suddenly a little bit more difficult.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 104 | Final S&P+ Rk: 107|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|3-Oct||at Louisiana Tech||57||14-43||L||12%||1%||-5.2||-11.0|
|20-Oct||at Arkansas State||71||27-37||L||18%||6%||-4.6||-4.0|
|7-Nov||at Georgia State||87||23-21||W||39%||48%||+1.6||-1.5|
|12-Nov||at South Alabama||102||25-32||L||26%||44%||-5.9||-4.0|
|21-Nov||New Mexico State||118||34-37||L||24%||45%||-13.6||-20.0|
|28-Nov||at Appalachian State||42||7-28||L||10%||0%||-0.4||+2.5|
|Points Per Game||26.4||83||31.8||94|
2. And then exhaustion set in
You can sort of pinpoint when the Cajuns began to run out of gas in 2015. An unsettled quarterback position saw some high points early on (Brooks Haack completed 29 of 45 passes to start the season, and when Haack fell into a funk, Jalen Nixon went 22-for-29 against Texas State), but returns diminished. The offensive line started eight different guys, and a defensive predicated on aggressiveness couldn't make enough plays to offset the ones it was giving up.
What was an up-and-down season early on became a slow, late slide. The Cajuns played in four straight veritable tossups against ULM, Georgia State, South Alabama, and NMSU, and after winning the first two, they lost the next two to fall to 4-6. And with the weight of losses, attrition, and the NCAA allegations on their shoulders, they laid a few eggs down the stretch, falling two touchdowns short of projections against NMSU and three short in a demoralizing season finale against Troy.
Sometimes you just need the season to end and the recuperation to begin. UL's recovery got a little bit more complicated when both Haack transferred and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson left for Minnesota, but the attempted recovery has begun nonetheless.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.1%||74||Succ. Rt. +||93.0||102|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.1||52||Def. FP+||32.4||114|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.0||101||Redzone S&P+||88.5||112|
|Q1 Rk||105||1st Down Rk||78|
|Q2 Rk||101||2nd Down Rk||53|
|Q3 Rk||81||3rd Down Rk||83|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Jalen Nixon||6'2, 226||Sr.||NR||0.7900||76||142||828||7||5||53.5%||1||0.7%||5.7|
|Jordan Davis||6'3, 205||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819||27||42||267||1||0||64.3%||4||8.7%||5.2|
|Dion Ray||6'0, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8640|
|Chris Weaver||6'0, 217||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Jake Arceneaux||6'2, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7901|
3. Had to throw, couldn't throw
Johnson always aimed for some degree of balance with his Cajun offense, but in 2015 the offense just didn't have enough weapons to utilize around star running back Elijah McGuire. UL was mediocre on standard downs and plain bad on passing downs -- a 63 percent completion rate on first and second down became 44 percent on third down, when McGuire was a less realistic option.
No single QB seized control of the job, but the juggling back and forth between Haack and Nixon (and eventually freshman Jordan Davis) didn't help matters either. Some intentional and unintentional moves may have helped to settle the position a bit. Haack transferred to Northwestern State, and evidently Nixon has moved to running back.
Nixon's switch makes sense -- he averaged only 5.7 yards per pass attempt but 7.1 yards per carry (not including sacks) -- and means that the starting job in 2016 will probably go to either Davis, redshirt freshman Chris Weaver, or athletic redshirt freshman Dion Ray, a former star recruit who might be more athlete than quarterback and could also change positions eventually.
Davis got an extended look in the season's final two games. Against Appalachian State, he completed all seven of his passes for 60 yards; against Troy, he went 20-for-34 for 207 yards and a touchdown. He hinted at a level of efficiency that neither Haack nor Nixon could maintain, but he also didn't produce much in the way of big plays.
|Elijah McGuire||RB||5'11, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8789||210||1049||13||5.0||5.3||35.2%||2||1|
|Jalen Nixon||QB||6'2, 226||Sr.||NR||0.7900||60||424||5||7.1||8.4||41.7%||3||1|
|Jordan Davis||QB||6'3, 205||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7819||17||57||1||3.4||3.6||47.1%||2||2|
|Darius Hoggins||RB||5'7, 176||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793||7||76||0||10.9||13.8||57.1%||0||0|
|Jordan Wright||RB||5'11, 207||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8074|
|Trey Ragas||RB||5'10, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8249|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Gabe Fuselier||WR-Z||5'11, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||72||37||357||51.4%||20.0%||5.0||61.1%||37.5%||1.14|
|Al Riles||WR-H||5'10, 215||Sr.||NR||NR||70||46||477||65.7%||19.4%||6.8||50.0%||50.0%||1.24|
|Elijah McGuire||RB||5'11, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8789||38||34||304||89.5%||10.6%||8.0||60.5%||44.7%||1.71|
|Gary Haynes||WR-H||5'9, 175||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389||32||25||174||78.1%||8.9%||5.4||46.9%||37.5%||1.23|
|Nick Byrne||TE||6'3, 228||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7967||21||10||83||47.6%||5.8%||4.0||52.4%||28.6%||1.18|
|Devin Scott||WR-Z||5'11, 182||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7993||18||12||202||66.7%||5.0%||11.2||66.7%||50.0%||1.94|
|Keenan Barnes||WR-X||6'3, 233||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8457||4||1||27||25.0%||1.1%||6.8||50.0%||25.0%||2.86|
|Chris Collins||WR||5'8, 182||So.||NR||NR||2||0||0||0.0%||0.6%||0.0||0.0%||0.0%||0.00|
|Jared Johnson||WR||6'5, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|Matthew Barnes||TE||6'3, 233||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7833|
|Carlos Robinson||TE||6'3, 213||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8240|
|WR||6'3, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8569|
|Ja'Marcus Bradley||WR||6'1, 180||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8133|
|Michael Jacquet||WR||6'2, 180||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8088|
|Jarrod Jackson||WR||6'0, 185||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7980|
|Cody Mitchell||TE||6'5, 236||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8191|
5. Getting help for Elijah
When Johnson left for Minnesota, Hudpseth promoted receivers coach Jorge Munoz to offensive coordinator, then brought in John Simon, a recently displaced (and effective) Southern Miss assistant ... who is evidently leaving for Arizona State after three weeks on the job. (It's amazing how a bad season can continue into the offseason.)
Whoever Hudspeth chooses next will have his work cut out for him. UL doesn't lack for Sun Belt-caliber athletes, but the Cajuns' receiving corps is currently a mix of mostly ineffective veterans and unknown youngsters. With big-play man Jamal Robinson gone, the top three returning wideouts are Gabe Fuselier, Al Riles, and Gary Haynes, who combined to average just 5.8 yards per target in 2015. Senior Devin Scott has shown big potential in small samples -- in three years, he has caught just 17 passes but averaged nearly 19 yards per catch -- and Haynes still has plenty of time to live up to his three-star potential. But there is opportunity available for newcomers if they earn it. Big Mississippi State transfer Shelby Christy and either of two three-star redshirt freshmen (Ja'Marcus Bradley, Michael Jacquet) could make a huge difference if they're ready.
Either way, though, the Cajuns have Elijah McGuire. McGuire enters his senior season as not only their best running back, but maybe their best pass-catcher. Some averages: five yards per carry, eight yards per target, and, at the moment, 3.9 minutes per game on the basketball team.
McGuire was the 2014 Sun Belt offensive player of the year, but he struggled to break loose last fall while garnering so much attention. Especially without Robinson, Munoz's first test as O.C. will be to both feed him the ball as much as he can handle and find other weapons to punish defenses for selling out to stop McGuire. Johnson wasn't particularly able to do that last year.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Eddie Gordon||C||6'1, 320||Sr.||NR||NR||12||12|
|Grant Horst||RG||6'5, 281||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||10||10|
|D'Aquin Withrow||LT||6'6, 304||Jr.||NR||NR||8||8|
|Jesse Freeman||LG||6'4, 311||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7867||1||1|
|Adrian Goodacre||RG||6'4, 305||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7652||1||1|
|Raynard Ford||LT||6'5, 280||Sr.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Kevin Dotson||OL||6'4, 311||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Ken Marks||OL||6'4, 287||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7948|
|Rico Robinson||OL||6'5, 290||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7600|
|Cole Prudhomme||OL||6'3, 280||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533|
|Robert Hunt||OL||6'5, 315||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7500|
|Randon Haynes||OL||6'4, 330||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8167|
5. Three starters gone, three back
UL-Lafayette got a head start on replacing veteran guard Mykhael Quave when he tore his rotator cuff early in the season. The shuffling moved D'Aqin Withrow into the rotation alongside fellow sophomore Grant Horst; then-freshmen Jesse Freeman and Adrian Goodacre also saw playing time. With Quave and two other starters gone, it appears this foursome, along with center Eddie Gordon, could form a decent, more-experienced-than-expected starting lineup.
Outside of these five, however, there is almost no experience. It's basically senior Raynard Ford and a bunch of redshirt freshmen. So the performance of the Cajun line could be dictated by injury. Regardless, this line did a pretty good job of keeping defenders out of the backfield (eighth in stuff rate, 21st in passing downs sack rate) and used its girth to move the chains in short-yardage situations. The main problem in the running game, however, was that defenders were able to quickly swarm McGuire after a couple of yards.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||39.2%||48||Succ. Rt. +||93.7||90|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.6||73||Off. FP+||26.1||121|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.8||101||Redzone S&P+||96.6||82|
|Q1 Rk||97||1st Down Rk||91|
|Q2 Rk||103||2nd Down Rk||57|
|Q3 Rk||88||3rd Down Rk||100|
6. If you're going to attack, you better get there
Hudspeth lost defensive coordinator James Willis to the New Orleans Saints this time last year and replaced him with Auburn assistant Melvin Smith. Smith didn't do much to change the Hudspeth m.o. -- find good athletes and have them attack people -- but he wasn't as effective at implementing it either.
Of course, Smith didn't have as many toys to play with either. The Cajuns had to replace dynamic tackles Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton (who combined for 29.5 tackles for loss in 2014), two of their top three linebackers, and both starting cornerbacks. A drop-off was predictable.
The Cajuns attempted to be as aggressive as ever in 2015 and produced decent success rates because of it. But they didn't hit their mark enough to counter the big plays they were allowing, and wow, did they allow big plays: 47 passes of 20-plus yards (95th in FBS), 13 of 40-plus (102nd). UL came after quarterbacks on passing downs but didn't get there enough to protect the new cornerbacks.
Experience goes from weakness to strength this fall. The Cajuns return seven of their top eight linemen, five of six linebackers, and seven of nine defensive backs. And Hudspeth complemented these returnees with a load of JUCO transfers on the line and in the secondary. If wisdom and depth make you a half-step faster, the Cajuns could make a lot more plays in 2016.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Taboris Lee||NT||6'2, 284||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7585||12||29.5||4.6%||5.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Karmichael Dunbar||DT||6'2, 317||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7600||12||17.5||2.7%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Blain Winston||DT||6'4, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||12||15.5||2.4%||4.0||3.0||0||1||0||0|
|Remaine Douglas||DT||6'3, 303||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7544||12||10.5||1.6%||2.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|LaDarrius Kidd||NT||6'3, 300||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7744||11||10.0||1.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jacoby Briscoe||DT||6'3, 325||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8703||8||7.0||1.1%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Mario Osborne||DE||6'4, 250||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8550||9||6.5||1.0%||3.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Sherard Johnson||DL||6'8, 374||Jr.||NR||NR||12||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Rodrick Stephens||DT||6'0, 302||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR|
|Jarvis Jeffries||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Trevara Miller||DT||6'1, 283||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|Kevon Perry||DT||6'1, 290||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Otha Peters||MIKE||6'2, 228||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9000||12||54.5||8.5%||6.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tre'maine Lightfoot||MIKE||6'0, 230||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7908||9||25.0||3.9%||3.5||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Trey Granier||WILL||6'1, 231||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8757||10||23.5||3.6%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|T.J. Posey||MIKE||6'0, 242||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8482||12||19.0||2.9%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Fouquier||BUCK||6'4, 235||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7700||12||14.5||2.2%||2.5||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Ross Duhon||SAM||6'2, 210||Jr.||NR||NR||12||9.0||1.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Terik Miller||LB||6'0, 220||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8324|
|Nic Wiggins||LB||6'1, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
|Korey Louis||LB||6'2, 200||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8138|
|Jacques Boudreaux||LB||6'1, 228||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Tanner Holmes||LB||6'1, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7893|
UL definitely has size up front. Boy, do the Cajuns have size. The top nine linemen listed above average 6'4, 307 pounds, and man-mountain Sherard Johnson (6'8, 374) only skews that average so much. In theory, you can see how this front seven could thrive: The meat up front occupies blockers and frees up one of the Sun Belt's most athletic sets of linebackers to make plays. Even without Dominique Tovell and all-or-nothing Darzil Washington, the Cajuns return three former three- or four-star recruits at linebacker, along with four players who logged at least 2.5 tackles for loss.
But the Cajuns had most of these players last year, too, and still ranked just 91st in Rushing S&P+ and 93rd in Passing S&P+. The biggest problem was the pass rush -- it needed to be great to help the inexperienced secondary, and it was only decent. Veterans like Trey Granier or Otha Peters could turn into nice blitzing weapons, but here's where a newcomer could make an enormous difference.
If one of three JUCO linemen (Jarvis Jeffries, Trevara Miller, Kevon Perry) can build a disruptive presence, or if a younger linebacker like redshirt freshman Terik Miller or incoming three-star Korey Louis is able to quickly carve out a pass-rushing niche, the ceiling for this defense gets much higher very quickly.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tracy Walker||S||6'2, 198||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||12||64.0||9.9%||5||0||1||6||1||0|
|Savion Brown||CB||6'2, 218||Sr.||NR||0.8600||12||36.0||5.6%||2.5||0||3||6||0||0|
|Travis Crawford||S||5'11, 193||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7726||11||36.0||5.6%||0||0||0||4||0||1|
|Dominick Jones||NB||5'11, 189||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7700||10||17.5||2.7%||4.5||2||0||2||0||0|
|Troy McCollum||CB||6'0, 177||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8377||10||15.0||2.3%||0||0||0||11||0||0|
|Christian Goodlett||DB||6'0, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||9||14.5||2.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Reginald Miles||NB||5'8, 178||Jr.||NR||NR||12||8.5||1.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cole Bourque||CB||5'10, 176||Jr.||NR||NR||11||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Simeon Thomas||DB||6'3, 197||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8385|
|Lorenzo Cryer||CB||6'2, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7544|
|Ethan Rose||DB||5'10, 180||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7985|
|Denarius Howard||DB||6'0, 190||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7900|
|Artez Williams||DB||6'0, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Dontrell Allen||DB||6'0, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8411|
|Edward Hayes||S||6'1, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8020|
8. Upperclassmen as far as the eye can see
Of the eight returnees who recorded at least four tackles this year, every single one is either a junior or a senior. Last year's chemistry experiment didn't work very well, and UL consistently let opponents off the hook on passing downs, but on paper, it doesn't seem like the Cajuns are too far away from a good secondary.
Safeties Tracy Walker and Travis Crawford and nickel Dominick Jones combined for 9.5 tackles for loss and 13 passes defensed last season; corners Savion Brown and Troy McCollum contributed 2.5 and 20, respectively. There are play-makers here, but the corners got burned a little too much, and the safeties weren't good enough at being safety valves.
If some combination of these returnees and perhaps JUCO transfers Denarius Howard and Artez Williams can produce a cohesive group of four or five, and if the Cajun secondary is simply less volatile, UL isn't that far from bouncing back into the Def. S&P+ top 70 or 80. But while that "if" appears semi-realistic, we won't know it is going to happen until it does.
|Steven Coutts||6'4, 200||So.||59||42.4||4||27||20||79.7%|
|Stevie Artigue||5'10, 175||So.||51||56.7||7||1||13.7%|
|Stevie Artigue||5'10, 175||So.||26-28||6-9||66.7%||2-6||33.3%|
|Aaron Bird||6'0, 200||So.||4-4||2-2||100.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Gabe Fuselier||KR||5'11, 195||Jr.||16||17.8||0|
|Gary Haynes||PR||5'9, 175||So.||12||10.5||0|
|Elijah McGuire||PR||5'11, 208||Sr.||9||8.9||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||85|
|Field Goal Efficiency||100|
|Punt Return Success Rate||6|
|Kick Return Success Rate||87|
|Punt Success Rate||7|
|Kickoff Success Rate||110|
9. Punts good, kickoffs bad
UL-Lafayette complemented an all-or-nothing defense with all-or-nothing special teams. Punt returns: great. Punting: great. Place-kicking: sketchy. Kick returns: inconsistent. Kick coverage: bad.
For better and worse, UL returns all of its major special teams components. Steven Coutts, a revelation as a freshman punter and a master of unreturnable punts, is back. So are McGuire and Gary Haynes, the primary punt returners. But Stevie Artigue missed three shorter field goals and two PATs and rarely reached the end zone on kickoffs. He'll need to take a step forward.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|TBD||at Georgia Southern||52||-18.5||14%|
|TBD||at New Mexico State||117||-0.6||49%|
|TBD||at Texas State||120||0.0||50%|
|Projected wins: 5.1|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-13.7% (88)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||108 / 99|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-9 / 0.8|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-3.8|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||65% (54%, 75%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||4.1 (-0.1)|
10. Another season of tossups
The bad news: UL is projected to win only five games this year. The good news: projections are based quite a bit on last year's results, and single-year blips sometimes happen. We know Mark Hudspeth is capable of putting a strong product on the field, and we know that the two-deep experienced far more turnover than normal last season.
We also know that, as is the case for most Sun Belt teams, the Cajuns are projected to play in a lot of tossups. Of the 12 games above, they have a win probability between 42 and 63 percent in seven of them, with four below and one above. If they rise only to a top-90 level (and here's your reminder that they've been top-70 or better in two of the last four years), the win projection jumps to about seven with at least eight games flipping to the right side of 50 percent.
It's a new beginning for Hudspeth in Lafayette, whether he likes it or not. If the window has indeed closed the way it has for so many other mid-major coaches, then he'll limp to another couple of four- or five-win seasons, then end up as receivers coach somewhere in about 2019. But he proved a ton from 2011-14, and he and his Cajuns will have ample opportunity to rebound. This is still going to be one of the most athletic teams in the conference; if the Cajuns have enough experience to match the speed and size, then they will again be one of the conference's better teams.