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Was 2015 a blip for Mark Hudspeth and UL-Lafayette, or is the Cajuns' window closing?

In 2016, we'll find out if ULL's stumble is permanent.

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

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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
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at Kentucky 91 33-40 L 14% 10% -0.2 +10.0
12-Sep Northwestern State N/A 44-17 W 79% 100% +3.0
26-Sep Akron 84 14-35 L 9% 1% -31.7 -29.5
3-Oct at Louisiana Tech 57 14-43 L 12% 1% -5.2 -11.0
10-Oct Texas State 116 49-27 W 77% 100% +20.8 +18.0
20-Oct at Arkansas State 71 27-37 L 18% 6% -4.6 -4.0
31-Oct UL-Monroe 121 30-24 W 28% 55% -8.5 -5.5
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
5-Dec Troy 90 17-41 L 3% 0% -22.6 -26.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.1 106 36.1 111
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.19 103 IsoPPP+ 91.6 96
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.2 ACTUAL 20 +1.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 77 98 102 96
RUSHING 63 72 88 62
PASSING 80 106 105 108
Standard Downs 85 93 82
Passing Downs 108 108 110
Q1 Rk 105 1st Down Rk 78
Q2 Rk 101 2nd Down Rk 53
Q3 Rk 81 3rd Down Rk 83
Q4 Rk 67

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.
Brooks Haack 123 201 1407 5 7 61.2% 14 6.5% 6.1
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Elijah McGuire RB 5'11, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8789 210 1049 13 5.0 5.3 35.2% 2 1
Torrey Pierce RB 88 407 4 4.6 3.6 43.2% 2 1
Jalen Nixon QB 6'2, 226 Sr. NR 0.7900 60 424 5 7.1 8.4 41.7% 3 1
Brooks Haack QB 32 176 2 5.5 3.2 53.1% 1 0
Jordan Davis QB 6'3, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 17 57 1 3.4 3.6 47.1% 2 2
Montrel Carter RB 10 38 0 3.8 5.4 30.0% 0 0
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







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jamal Robinson WR-X 90 54 824 60.0% 25.0% 9.2 48.9% 48.9% 1.68
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
Torrey Pierce RB 8 5 46 62.5% 2.2% 5.8 50.0% 50.0% 1.10
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
Shelby Christy
(Mississippi State)
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.

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 99.1 2.97 2.95 39.7% 74.5% 15.3% 102.4 5.0% 5.2%
Rank 77 53 93 56 25 8 58 70 21
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Mykhael Quave LG 4 43
Octravian Anderson RT 12 38
Donovan Williams LG 12 25
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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.44 120 IsoPPP+ 92.1 95
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.1 ACTUAL 11.0 -8.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 90 87 90 95
RUSHING 82 91 99 90
PASSING 82 93 78 104
Standard Downs 71 73 79
Passing Downs 113 114 112
Q1 Rk 97 1st Down Rk 91
Q2 Rk 103 2nd Down Rk 57
Q3 Rk 88 3rd Down Rk 100
Q4 Rk 26

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.

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 89.2 2.95 2.74 38.8% 57.9% 23.1% 97 4.4% 8.1%
Rank 110 78 24 72 24 25 69 89 51
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Chris Prater DE 10 20.5 3.2% 3.0 0.0 0 0 1 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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dominique Tovell WILL 12 65.5 10.2% 14.5 7.0 0 3 2 0
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
Darzil Washington BUCK 9 14.0 2.2% 7.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Tyren Alexander SAM 6 11.0 1.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 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








7. Reinforcements

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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Zachary DeGrange S 12 41.5 6.4% 5.5 3 1 6 0 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
Jevante Watson CB 12 16.0 2.5% 1 0 0 1 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
T.J. Worthy S 6 7.0 1.1% 1 0 0 1 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Steven Coutts 6'4, 200 So. 59 42.4 4 27 20 79.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Stevie Artigue 5'10, 175 So. 51 56.7 7 1 13.7%
Carlos Alvarez 12 56.8 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
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
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Gabe Fuselier KR 5'11, 195 Jr. 16 17.8 0
Jeryl Brazil KR 10 25.5 1
Gary Haynes PR 5'9, 175 So. 12 10.5 0
Elijah McGuire PR 5'11, 208 Sr. 9 8.9 0
Category Rk
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

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Boise State 36 -15.3 19%
10-Sep McNeese State NR 12.6 77%
24-Sep at Tulane 122 0.6 51%
19-Nov at Georgia 15 -30.2 4%
TBD Appalachian State 59 -10.7 27%
TBD Arkansas State 89 -3.4 42%
TBD Idaho 108 4.2 60%
TBD South Alabama 115 5.8 63%
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%
TBD at UL-Monroe 125 2.4 55%
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.