“What.... was.... that?”, was the question I asked myself as the final horn sounded on the Cajuns 2015 season. It wasn’t just the 17 to 41 thumping at the hands of Troy or the bashing I was anticipating from my friend and former Trojan QB and Sun Belt Player of the Year, Omar Haugabook, but my displeasure was for the season overall. You have to understand, the Cajun faithful were finally able to brag and boast a little about their team when the discussion of college football came about. For the first time since Mark Hudspeth arrived in Lafayette, the Cajuns did not finish with a record above .500 and a bowl game invite.
I won’t even discuss the self-imposed sanctions that took place early this year. If you aren’t up to speed, here’s the Cliffs Notes version: an assistant coach had recruits take the ACT at a center where an associate of his administered the test. She would allow the recruits to change incorrect answers to ensure they receive favorable scores. The same assistant coach also funneled money to an athlete while the student was in JUCO and continued while the same athlete was a member of the ULL team.
Let’s now put last season behind us and discuss the 2016 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
Returning for his senior campaign is The Book of Eli (Elijah McGuire) who is the only active Division I football player with 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a career. Darius Hoggins and Jordan Wright will provide relief for McGuire and you can expect true freshman Raymond Calais Jr. to get opportunities to tote the rock as well.
The O-Line was injury plagued last year which resulted in the offense taking several steps backwards. Returning starters are (Sr.) Eddie Gordon returning at center, (Jr.) Grant Horst on the right side and (Jr.) D’Aquin Withrow on the left, both with starting experience at tackle, and two first-year starters at guard, So. Adrian Goodacre and Robert Hunt. Goodacre did start a couple games late last season; Hunt redshirted. Health again is critical to its success. Expect (Rs-Fr) guard Kevin Dotson, (Jr.) Raynard Ford, JUCO transfer (So.) Staten Wade and (Rs-Fr.) Cole Prudhomme to be ready to step up if the injury bug decides to visit this unit again this year.
Besides paving the way for McGuire and company, the O-Line must provide better protection for QB. Graduate transfer and former LSU starter, Anthony Jennings was given the nod as the Cajuns starter (you can read more about it by clicking here). Jennings beat out redshirt sophomore Jordan Davis, who has no college starts, and senior Jalen Nixon, who started four games last season and will see playing time as a Wildcat QB this season. Hudspeth has not named a No. 2 QB, but went on record saying, “I really feel like we have three talented quarterbacks.”
The Cajuns entered the Summer months with depth at the outside positions, but injuries have depleted that group. Senior Devin Scott sustained a season-ending knee injury during offseason conditioning work. (Jr.) Jared Johnson, who missed the entire 2015 campaign due to a knee injury, underwent surgery to repair a minor knee injury and can expect to miss a game or two. (Sr.) Jarrod Jackson also has been dealing with an injury. (Rs-Fr.) Ja’Marcus Bradley has locked down one starting spot while Keenan Barnes and Michael Jacquet are jockeying for the other.
In the slot, Al Riles missed most of camp with an ankle sprain. With Riles missing reps during fall camp, you can expect Gabe Fuselier to take full advantage of the opportunity and have a breakout year. Gary Haynes, who is penciled in as the other slot receiver, is suspended for UL’s opener against Boise State for disciplinary reasons.
With the changes that has been made to the Cajun’ offense, one could expect the tight end position to get more love this season. Returning starter, (Sr.) Nick Byrne, had 10 catches last year. (So.) Matt Barnes missed last season with a knee injury and will look to make plays when called upon. Former 3-star recruit, (Rs-Fr.) Carlos Robinson will be the No. 3 TE and true freshman Cody Mitchell rounding out the group.
With this unit, depth is the name of the game. The Cajuns felt they were not as fresh as they could have been last season due to the lack thereof, which hurt their pass rush. Interior lineman (Jr.) Toboris Lee and (Sr.) Karmichael Dunbar are returning to stuff the run with Ladarrius Kidd providing back up. (Jr.) JUCO transfer Jarvis Jefferies was making a push to start at defensive end before getting hurt in camp. (So.) Mario Osborne will most likely get the opening day start with the other end up for grabs. Besides Jefferies, three other JUCO transfer defensive linemen joined the Ragin’ Cajuns for the 2016 season.
Senior Otha Peters will be the man in the middle. (Sr.) Trey Granier and (Sr.) Tre’maine Lightfoot will share duties at the Will position. (Jr.) Tracy Walker, who was the second-leading tackler last season, will play outside linebacker which is basically a safety in this scheme.
First team preseason All-Sun Belt pick, (Jr.) Savion Brown will look to use his size to bully opposing wideouts. At 6-2 and weighing 218 pounds, Brown is larger than some FBS linebackers. (Jr.) Simeon Thomas will finally get the opportunity to suit up after academic mishaps caused him to miss several games the past two seasons. At 6-3, expect Thomas to get his hands on the ball a lot. Troy McCollum, a year removed from starting several games, will be rotating in.
(Jr.) Travis Crawford returns as a starter. JUCO transfer Denarius Howard will start as well. (Jr.) Levarious Varnado will be the nickel with (Jr.) Artez Williams rotating with the other three. When the scheme calls for the dime, Tracy Walker, who moved to the OLB, will be the dime. Speed is apparently what the Cajuns are seeking in the secondary.
(So.) Stevie Artigue was 8-of-15 on field goal attempts as a true freshman, and 26-of-28 on PATs. Aussie Steven Coutts averaged 42.4 yards on 59 punts last year as a true freshman. Stephen Morella will be the snapper and Sterling Miller will hold. Returning kicks will either be Calais, Varnado or maybe McGuire, while it could possible be Haynes, Varnado or McGuire returning kicks.
Overall the Ragin’ Cajuns are in a very strong position to compete for a Sun Belt championship in 2016. The talent level is high, the motivation is in place, and the team gets a great challenge to start the season this weekend against Boise State in Idaho. We should have a pretty good idea on how good this team can be by Sunday morning.
September 3rd: vs Boise State
September 10th: vs McNeese State
September 17th: vs South Alabama
September 24th: @ Tulane
October 1st: @ NMSU
October 12th: vs Appalachian State
October 22nd: @ Texas State
November 5th: vs Idaho
November 10th: @ Georgia Southern
November 19th: @ Georgia
November 26th: vs Arkansas State
December 3rd: @ ULM