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Season preview: Warhawks are Sun Belt’s wildcard

Caleb Evans takes center stage.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 ULM at Ole Miss Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The two strangest results in the 2018 Sun Belt football season involved UL-Monroe.

Georgia State 46, ULM 14

Four games later...

ULM 44, Georgia Southern 25

The Warhawks were roughed up and torched by the Panthers, who would not win another game against an FBS opponent. A month later, ULM would do the same to the red-hot Eagles.

The high valleys and low chasms resulted in a 6-6 result for the 2018 Warhawks. Unfortunately for fans back in Monroe, their Warhawks were bowl eligible, but did not receive an invite.

For a team that looks to have potentially 14 seniors starting and 13 returning starters total, 2019 is about leaving no doubt and storming into a bowl for the first time since 2012.

Evans = MVP?

Caleb Evans.

If you checked out our top tier story for the best players in the Sun Belt, you know how high Evans is regarded by this writer. When protected, Evans is the most dangerous returning player in the entire Sun Belt.

Last season, Evans did it all: 2,869 passing yards to go with 16 TDs and 12 interceptions, as well as 778 yards rushing with 10 more scores.

The good news for Evans is that he will have plenty of familiarity lining up in front of him this season. The Warhawks look to start four seniors and figure to most likely have five returning starters on the offensive line, lead by Bobby Reynolds and TJ Fiailoa.

It will be the people behind and out wide from Evans that will dictate the offensive success. Marcus Green is gone (the only Sun Belt player drafted in 2019), so seniors Markis McCray and Xavier Brown as well as sophomore Zachari Jackson will need to get separation and give their quarterback quality options downfield.

Losing Derrick Gore will mean opportunity for presumed starter Austin Vaughn, who must take pressure off the legs and arms of Evans.

Defense seeking spark

The ULM defensive unit returns eight starters from a squad that finished middle of the road in just about every statistical category.

Eight starters coming back to Monroe means continuity, but more importantly, must mean upgraded pressure in key games.

The Warhawk defensive line will have Kerry Starks and Jaylen Veasley back after they were reinstated by head coach Matt Viator earlier this month following their arrests. They will be needed to bring an intensity in getting into the opponents’ backfield often.

Of the three starters to move on, losing linebacker the production of David Griffith will be the hardest to replace and/or duplicate.

Senior middle linebacker Chase Day and senior Cortez Sisco are capable of sharing the workload, while sophomore Jabari Johnson looks to build off an impressive freshman season.

If the ULM defensive front seven can cause as much damage as they are capable of, look for defensive backs such as Corey Straughter to be opportunistic in causing takeaways.

Many happy returns?

Marcus Green was special on the return circuit.

Elite special.

Field position is crucial, so the Warhawks will have to find someone capable of being consistent in securing the ball and taking as much of that position as possible.

Jared Porter returns as the team’s punter and may also supplant the outgoing Craig Ford as the ULM kicker as well.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 ULM at Ole Miss Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You look at the Warhawk roster, schedule and pedigree and it’s hard to peg them any lower than another 6-6 autumn.

That would be the floor.

However, if Evans eliminates some of the extra, needless interceptions and the defensive front shows off like they are capable, 8-4 is possible.

After missing a last second field goal to end 2018 against their rivals, ULM’s regular season concludes against Louisiana, which could have a trip to the conference title game on the line.

Non-conference games against Florida State, Iowa State and Memphis loom large, so they will need to be sharp early and stay healthy.

Let’s split the difference and look for a 7-5 season down in Monroe.

If not, get ready for more strange ULM results in 2019.