Is an 8-4 regular season a disappointment? I find myself wrestling with this question. Louisiana has just accepted an invite to a fourth straight New Orleans Bowl. Read that again...fourth straight bowl, for a program that hadn't been to a bowl game in 41 years prior to Mark Hudspeth's arrival in Cajun Country.
Prior to the season the Cajuns were picked, by practically every media outlet and the Sun Belt Coaches, to win the conference, and win it by a large margin. Terrance Broadway was expected to be the league's Player of the Year, and the offense would be unstoppable with first team backs Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire. There was even talk of Louisiana filling the G5's slot in the Access Bowl.
The season started with an easy win over Southern University, the Cajuns didn't look great but the weather was a convenient culprit to blame. Then the calendar turned to September.
September is when the wheels seemed to fall off. Louisiana would finish the month 0-3 with embarrassing losses to Louisiana Tech at home, Boise and Ole Miss on the road. Losses are one thing, but the way the Cajuns were losing made things seem much worse.
After four games, Louisiana was -9 in turnover margin, and the Cajuns supposedly high powered offense was only scoring 22.25 points per game. In college football, 22.25 points is not enough to win most weeks. If the offense was bad, the defense was downright brutal.
Through the first four weeks the Cajuns managed just one take away and gave up 144 points, that includes just the six given up to FCS opponent Southern. It seemed Louisiana couldn't do anything right. The bye week could not have happened at a better time for a reeling Cajun squad. Louisiana had a week to catch their breath and prepare for Sun Belt play.
After the bye, Louisiana kicked off what would be the beginning of a six game winning streak. The Cajuns escaped with a tight three point win over Sun Belt cellar dweller Georgia State. After the close win, but a win none the less, Louisiana would have a few extra days of rest before the first of back to back Tuesday night games.
The first Tuesday night test saw Louisiana hit the road to take on Texas State. The Cajuns came out, it seemed for the first time all season with swagger and confidence, and it showed from the opening kick. Terrance Broadway hit playmaker Elijah McGuire with a touchdown pass on the second play of the game and the Cajuns never looked back. That Tuesday also saw the Cajuns find the formula that would lead to six straight wins. Run the ball, run the ball and run some more. Possibly the most important thing that happened in San Marcos was the Cajun defense found a way to force several turnovers, and shut down the Bobcat offense.
The Cajuns continued their winning ways the following week at home against Arkansas State. Louisiana was once again led by an explosive rushing attack and even broke out some new black uniforms. After defeating Arkansas State, Louisiana would go on to beat South Alabama, New Mexico State and ULM, only two games now remained between the Cajuns and at least a share of the Sun Belt title. The same Sun Belt title that seemed so out of reach after Louisiana's 1-3 start.
But then it happened...the one game a year in Sun Belt play that the Cajuns can't seem to do anything right. Appalachian State was here to wreck the Sun Belt dream, on senior day none the less. The high flying Cajun offense, which had scored less than 34 points just once during the six game winning streak was held to just 16. The Cajun run defense that had stood tall during the six game winning streak, was abused for 234 yards. Give App State credit, they were able to hold Louisiana to field goals instead of touchdowns and in the fourth quarter the Mountaineers were able just run the ball at will, eventually running down the clock en route to a 35-16 victory.
Louisiana would rebound with a blowout win at Troy, even after the Trojans took the lead into halftime. Louisiana was 8-4, really a remarkable turnaround considering how awful things seemed when the Cajuns were sitting with a 1-3 recorded in September. Yet I, like most Cajun fans feel this season could have been better, it should have been better. But really how much better could it have been?
It wasn't the historical season we were hoping for, and there will be no Access Bowl invite. The two biggest take aways for Cajun fans from this season are going to be the loss to Louisiana Tech, and the fact that the Cajuns are not Sun Belt champs. While it is not good to settle, and Cajun fans should not settle, we need to take a step back and remember four short years ago we would have done anything for an eight win season. Congratulations to the players, coaches and staff that didn't throw in the towel and held onto the rope after the season's first five weeks and found a way to put eight wins together.
Cajun fans remember: Enjoy your FOURTH straight New Orleans Bowl.