In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
2014 Record: 9-4 (7-1 in Sun Belt)
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth (.734)
Returning Starters: 11/24 (6 OFF/5 DEF/0 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 93rd
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 5 @ Kentucky
- Oct. 3 @ Louisiana Tech
- Oct. 20 @ Arkansas State
- Nov. 12 @ South Alabama
- Nov. 28 @ Appalachian State
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE RAGIN’ CAJUNS
You probably weren’t aware, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are the only FBS team with three or more bowl appearances to also boast a perfect postseason record. If you’re a December bowl enthusiast, you might have had some idea about this since UL-Lafayette has owned the New Orleans Bowl the past four years. Most recently they showcased a thrilling arsenal of receivers as they romped to a 16-3 win over Nevada in 2014:
Under Mark Hudspeth, ULL has become a mid-major juggernaut in its own right. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won nine games in each of the past four seasons to go along with their four straight bowl victories. Louisiana is essentially the mid-major version of Nebraska, except the Cajuns fans are ecstatic with Hudspeth whereas the Huskers faithful insisted on giving Bo Pelini the boot. That might eventually happen to Hudspeth, since the only thing that wins haven’t translated into are conference championships. Since 2011 ULL has won only one conference championship, which they had to share with Arkansas State in 2013.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE RAGIN’ CAJUNS IN 2015
In large part the perpetual optimism in Lafayette is due to the fact that Hudspeth hasn’t yet been lured out of town by a larger program. He is still just 46 years old and already boasts more than 100 career victories as a coach, and has been the architect of the recent success story at Louisiana. Despite the natural turnover inherent in college football, Hudspeth has continued to churn out nine-win season after nine-win season with metronomic regularity. Another conference title would likely effect his departure, so the prolonged anticipation in some ways has been wholly worth it for the ULL faithful.
More importantly, the schedule doesn’t have any major speed bumps along the way. The season opener against Kentucky provides a winnable contest against SEC competition, which is a valuable addition to any mid-major resume when evaluating Access Bowl contenders. That is UL-Lafayette’s only game against Power Five competition, which could prove either a blessing or a curse. They avoid fellow Sun Belt contender Georgia Southern in league play, and their biggest challenges beyond Kentucky will be road trips to Arkansas State and Appalachian State. The rushing attack should once again be among the top 25 in the nation, and at least nine wins is available for the taking on the schedule.
WHAT COULD COST THE RAGIN’ CAJUNS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
Hudspeth has been golden so far in Lafayette, but a lot of moving parts are going to need to be replaced in 2015. Veteran quarterback Terrance Broadway completed his career in last year’s New Orleans Bowl, and he is just one of five players departed from last year’s starting offense. Six players are missing on defense as well, and despite residing in a talent-rich state the Cajuns have had to fight for that talent with four other FBS schools in their own state (not to mention the slew of poachers from neighboring states). Brooks Haack will have to step quickly into Broadway’s steadying role, and a lot of young talent will have to mature quickly for ULL to impact the Sun Belt race.
Then there’s that schedule itself, which — while deeper than it ever has been in the past — is still a lightweight proving ground even relative to other mid-major leagues like the Mountain West and AAC. It might take a perfect record for a Sun Belt team to be considered for the Access Bowl bid, and even then a team like ULL might receive the same sort of treatment that Marshall faced last season. The Cajuns would have to knock off Kentucky in convincing fashion, and then keep it up for 11 more games in a row, to garner even a modicum of consideration from the College Football Playoff selection committee in charge of doling out the Access Bowl bid.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
Attrition to the veteran ranks of the roster is going to affect ULL’s ceiling during the 2015 season. A team that lacks both overwhelming talent and vast experience will only go so far as Hudspeth and his coaching staff can get them prepared and ready to face competition from the outset. Even with the losses, however, the Ragin’ Cajuns have a definite path to reach nine wins for the fifth straight season.
The opener against Kentucky, a team which has won only nine games in the past three seasons combined, provides a name-brand opportunity without much of the name-brand challenges. Whether they capitalize on it is a matter of which team incorporates new talent more quickly into the rotation. After the trip to Lexington ULL won’t be able to sleep on Northwestern State, an FCS outfit that upset Louisiana Tech last season, but they have no legitimate reason not to emerge out of the month of September with an unblemished 3-0 record. A trip to Ruston on October 3 offers a cross-conference challenge for in-state mid-major supremacy against Louisiana Tech, and the Bulldogs will have the upper hand both in terms of home-field advantage and overall experience. The perfect record won’t last far into October as a result, and a second loss is quite possible at Arkansas State. Wins over UL-Monroe, Georgia State, South Alabama, and New Mexico State should provide momentum heading into a road trip to Appalachian State.
The Sun Belt title will probably be out of reach at this point, and the Mountaineers should prevail at home. But a rebound victory over Troy in their home finale should set the Ragin’ Cajuns no worse than 8-4 at the end of the regular season. They will probably need Georgia Southern to lose two conference games to share the Sun Belt title at that point. But would you bet against the New Orleans Bowl working a deal to pick ULL yet again, and would you bet against the Cajuns taking care of business in the Superdome to cap another 9-4 season?
PREDICTED RECORD: 9-4 (6-2 in Sun Belt)