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Football: UL challenges its model program in Boise State

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, September 19, 2014


UL athletic director Scott Farmer has referenced Boise State multiple times as an athletic program his Ragin’ Cajuns – and especially the school’s football program – would love to emulate.

UL football coach Mark Hudspeth doesn’t necessarily think the Broncos are the only ones.

Either way, when UL (1-2) visits Boise State (2-1) at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night in a late-starting game televised by the CBS Sports Network, the Cajuns will get a first-hand look at a team whose success is the envy of many.

“Every situation’s dynamics are different,” Hudspeth said. “But you knew about a Boise. You knew about a TCU. You knew about a Louisville.”

Louisville and Texas Christian rode athletic success – football in the case of TCU, basketball and football in Louisville’s case – to rise from lower-level conferences to current Power Five conference membership.

In football, Louisville – now in the ACC – went from the Missouri Valley (1963-74) to independent status (1975-95) to Conference USA (1996-2004) to the Big East (2005-2012) to the AAC for one year before making the jump.

TCU went from the Southwestern Conference (1923-95) to the WAC (1996-2000) to Conference USA (2001-04) to the Mountain West (2005-11) to finally its current home in the Big 12.

Boise State, meanwhile, remains a mid-major Group of Five conferences participant as a member of the Mountain West.

But it is renowned for its BCS-busting football days.

“Obviously we face different dynamics – but some of the same challenges,” said Hudspeth, whose Cajuns play in the Group of Five’s Sun Belt Conference.

“If you just get the right (things in place),” UL senior linebacker Trae Johnson added, “I believe this place can just skyrocket and turn into something like (Boise State).”

One of UL’s challenges is such a smaller athletic-department budget compared to so many of the Power Five schools.

Yet Hudspeth takes great pride in the strides UL has made since he left his assistant’s job at Mississippi State to take over as Cajun head coach late in 2010.

“Taking a team that was ranked 120 in the nation (among FBS programs by The Sporting News’ website) when we got here, dead-last, and then finishing last year at, I think, 32, we felt like we made some progress there,” he said.

“Now with the stadium (one expansion project at Cajun Field was just completed; another is planned) … and the new (athletic performance/football headquarters) facility, your recruiting dynamics change.

“So … I think we’ve got the resources,” Hudspeth added, “and hopefully as the season continues we can continue to show that we have the team to hopefully one day make that type move (like Louisville and TCU made). But it takes time.”

To hammer home that point, Hudspeth points directly to the Broncos, who have been to 12 straight bowl games since 2012.

Boise State beat Oklahoma in the 2006 season’s Fiesta Bowl and beat TCU in the 2009 season’s Fiesta Bowl. But since then it has been limited to three straight Las Vegas Bowl victories and a loss to Oregon State in last season’s Hawaii Bowl.

“Boise, even though they had a stretch there that was pretty amazing, you know, is still trying to take that next step, probably into a Power Five Conference,” Hudspeth said.

“But they have done an exceptional job out there,” he added, “with their marketing, and the way they have promoted their program, but, more importantly, how they’ve played.”