Football: Ragin Cajuns oozing with optimism at Sun Belt Media Day
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, July 25, 2017
NEW ORLEANS – The last time they were here, back in December, members of the UL football team left with heads hanging, losers to Southern Mississippi in the 2016 New Orleans Bowl.
This time, about seven months later, the Ragin’ Cajuns arrived – and exited – oozing with late-July optimism.
“With our team, with our schedule, we’re excited to get started,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said at the Sun Belt Conference’s 2017 Media Day on Monday.
Preseason camp gets under way for the Cajuns on Sunday. They finished the season 6-7 last year.
The real season opens with UL playing host to FCS Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 2 at Cajun Field.
Hudspeth’s club will head into its opener having been ranked fifth late last week in the Sun Belt’s annual preseason coach, trailing favorite Appalachian State, Troy, Arkansas State, and South Alabama.
“I don’t put a lot into preseason polls,” Hudspeth, whose Cajuns visit Tulsa, Texas A&M and Ole Miss in non-conference road games this season, said Monday.
“You know, I put a lot into the postseason polls. But, nevertheless, you still want to be ranked high anytime, if you’re a competitor.”
Several long-running national college football preseason publications are not paying UL nearly as much respect as coaches from around the around did.
Phil Steele’s has the Cajuns fourth, behind Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy.
Athlon has UL sixth, with Appalachian State also first.
Street & Smith’s has the Cajuns sixth, behind – in order – Appalachian State, Troy, Arkansas State, Idaho and Georgia Southern.
And Lindy’s has the Cajuns seventh, behind Appalachian State, Troy, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and Idaho.
Cajun players representing UL at Media Day did not want to pass judgment on the prognostication.
“Honestly,” senior offensive tackle Grant Horst said, “they overlooked a lot of our players. We have a lot of athletes, a lot of guys that can play football.”
Take it for what it is, senior safety Tracy Walker – who might have chosen otherwise –suggested with reference with the coaches’ picks.
“It’s a preseason poll, and I can’t really determine anybody’s opinions,” Walker said. “Because that’s what a preseason poll is – it’s an opinion; it’s not a fact.
“So, with that being said, I guess … we’re gonna use that as motivation, and just use it to better ourselves every day.”
You better believe that, suggested Hudspeth, who pointed out that last season UL beat two of the teams ranked above it in the coaches’ poll – South Alabama and Arkansas State.
But that was then. This is now.
Hudspeth fully understands that, so he’ll – predictably – use the preseason picks to his full advantage regardless of how little stock he suggests he actually puts into them.
On one hand, Hudspeth said, “(With) how our season finished, our record, I’m fine with that.”
On the other?
“But, nevertheless, it will be a great little emotional nugget that I can use for our football team – to say the least,” he said.
“Because we want to be ranked first – at the beginning and, most importantly, at the end of the season.”
Doing so, however, will be not be easy for a Cajun club that loses, among others, star running back Elijah McGuire, a 2017 New York Jets draft choice, and its top two tacklers from last season, inside linebackers Otha Peters and Tre’maine Lightfoot.
Moreover, the Cajuns be breaking in a first-year starting quarterback in fourth-year junior Jordan Davis.
“We’ve got some questions we’ve got to answer during camp,” Hudspeth said, seemingly referencing running backs and inside linebackers chief among them.
“But we’ve got five weeks to get that worked out, and we’re ready to get that started.”
With a solid corps of starting receivers, a veteran offensive line led by Horst and a defense whose strength starts up front behind big Taboris Lee, Hudspeth seemed optimistic about what the season to come could hold for the Cajuns.
He even beckoned back to UL’s four-straight 9-4, New Orleans Bowl-winning seasons from 2011-14, when the Cajuns always seemed to leave this city happy.
“We’ve got to get back to what we were doing a few years ago,” he said, “because we were that team (capable of 10 victory) a few years ago when we won nine games four years in a row.”
One big key to it all, in Hudspeth’s mind?
“Now we’ve got to get more-consistent quarterback play,” he said, “because that’s probably what we haven’t had in the last two years that we had the first four years.”