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Football: Hudspeth - 'The hardest schedule I've ever been a part of'

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 28, 2017

Mark Hudspeth looks at UL’s 2017 slate, and leaves no doubt about it.

Not a huge fan.

“It’s the hardest schedule I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.

“I mean, you’ve got two SEC teams on the road. Co-champions of the Sun Belt on the road. Ten-win Tulsa on the road. Nine-win, 4,000-mile trip to Idaho on the road. Then always-in-the-top-third-of-the-conference South Alabama, on the road. So, that’s a challenge.”

Let’s break it down.

After opening Saturday at Cajun Field against Southeastern Louisiana, UL plays Sept. 9 at Tulsa, which did go 10-3 last season.

The Golden Hurricane won six of the last seven games in 2016, in fact, including a 55-10 Miami Beach Bowl victory over Central Michigan.

On Sept. 16, the Cajuns visit Texas A&M — one of those two SEC dates Hudspeth mentioned. The other comes Nov. 11, when UL travels to Ole Miss for the second time in four seasons.

Related: What did Sun Belt coaches say anonymously about Cajuns?

Texas A&M went 8-5 last year, including a 33-28 Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State.

Ole Miss finished just 5-7 with two straight losses, at Vanderbilt and to Mississippi State, and losses in five of its last seven.

UL nevertheless has high regard for both SEC foes.

“Any team can be beat on any given day,” Cajuns senior safety Tracy Walker said. “That’s how I really feel.

“With that being said, yes, Ole Miss and Texas A&M — they are well-respected SEC teams.

“But we’re gonna to come to play,” he added, "and they’re gonna have to come to play with us as well.”

Walker, who has played in a few road games against Power 5 opponents, welcomes the competition.

Related: Once a quiet freshman, Cajun defense leader learned from predecessors

“If you don’t look to compete,” he said, “especially against the best, then how do you expect to be the best?

“I feel like Ole Miss, Texas A&M, they are the best. They’re in the SEC, which is the best conference to me. So … I look forward to those games.

“I love big crowds,” Walker added. “I love being in those atmospheres.”

When he was a redshirt freshman in 2014, Walker took part in a 56-15 Cajuns loss at Ole Miss.

He had an interception when UL opened its 2015 season with a 40-33 loss at Kentucky, and another interception when the Cajuns lost 35-21 in his home state at Georgia last year.

Walker also has played in a couple of New Orleans Bowls — a 2014 win over Nevada and a loss last season to Southern Mississippi — and in a 2014 loss at highly regarded Boise State.

 

Yet, as he pondered this year’s two SEC stages when asked about them earlier this summer, Walker started to stumble on his words.

More: Ragin Cajuns oozing with optimism at Sun Belt Media Day

“See,” he said. “My adrenaline is starting to rush a little bit now, just thinking about it.”

After opening with three straight non-conference opponents, UL begins Sun Belt Conference play with UL Monroe’s earlier-than-usual Sept. 23 visit to Cajun Field.

On Oct. 7, the Cajuns visit Idaho, which finished 2016 9-3 after a 61-50 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win over Colorado State.

It’s actually about a 4,800-mile roundtrip, and just five nights later — on a Thursday night — UL is at home for another Sun Belt game, this one against Texas State.

The Cajuns visit Arkansas State on Oct. 19 — another Thursday night game.

The Red Wolves are one of the two Sun Belt co-champs Hudspeth referenced. The other is Appalachian State, which UL visits on Dec. 2 for its final regular-season game.

The Cajuns also have Sun Belt games Nov. 4 at South Alabama, Nov. 18 at home against New Mexico State and Nov. 25 at home against Georgia Southern.

Related: Five question marks Cajuns must answer to get back to winning ways

It’s all part of a wacky schedule in which UL has seven games on the road and just five at Cajun Field.

Moreover, the Cajuns will go seven straight Saturdays in late September, all of October and part of November without a Saturday game at home — not exactly favorable for weekend tailgaters, or any college football team for that matter.

At one point in late October/early November, they go more than two weeks without a game.

“They did us no favors,” Hudspeth said with apparent reference to all of those who influenced the Cajuns’ schedule, including but perhaps not limited to the Sun Belt office.

UL’s 2017 non-conference schedule was put together before current Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard succeeded Scott Farmer earlier this year.

Related: Maggard discusses strategy in football scheduling

Especially with the two SEC road games scheduled by UL, Hudspeth added, “There’s not much margin of error.”

Nor is there reason to feel all hope is lost before the season even begins.

The last time UL had just five home games was 2013, when it went 9-4.

They also went 9-4 with only five home games in 2011, Hudspeth’s first as coach of the Cajuns.

“Somebody asked me one time, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” Hudspeth said.

“He said, ‘One bite at a time.’”

Hudspeth, whose other stops have included Mississippi State and Navy, obviously would prefer playing more than five home games.

“But that’s what our marching orders are,” he said, “and to be honest with you, we’re ready for the challenge.”

Related: Perspective needed in Hudspeth evaluation

With that in mind, the seventh-season UL coach seeks a silver lining in playing seven away from Cajun Field in ’17.

He can see one through the squint.

“When you go on the road,” Hudspeth said, “you get a chance to pull your team together.

“You’re all together in the hotel. … You’ve got ’em all under your watch. There seems to be less distractions when you play on the road.

“So hopefully,” he added, “we can use that for a rallying point for our team — to become a great road team.”

Related: UL taking time to 'get it right' with Cajuns mascot



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