Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 10:30 AM
LAFAYETTE — It is not a long ride from Lafayette to New Orleans, but it took years for the Ragin’ Cajuns to make it.
Once there, they enjoyed the Big Easy so much they went back for seconds.
A third consecutive trip to the New Orleans Bowl over the holidays would mean the Cajuns were Sun Belt Conference champs.
That is a long way from 2010 when just trying to be competitive seemed too much for Louisiana-Lafayette fans to hope for.
Back then many wondered why the Ragin’ Cajuns ever left the Southland Conference after the 1981 season to try and rub shoulder pads with the big boys. But their days of raising more chuckles than eyebrows are over.
Two years of the Mark Hudspeth era have produced not only a pair of bowl wins but also identical school-record 9-4 seasons. This after he took over a team that was 3-9.
And there is hope for even better days to come, as the University of Louisiana as it wants to be called is now on the radar of young high schoolers in search of playing at the next level.
“The national exposure we’re receiving with the bowl game, the way we played against Florida on national television last year, the new facilities we have here and our planning gets us in a lot of doors we never would have gotten in before.” Hudspeth said.
“A lot of recruits have seen us play now and they’re more familiar with the Ragin’ Cajun brand. That’s the thing I’m trying to do is get our brand out there.”
So too is the schedule that has more improved first for money and now for money and opportunity.
The Cajuns open at Arkansas next weekend and then travel to Kansas State. This a year after giving the Southeastern Conference’s Florida a run for its money in the Swamp.
“Going out and playing against those teams and showing we can compete to the nation and the polls is a good thing,” said Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway. “You want to show the world that you can play with those teams.”
But with the spotlight comes no surprises.
“I don’t think we will sneak up on anybody this year,” Broadway said.
Much like his team, Broadway made the most of his opportunity last year. When starter Blaine Gautier went down with a season-ending injury, Broadway took over.
The dual-threat junior wound up producing 3,611 yards of total offense, including 769 yards on the ground. Now he’s on the 2013 watch list for the Manning Award, given to the nation’s top college quarterback.
He was named MVP of last year’s bowl victory over East Carolina after he threw for 316 yards and ran for another 108, accounting for scores both ways.
Now this is his team, no question. He also knows the stakes are higher.
“I am not the same quarterback I was at the New Orleans Bowl,” he said. “This is not the same team. We are more confident, more familiar with each other, more of a family.”
With that comes those raised goals.
“The expectations we have hear is to win a championship,’’ Broadway said. “We’ve been coming close but if we take care of business this should be the year.’’
Broadway may be the team’s star, but it’s heart and soul is likely junior running back Alonzo Harris,.
Harris ran for 881 and 10 touchdowns last year to lead the Cajuns ground game.
Holes do need to be filled, especially on defense where the Cajuns will change to a four-man front under new coordinator James Willis.
But thanks to solid recruiting years there is a belief the talent is there and ready to step up.
It all leads to those raised expectations.
“To me, expectations are a good thing when they are high,” Hudspeth said. “They could be the other way. When you have high expectations normally it is because you have had some success. Are we there yet by any stretch we are not even close.
“I can tell you this, nobody has higher expectations than us.”
Now the Cajuns get their chance to show they can thrive when the target is on their backs.
RUSTON — In a season of dramatic transition for Louisiana Tech, the one thing the Bulldogs don’t want to change is the win total.
Skip Holtz takes over for former coach Sonny Dykes, who left for California after leading Louisiana Tech to a school-record-tying nine wins at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. The Bulldogs also joined a new league — Conference USA — after the dissolution of the Western Athletic Conference.
Louisiana Tech returns three starters on offense and four on defense, but regardless of the personnel, Holtz will operate differently than Dykes.
The new regime will emphasize defense more.
Last year, the Bulldogs placed third in the WAC despite having a hurry-up spread offense that that produced 4,178 yards passing and a nation-leading 51.5 points per game behind former quarterback Colby Cameron.
Now as Tech switches leagues, Holtz sees good defense and a time-of-possession advantage as keys to finishing on top.
Predicted finish in Conference USA: Third in the West Division.
The Associated Press
MONROE — Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning might be the best offensive player in the Sun Belt Conference, and he has a team full of experience around him in 2013.
Coach Todd Berry, in his fourth season, has had a chance to fully cultivate his first recruiting class and will be fielding a team loaded with seniors and juniors who’ve learned how to win together.
ULM won eight games last season, including an upset at Arkansas, and earned a bid to the Independence Bowl. Now the Warhawks are co-favorites, along with in-state rivals Louisiana-Lafayette, to win the Sun Belt.
“This is the first time we have a senior-junior dominated team,” Berry said. “There’s no question that we built for this season.”
Berry has been enjoying the fruits of last season’s success.
“Eight wins is not a great season, but for us it was a huge season because it was that season where you break down that barrier of: well, you can’t have a winning season, and you can’t beat a top-10 team, and you can’t win a big one on the road, and you can’t do this, and you can’t do that,” Berry said.
Predicted finish in the Sun Belt: First (co-favorites)
The Associated Press
Hope starts with the fact that Grambling, which won the Southwestern Athletic Conference as recently as 2011, lost five games by seven or fewer points.
The coach will rely on his son, D.J. Williams, to lead the offense after sharing quarterback duties last season, when the Tigers averaged only 18.2 points per game.
Williams also hopes the return of Dennis “Dirt” Winston as defensive coordinator tightens up that side of scrimmage.
Williams said there’s no doubt in his mind his team will “get back to being Grambling.”
Predicted finish: Fifth in the SWAC West Division.
The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE — While Southern coach Dawson Odums did well enough last season to shed his “interim” title, he’s now charged with making the Jaguars Southwestern Athletic Conference contenders again.
Odums took over last season when Stump Mitchell started 0-2 and went 4-5 the rest of the way, including a morale-boosting victory over Grambling State in the Bayou Classic.
Southern returns seven starters on offense, including senior quarterback Dray Joseph, who passed for 2,511 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
His top target will be Lee Doss, who caught 65 passes for 703 yards last season, but the rest of the receiving corps is unproven.
Odums’ 3-4 defense has seven regulars back, including linebacker Anthony Balancier, the unit’s leading tackler in 2012.
Predicted finish: Second in the SWAC West Division.
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — After eight consecutive years with four wins or fewer, Tulane is talking turnaround.
Eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, a lighter schedule and some key transfers have raised hopes for a rare bowl appearance.
The most prominent addition is junior quarterback Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana. Montana lost a tight battle for the starting job at Washington in 2011, played at a junior college in 2012 and is the clear front-runner at Tulane.
Tulane also brought in 6-foot-4, 334-pound defensive tackle Chris Davenport, who was a premier recruit at LSU in 2009 but never found his niche with the talented Tigers.
Second-year coach Curtis Johnson says he’d be disappointed with second-straight losing season.
“As ultra-competitive as I am, I would probably be disappointed with six wins,” Johnson said. “We better get more than six. We’ve added some pieces.”
Tulane plays a light schedule in its last season in the Superdome before leaving for a new on-campus stadium, and is in its last year in depleted Conference USA before joining the American Athletic.
Predicted finish in Conference USA: Sixth in the West Division
The Associated Press
Posted By: Marty On: 8/26/2013
Title: GO UL
Great story on the Cajuns. Nice to see come coverage, hope to see more!
Posted By: Gerald Landry On: 8/24/2013
Finally some coverage in our area of the Cajuns---Thank you so much--In the past we couldn't even get the scores --We have many Louisiana Alumni in the American Press' area that would really enjoy some continued Cajun coverage---Also remember that McNeese is the area school and should come first but UL does deserve more coverage!!!