#101 Louisiana Football 2016 Preview

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Overall Rank: #101
#4 Sun Belt
Not much has gone right for Louisiana over the last year. Off the field, NCAA violations dominated the news and on the field the Ragin’ Cajuns limped to a 4-8 season. After showing some promise early, Coach Mark Hudspeth’s squad basically fell apart. Sitting at 4-4, this team really needed to beat South Alabama and New Mexico State, but fell short. This will either be the beginning of the end for Coach Hudspeth or, more likely, the beginning of another good season that proves that he is a good coach at a good program.
2015 Record: 4-8, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Mark Hudspeth (31-24 at Louisiana, 97-45 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jorge Munoz
Defensive Coordinator: Melvin Smith, Charlie Harbison
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Elijah McGuire, RB, 1,058 yards
Passing: Jalen Nixon, RB/QB, 828 yards
Receiving: Al Riles, WR, 477 yards
Tackles: Tracy Walker, DB, 74
Sacks: Dominick Jones, DB, 2.0; Mario Osborne, DE, 2.0
Interceptions: Savion Brown, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Gabe Fuselier, LB Otha Peters, DB Travis Crawford
Key Losses: QB Brooks Haack, WR Jamal Robinson, OL Octravian Anderson, OL Mykhael Quave, DL Darzil Washington, LB Dominique Tovell, S, Zachary DeGrange
The offense has potential thanks to Elijah McGuire, one of the best playmakers in the conference. His numbers were not very good last year, since McGuire did not get much help, but he rushed for 1,094 yards and 13 touchdowns on 210 carries. He also caught 33 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. So is there enough talent around McGuire now to utilize him more effectively? Time will tell, but it looks promising. The quarterback situation has cleared itself up a little bit with the transfer of Brooks Haack and the move of Jalen Nixon to running back. That leaves sophomore Jordan Davis as the experienced signal caller on the team, although redshirt freshmen Chris Weaver and Dion Ray are options as well. Davis was efficient during significant playing time during the last two games of the 2015 campaign, but he was not particularly explosive. Still, taking care of the ball and actually completing some passes is not a bad thing. Al Riles and Gabe Fuselier are the top returning receivers by the numbers, but those two are not big playmakers who can stretch the field. Devin Scott is that type of player, but he only caught a dozen passes last year. There are quite a few talented younger players fighting for playing time and some of them are pretty good athletes who can help take some of the pressure off of McGuire.
The Ragin’ Cajuns want to blitz, but last year they averaged just 1.83 sacks per game. The result was a lot of big plays against the Louisiana defense. If that problem was due to inexperience though, it should no longer be an issue. Leading tackler Dominique Tovell is gone, but the two-deep is now littered with experience. There were a few losses on the line too, but Taboris Lee is a stud at nose tackle. The hope is somebody like sophomore Mario Osborn will emerge as a consistent rusher off of the edge. The linebackers will now be led by Otha Peters, who tallied 68 tackles as a junior. Again, getting to the quarterback is an area where this group needs to improve and Coach Hudspeth will look for more production from Trey Gainer and Kevin Fouquier. The secondary returns the top returning tackler in Tracy Walker, safety Travis Crawford and cornerbacks Savion Brown, Troy McCollum and Dominick Jones. The key for the secondary will be avoiding big plays. This group can make some big plays of their own, but hopefully now they get more help from the front seven and can worry a little more about defending instead of attacking.
The Bottom Line:
This looks like a pretty good Louisiana team in 2016. Last year is behind them and suddenly the roster is full of upperclassmen who are ready to pick up the pieces and get back to a bowl game. Non-conference games against Boise State, Georgia, McNeese State and Tulane limits them to two wins there, but the Ragin’ Cajuns get Arkansas State and Appalachian State at home. If this team meanders back to the lower end of the Sun Belt pecking order, those games might not be winnable, but if this group is ready to step up and compete for a Sun Belt title, they can do it because the Mountaineers and Red Wolves come to Cajun Field.
Projected Bowl: Cure Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 172.8 (63rd in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 207.6 (83, 7)
Total Offense: 380.4 (77, 8)
Scoring Offense: 26.4 (83, 9)
Rushing Defense: 183.8 (82, 5)
Pass Defense: 237.1 (81, 8)
Total Defense: 420.8 (89, 7)
Scoring Defense: 31.8 (94, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.75 (110, 10)
Sacks: 1.83 (83, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 1.75 (49, 5)