The term ‘sophomore slump’ isn’t in Mark Hudspeth’s vocabulary as he enters his second season as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ head coach.
By Dan McDonald
August 15, 2012
The attitude hasn’t changed that much. UL football coach Mark Hudspeth’s incessant optimism has been in place in the Ragin’ Cajun program for over a year now.
Expectations? They’re through the roof, compared to 12 months ago.
After all, if a team can come from virtually nowhere to earning a spot — and winning — in the New Orleans Bowl in only one year, what can the Cajuns do in year two?
Get better in a lot of areas, gain a lot more respect nationally and develop a tradition of winning, Hudspeth hopes. But more than anything, he and the Cajuns would like a Sun Belt Conference championship trophy.
Despite the unexpected success of 2011, a year that featured nine wins and a 32-30 victory over favored San Diego State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, it’s an almost forgotten fact that UL didn’t win the league title. Didn’t finish second, either.
“That will always be one of our goals,” Hudspeth says of winning the Sun Belt. “That’s not going to be easy. This conference is more even than any in the country. Just about every team can get on a run and either win it or finish in the top three.”
That’s what happened to the Cajuns last year. Picked eighth by the league coaches in the 2011 poll, UL won six in a row early in the season including four conference wins. But the Cajuns also lost three of their last five in the regular season, and only a last-minute miracle win over UL Monroe made them attractive enough to bowl officials to secure their New Orleans trip.
The season, and the bowl win, earned some measure of respect. UL was universally ranked in triple digits in last year’s national magazine preseason listings of all 120 FCS schools. This year, out of 124 such teams, the Cajuns are at least in double digits, with Athlon’s No. 76 ranking among the highest.
“We’re still in the 80s and 90s there,” Hudspeth says. “We’re still not getting the respect we want to get, and we need that to enhance our recruiting nationally. Winning and winning consistently is what we have to do to get that.”
“Last year, we were way under the radar,” quarterback Blaine Gautier said at the league press day. “This year the bar’s set pretty high.”
"So far we're unbeaten at home, and that's our goal again. We want to make Cajun Field the toughest place in America to play. When you have 28, 29 thousand fans in there, in the sun belt, that's pretty strong."
—UL Head coach Mark Hudspeth
It’s high in part because of Gautier, who personified the 2011 season. Opening the year as an afterthought at quarterback, the now-senior from Lutcher ended up as Louisiana’s Offensive Player of the Year after setting school records for passing yards, touchdowns and total offense. In the bowl game, he threw for a bowl-record 470 yards and three scores.
“He wasn’t our starter at the start of the year,” Hudspeth says, “and it took a while for our offense to get in synch. Now he’s a proven quarterback who’s led his team to a bowl win, so he’s got to feel confident.”
UL has eight other offensive starters returning, including running back and Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Alonzo Harris, four offensive line starters and receivers who combined to catch just under 200 passes for 2,600 yards.
“We can come out of the chute with a lot more potential,” Hudspeth says of his offense.
“We know we can throw the ball,” Gautier says, “and the guys up front will make sure we run it better this year.”
Defense is another story. Last year’s team success and the seven interception returns for touchdowns (a national record until Southern Miss got its eighth in a bowl game) masked the fact that the Cajuns allowed 30 points per game last season and an average of 35 in the last four games. Also, seven defensive starters have to be replaced, but Hudspeth takes solace in that nine of the 11 top reserves will be available.
“I like a lot of the guys we have coming in there,” he says. “We may be less experienced but more talented.”
The return of bowl-game hero Brett Baer, whose 50-yard field goal may have been the most exciting final play of the entire bowl season, and dynamic return specialist Daryl Surgent give UL the early leg up on special teams heading into the Sept. 1 opener against Lamar at Cajun Field.
Hudspeth still hasn’t tasted defeat at home entering his second season, and the Lamar game shouldn’t be as much a test as the Sept. 29 home league opener against preseason Sun Belt favorite FIU.
“So far we’re unbeaten at home, and that’s our goal again,” Hudspeth says. “We want to make Cajun Field the toughest place in America to play. When you have 28, 29 thousand fans in there, in the Sun Belt, that’s pretty strong.”
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The Houston firm said Friday in its weekly report that 1,575 rigs were exploring for oil and 338 for gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,776 active rigs.
A crew began erecting the 25-foot mini-wheel late morning Friday in anticipation of the evening’s Hottest Night of the Year party at the park.
Frances Boothe of Nunez, who also happens to be filmmaker Stephen Meaux’s grandmother, prepares a cool-weather fave.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
New Iberia colonial or Broussard traditional home
The LPSB is poised and ready to move forward with the termination of Pat Cooper following a discussion Thursday with the attorney hired for the investigation of the superintendent, but a decision of this magnitude should be left up to the new board seated in January, especially with three pro-investigation board members bailing out come the new year.
Fiery style for game day
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Google vs. Amazon in drone race; more deaths in Syria; Russia escalates Ukraine conflict and more national and international news for Friday, August 29, 2014.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
Three bedroom Port Barre cottage or three bedroom historic district Opelousas home
No laboring for shoppers this holiday
It will be next month before Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely get a chance to change the membership of a South Louisiana flood board that is suing dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
The Acadiana Center for the Arts and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority have announced a new artist stipend program, ArtSpark, designed to offer financial aid to local artists.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Three bedroom traditional or two bedroom Victorian cottage