2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have established themselves as one of the Sun Belt Conference's best in three seasons under head coach Mark Hudspeth, and their consistency continued in 2013, as they finished up 9-4 for the third straight campaign.
The Cajuns stumbled out of the gate, dropping a pair of road games to Arkansas (34-14) and Kansas State (48-27), but from there it was one of the hottest teams in the nation with eight straight wins, five coming against Sun Belt competition.
Louisiana's hot streak came to an end on Nov. 30 with a 31-28 setback at ULM. It had a chance to win the league outright on Dec. 7 at South Alabama but came up short in a 30-8 loss, having to settle for a share of the title with Arkansas State.
For the third straight year, the Cajuns were invited to and came out victorious in the New Orleans Bowl, taking down the hometown Tulane Green Wave this time around, 24-21.
OFFENSE: The Cajuns had an outstanding offensive attack in 2013, putting up 416.8 ypg while ranking second in the Sun Belt in scoring (33.7 ppg). The unit remains in great shape heading into the new season with eight returning starters, including the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year at quarterback.
Terrance Broadway orchestrated the offense very well during his junior season, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 2,419 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions to go along with strong production on the ground (442 yards, eight TDs). If Broadway can return his completion percentage back to 2012 levels (.654), then an even bigger campaign will be in store.
Any concerns of Broadway having lingering effects from offseason surgery to repair a broken forearm have been squashed during training camp.
"He's 100 percent, flying around, throwing the ball very well, coming out of his hands with a live ball," Hudspeth said of his signal caller. "I've been really proud of him and his work he's put in."
Broadway is just one part of the Cajuns' excellent rushing attack, as Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire were both named Preseason First-Team All-Conference. Harris is the workhorse, turning 199 carries last season into 942 yards and 14 touchdowns, while McGuire was the more explosive of the two with 863 yards on just 103 carries (8.4 ypc), 22 receptions for 384 yards and 11 scores.
Jamal Robinson returns as Broadway's favorite receiving target attempting to improve upon career highs in receptions (54), yards (862) and touchdowns (eight). James Butler, (26 receptions, 363 yards TD) brings added experience to the receiving corps.
Rounding out the cohesive offense is a veteran offensive line with four starters returning.
DEFENSE: While the offense made most of the headlines last season, the defense held up to its end of the bargain as well in yielding 26.5 ppg and 393.5 ypg, and unbelievably, the unit retains even more continuity than the offense with 10 starters back in the fray.
Dominique Tovell (67 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Justin Hamilton (9.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) were both First-Team honorees this preseason along the defensive line. The pair will try to improve their sack totals for a team that got to the quarterback just 22 times a season ago.
The Cajuns will need to overcome the loss of defensive leader Justin Anderson (131 tackles, 11.0 TFL, INT), the only defensive starter not returning. Al Riles (39 tackles, INT) and Trae Johnson (32 tackles, 5.5 TFL) will attempt to pick up the slack at linebacker.
Safeties Sean Thomas (63 tackles, three INTs, two FF) and T.J. Worthy (59 tackles, two INTs) are great playmakers equally impressive in run and pass coverage. Trevence Patt (57 tackles, INT) and Corey Trim (45 tackles, two INTs) are one of the best cornerback tandems in the league.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A kicking competition between Hunter Stover and Stephen Brauchle will be determined during camp. Daniel Cadona is back as the punter. Seventeen of his 53 punts landed inside the 20-yard line and 11 traveled at least 50 yards.
Darryl Surgent, who picked up 768 return yards a season ago, is no longer on the roster. C.J. Bates is one of the favorites to take over as the punt returner, and McGuire could be called upon to run back a few more kickoffs.
OUTLOOK: Expectations are high in Lafayette this season and for good reason. It's rare that a nine-win team can retain so much talent, and Louisiana was unsurprisingly picked as the conference favorite in the preseason as selected by the media.
Hudspeth isn't shying away from the praise, but he's also focused on channeling his team's ambitions toward a common and simple goal, regardless of the preseason hype.
"We'll never look ahead and say, "Hey, we want to win this many games,'" Hudspeth said. "We just want to follow our plan to win and do what we know it takes to win, and if we do that hopefully good things will happen."
With the exception of its Sept. 13 matchup at Ole Miss, Louisiana will likely be favored in every game it plays, meaning an improvement upon last season's strong showing is well within reach. It will face Arkansas State, its biggest competition for the league title, at home on Oct. 21, and if it can win that contest, a Sun Belt championship should be right around the corner.