LAFAYETTE, La. – Louisiana-Lafayette hardly resembles the downtrodden program that coach Mark Hudspeth took over in 2011.
The Ragin' Cajuns have won the last two New Orleans Bowls, marking the first consecutive bowl wins in school history. Hudspeth also has posted ULL's first back-to-back nine-win seasons.
But one thing has been missing: a Sun Belt title.
This season, with dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway looking to build on his 2012 breakout season, the Ragin' Cajuns are co-favorites to win their first league title since finishing in a three-way tie for first place in 2005. Also back is junior running back Alonzo Harris, who had 881 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in 2012.
Hudspeth, now 18-8 in his two seasons in Lafayatte, is confident the Cajuns will continue building on their success.
"The national exposure we're receiving with the bowl game has been really, really positive for us as far as recruiting," Hudspeth said. "A lot of recruits have seen us play now and they're more familiar with the Ragin' Cajun brand — and that's the thing I'm trying to do is get our brand out there."
Louisiana-Lafayette opens at Arkansas Aug. 31.
Here are five things to watch with the 2013 Ragin' Cajuns:
1. BACK ON BROADWAY: Broadway burst onto the scene last year because of an early season injury to starter Blaine Gautier. Broadway accounted for 3,611 total yards and 26 TDs, including 2,842 yards passing and 769 yards rushing. This season, he's on the watch list for the Manning Award, giving to the nation's top college quarterback.
2. KICKING IT: ULL needed two players to replace All-Sun Belt punter and kicker Brett Baer. Punter Daniel Cadona comes in from Darwin, in the Northern Territories of Australia, while kicker Stephen Brauchele an honorable mention Junior College All-American at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College last season.
3 . SECONDARY PRIORITIES: The Cajuns were without three starters in the secondary during spring drills and will have some unproven players in the rotation in 2013. The Cajuns got a break when Rodney Gillis, who started every game at safety in 2013, returned for his sixth year early this summer. A pair of junior college transfers — Corey Trim and Cedrick Tillman — are front-runners to start at cornerback. "We lost a lot on defense so we'll need to be better defensively," Hudspeth said. "Some of our young guys are going to have to come on."
4. CAJUN COUNTRY: Since Hudspeth arrived, he has toured Acadiana (south-central Louisiana) relentlessly to drum up fan support for ULL football. It seems to be working. Cajun Field was been packed last season and ULL rarely ever loses at home anymore. The Cajuns are 10-1 at home in the past two seasons. They are also 4-0 against other teams from Louisiana, which bodes well for this season, and Louisiana-Monroe is the Sun Belt's other co-favorite.
5. NEW LINEMATES: The Cajuns lost starting offensive tackles Jaron Odom and Leonardo Bates from an offensive line that started all 13 games as a group last season. Hudspeth has sought to fill those voids with Mykhael Quave, who has moved from left guard to left tackle, and sophomore Octravian Anderson, who was a backup tackle a year ago.
Predicted finish: First (co-favorites)
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/