After a Wild Off Season, are the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns a Wild Card in the Sun Belt?
For years, the Ragin Cajuns were a benchmark of consistency for the Sun Belt, making routine trips to the New Orleans Bowl and racking up post season wins. But after two seasons of less-than-Cajun results, the seams holding Mark Hudspeth’s program began to unravel. Can Huds get it together to make a run at the Sun Belt title?
In late April, Louisiana head football coach Mark Hudspeth announced indefinite suspensions for thirteen members of the football team. Among the carnage: eight potential starters, including Freshman All-American defensive lineman Joe Dillon, all charged with robbing the apartment of Artez Williams, who had been dismissed from the team after he was connected to a second-degree rape charge that happened on campus.
This burst of underworld drama followed an unpleasant incident in November that had Hudspeth apologizing for the team’s explicit-filled anti-Donald Trump behavior that was caught on tape.
Last but not least, senior running back Darrius Hoggins, broke his jaw and knocked out a couple teeth after taking a tumble while operating his cell phone.
The season cannot start fast enough for Coach Mark Hudspeth and the Cajuns, who certainly have the talent to compete for the Sun Belt title – if the drama has subsided.
It’s back to the business of football in Lafayette.
An agreement with Lafayette prosecutors reduced the charges on The Cajun’s Thirteen from felony burglary to misdemeanors, keeping valuable players like Dillon and senior safety Tracy Walker on the roster. The two lead a unit that ranked 43rd nationally for Total D in 2016.
Do the Cajuns have all the pieces to make a return to Sun Belt glory? It depends on three things:
The Defense Continues to Improve
Somewhat beneath the radar, the Cajuns run defense was spectacular in 2016, ranking 23rd in the nation agains the rush and led by USA TODAY Freshman All American Joe Dillon (49 tackles, 6 sacks) and DE Trev Miller (4 sacks). Both guys return, with 2nd Team All-Sun Belt DL Taboris Lee and DB Tracey Walker locking down offenses. This unit only gets better.
The Offense Lends a Hand
In 2016, the Cajuns didn’t get consistent play under center. This year, Jordan Davis – the 6’3″ 215 Jr. QB who has patiently bided his time – is asked to lead talented WR Keenan Barnes (418 yards, 6 TDs) to the end zone. With the dangerous Elijah McGuire now terrorizing defensive lines for the New York Jets, Hudspeth will also need more from RBs Darrius Hoggins (281 yards, 1 TD) and Jordan Wright (192 yards, 1 TD).
Mark Hudspeth Tightens His Grip on The Rope
After enjoying 4 consecutive winning seasons (all ending with successful trips to the New Orleans Bowl), Mark Hudspeth has endured two losing campaigns in a row. Has Huds simply run out of sauce in Lafayette? Or will the confident coach rediscover his moxie in 2017? The Cajuns won 4 of its last five conference games last season, including a chaos-inducing win over Arkansas State. The pieces are just waiting for Hudspeth to assemble into a winning team.
The Cajuns are never fully out of the conference picture, and were indeed picked by SBC coaches to finish 5th. But Louisiana feels like a better-than-fifth team. Davis is a dual-threat QB that looks to give the Cajuns a presence at QB not seen since the days of Torrence Broadway. The defense is legit, and All-Sun Belt kicker Stevie Artigue is reportedly nailing 50-yard field goals with ease.
Never, ever sleep on Hudspeth.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.