Preview 2017: Is ULM The Sun Belt’s Breakthrough Team?
With a ton of experience returning, is ULM the Sun Belt’s key breakthrough team this year?
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Could ULM be the new Troy?
The Troy Trojans went 4-8 in the first season under head coach Neal Brown in 2015, but they have some solid pieces in place – including a great quarterback – cranked up the offense, improved a horrible defense, and boom … 10-3 with a bowl win last year.
ULM went 4-8 in the first season under head coach Matt Viator in 2016, but it has some solid pieces in place – including a great quarterback – and it could crank up the offense, improve a horrible defense, and boom … ?
The Warhawks have too tough a schedule to win ten games like Troy did last year, and they have further to go to improve the defense. But if you’re looking for the Sun Belt team with the upside to go from also-ran to terrific in one year, ULM might be it.
Viator is a veteran head man who went to the FCS Playoffs five times at McNeese State and never had a losing record. He knows Louisiana, he knows the area to get the right recruits – potentially.
But for now, just being a few wins better would be enough. Win two more games than last season, be bowl eligible for the first time since 2013, and it would be a major step forward for the program.
Garrett Smith is a good enough quarterback to make that happen – if he stays healthy. Being in one piece has been a problem in his first two seasons, but if he’s right, he should blow up with a veteran receiving corps to throw to and a great-looking backfield to help the cause. Getting Alabama transfer Derrick Gore to help handle the workload won’t hurt.
The offensive line that was one of the few big positives of last season returns three starters, welcomes in Texas Tech transfer Trace Ellison, and should be good enough to be every bit as solid as it was last year.
The O will be fine. The other side of the ball … it’ll be experienced.
Nine starters are back with JUCO transfers coming in to fill in the missing pieces for a D that got ripped apart for 480 yards and 39 points per game.
There isn’t a ton of size, the pass rush needs to improve, and the run defense needs to be far, far stronger, but at least there’s more depth and plenty of options to move around where needed. Any improvement could be just enough to make this a bowl-eligible team.
It’s been done before. It’s possible to go from mediocre to great in a snap in the Sun Belt. ULM just might do it.