There is one spot for the teams that aren’t in the Big 5 conferences to make a nationally relevant bowl game. Jerry Palm has it as the Peach Bowl, Phil Steele has it as the Fiesta Bowl. The game itself is up in the air, but there is one fact that doesn’t change: There is only one spot.
None of the preseason top 25 teams according to the USA Today media poll were from one of the “other” leagues. They were all power conference teams. However, nine teams received votes. With apologies to Fresno State, Houston, and Northern Illinois, The Student Section is going to focus on the top six teams that received votes and their chances of gaining the at-large bid.
The series starts with the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
2013 Record: 9-4, Sun Belt Champions, New Orleans Bowl Champions
About 2013: The four losses came at the hands of Arkansas, Kansas State, UL-Monroe, and South Alabama. Three of the four losses saw the Cajuns get their doors blown off. Arkansas opened a 17-point lead on them, Kansas State jumped up on them, 34-3, and USA just beat the brakes off Louisiana.
On the flip side, six of the nine victories were by at least 14 points. The three closer games were slightly different: ULL held off Troy in a wild 41-36 contest; beat Akron 35-30 in a game when the Zips scored very late in a last-ditch effort to make the score cosmetically close; and beat Tulane by three in a moderately memorable New Orleans Bowl.
The Cajuns dropped their first two, won eight in a row, then dropped their final two regular season games before winning the bowl game.
2014 Conference Projection: Sun Belt #1 (unanimous vote)
All Conference Preseason First Team Selections
QB – Terrance Broadway
RB – Alonzo Harris
RB – Elijah McGuire
WR – Jamal Robinson
OL – Daniel Quave
DL – Justin Hamilton
LB – Dominique Tovell
DB – Trevence Patt
Players to Watch
166-266, 62.4%, 2,419 yards, 19 TDs, 12 INTs, 442 yards rushing, 8 TDs
Terrance Broadway is the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year. He had a nice season a year ago. He tossed 19 TDs to 12 INTs, a ratio which is something to improve upon. Broadway is a threat to run, as are many quarterbacks these days. Broadway was third on the team with 442 yards rushing. He had 8 rushing TDs, which tied him for second on the Cajuns.
Broadway had back-to-back 300-yard passing games against Akron and Texas State, when he threw 7 TDs to 1 INT. The 335-yard total against Texas State was his season high. Those were his only 300-yard games. Broadway ran for 68 yards and 2 TDs, as well as throwing for 305 yards and 3 TDs, against Akron.
Broadway also hit a late season slump. He was 13-27 for 178 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs in his last regular season game against UL-Monroe. After missing the USA game, Broadway was 12-19 for 143 with 2 INTs in the bowl game. There were only three games last year in which Broadway did not throw an interception.
942 yards, 4.7 per carry, 14 TDs, 4 receptions, 30 yards
Alonzo Harris was the leading rusher for Louisiana last year. He had a team-best 14 TDs. Harris wasn’t a threat at all in the passing game with just 4 catches for 30 yards, and three of those came in one game.
Harris was a steady back for most of the season, who then had an insane hot streak. Starting with Western Kentucky, Harris ran 22 times for 115 yards and 2 TDs, followed by 105 yards and 2 TDs and the coup de grace, 106 yards and 5 TDs against New Mexico State. Here’s a stat to digest: 326 of his 942 yards (nearly 35 percent) and 9 of his 14 TDs occurred in that stretch. Harris ran for only 287 yards while scoring 2 TDs the final five games.
863 yards, 8.4 per carry, 8 TDs, 22 receptions, 384 yards, 3 TDs
Elijah McGuire is the home run hitter in the backfield with 8.4 yards a carry. McGuire was very involved in the passing game. In fact, he was the third leading receiver on the squad. That doesn’t speak extremely highly of the passing game for a fact we are about to hit on, but the passing game was balanced and McGuire was one of the players who kept it afloat.
After a modest start, he blew up for 137 yards and 3 TDs on just 9 carries against Nicholls State. In the last 11 games of the season, McGuire was good for a minimum of one run of at least 21 yards a game. McGuire had three 100-yard rushing performances. He ran for 110 yards on 10 carries against Arkansas State, then 107 yards on 11 carries against Georgia State before setting a season high with 119 yards on 14 carries and a TD against UL-Monroe. The Georgia State game was McGuire’s finest. Along with the 107 rushing yards, he had 3 receptions for 125 yards and 2 TDs. He would rack up 94 receiving yards to go with 45 rushing yards in the bowl victory.
54 receptions, 862 yards, 8 TDs
Jamal Robinson was the top receiving target a year ago. No one else on the team had more than 31 receptions or 400 yards. Robinson was the passing game. Robinson went over 100 yards three times. He had 8 catches for 124 yards with 2 TDs against Akron. He then went “4, 114 and 2″ against Texas State and 7-104 (with no touchdowns) against Arkansas State. He had 98 yards and a TD against Monroe, plus 83 yards and a TD against Kansas State. Robinson had four other games of at least 50 yards receiving. He is a very solid target.
9 tackles for a loss, team high 4 sacks, team high 2 hurries, forced fumble.
67 tackles, team high 12 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles
57 tackles, 1.5 for a loss. 1 INT, team-high 12 pass break-ups.
No one else on the roster had more than 3 passes broken up.
Southern – Louisiana Tech – @ Ole Miss – @ Boise State
Conference Home Games (preseason rank):
Georgia State (10) – Arkansas State (2) – South Alabama (3) -Appalachian State (7)
Conference Road Games (preseason rank):
Texas State (6) – New Mexico State (11) – UL Monroe (5) – Troy (4)
The schedule works in a good way for the Ragin’ Cajuns. They have a couple of tough tests in the non-con; some games that should be easy wins; and a favorable conference slate. Hosting their (projected) toughest conference opponents while visiting the middle of the league is very favorable in the pursuit of a conference title. Losing at Ole Miss wouldn’t be the worst loss in the world. That is a week-three game, so if there is going to be an upset, the Cajuns could develop some momentum. What follows is a big game at Boise State.
The conference slate starts with three of four games at home, and ends with three of four on the road. Texas State is the early road game, which should be doable. The back-to-back games against Arkansas State and South Alabama could be what swing the league. The Arkansas State game is on a Tuesday on ESPN2.
Louisiana-Lafayette plays on television four times. The game at Ole Miss will be on the SEC Network, and the Boise State game is on CBS Sports Network. A pair of October Tuesday games will be on ESPN2, at Texas State and home against Arkansas State.