From the Bird’s Nest: Are the Cajuns Going to be THAT Bad??
It's a good thing I don't put much stock in preseason predictions.
Otherwise, I'd be pretty damned depressed right now.
Because no one, and I mean no one, is giving Louisiana much of a chance when football season starts.
Just read some of what folks supposedly "in the know" have to say.
Phil Steele picked the Cajuns tied for last in the Sun Belt.
Blue Ribbon Yearbook picks them dead last.
The Sporting News suggests the Cajuns are the worst team in America.
Brett Vito, who writes for the Denton Record-Chronicle, picks the Cajuns last and suggests they're going to be "really, really, bad." That indictment is especially frightening. Vito covers North Texas. And after watching the Mean Green under Todd Dodge, he knows what "really, really bad" is.
And, the Sun Belt coaches themselves don't hold out much hope for the Vermilion and White, picking them next to last in the league, just ahead of Florida Atlantic.
Now, here in Lafayette, expectations are higher. We've met new head coach Mark Hudspeth. We like his work ethic and that of his staff. We like the enthusiasm he's brought to the program. We like the positive changes he's brought to off-season workouts and in the classroom.
But can he keep the Cajuns from being what everyone thinks they'll be in 2011?
There's no question the Cajuns have a lot of work to do. The optimist will look at last year's 3-9 record, remember the amount of injuries the Cajuns had and say that, without those devastating injuries, the Cajuns probably would have been 6-6.
And they might be right.
The pessimist will look at the same record, call the injuries excuses (never try to analyze with a pessimist) and state that the Cajuns were three plays away from going 0-12.
And they might be right.
Now before we go any farther, we've got to understand how these preseason predictions work. The "experts" look at the record from a year ago, look at players lost and players returning and compare that with the other teams in the league. The Cajuns lost 24 lettermen, the most in the Sun Belt Conference. They also have the fewest starters returning in the league (12-14, depending on which publication you trust.) They gave up the most points in the league a year ago. Their running game was largely non-existent. Their quarterback was sacked a frightening 36 times. Of their nine losses, six were by 20 points or more. They lost by five touchdowns to a team that had lost more than twenty straight games.
Add to all of this the fact that a new coaching staff is in place. That means everyone starts from scratch in trying to learn the new offensive and defensive schemes.
Now, if you're looking at this on paper, you get an idea why no one with a dog in the hunt thinks the Cajuns are going to be respectable, much less, good.
There are great causes for concern this year. While the Cajuns have experienced quarterbacks, the best tight end in the league and depth at wideout, the offensive line has precious little depth. And, even less collegiate experience. There are questions at inside linebacker. The defensive line needs to get better in a hurry. And the secondary has talent, but not much experience after the first four.
But is this going to be the worst team in America?
To me, the worst team in America will win anywhere from zero to two games. Looking at the Cajuns' schedule, you can expect them to be competitive against the majority of the opponents. Oklahoma State, Arizona, FIU and Troy are more talented. But the Cajuns nearly beat the Trojans last year and have them at home.
Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee aren't light years ahead of the Cajuns, talent-wise. But the Cajuns have to travel to those places.
The Cajuns will have more talent than Nicholls State. ULM is projected high in the league this year with a lot of returning players. But the Cajuns beat them in Monroe last year. This year they play at Cajun Field. North Texas will be improved, but the Cajuns won on the road last year. Florida Atlantic has lots of question marks. WKU played the game of their lives against the Cajuns last year. That won't be easy on the road, but it's not impossible.
My prediction of the Cajuns' season will come as the season draws closer. But I'll give you a hint. I won't be picking the Bayou Boys to have a winning season.
I also won't pick them to be the worst team in America.