New Quarterback to Lead UL Monroe
(This is the fifth in a series previewing the Sun Belt Conference and non-conference foes for the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. Today: UL Monroe. The Cajuns visit Malone Stadium on Nov. 15th)
Until Kolton Browning's arrival, there hadn't been much on field success for UL Monroe. In fact, the Warhawks had never had a winning season since moving up to the FBS. But in 2012, the ULM signal caller lead the Warhawks to eight wins and a berth in the Independence Bowl. And, the Warhawks were bowl eligible last season despite missing Browning for a couple of games and never really having him at 100%.
Browning was not only a good quarterback, he also had that "it" factor. You know, the guy who not only gets everything he has out of his ability but also makes everyone around him better.
The good news for Todd Berry's football team is 15 returning starters on offense and defense. The bad news is, Kolton Browning isn't one of them.
The big questions on offense for ULM are at quarterback and running back. Berry will turn to senior transfer Pete Thomas to try to fill those big shoes left by Browning. Thomas beat out last year's backup Brayle Brown. Thomas started his career at Colorado State and played at N. C. State last season where he started six games. At running back, Centarius Donald (6-1, 223) is a load of trouble...when he's healthy, which hasn't been often. Donald has had two ACL surgeries and did not appear in ULM's first five games a year ago, but gained 100 yards twice in the final seven games of the season. There are a lot of question marks behind Donald.
ULM returns their leading receiver, Rashon Ceaser (65-964, 9td) but will have to do without Tavarese Maye, who missed the last four games because of injury and Je'Ron Hamm. Ajalen Holley, who caught 21 balls in a backup role returns and JC transfer Tyrone Carter is being counted on to be a big contributor. TE Harley Scioneaux returns as the starter at tight end. ULM returns three starters on the OL, including tackle Joseph Treadwell (6-5, 324, Sr.). That line will be counted on to protect Thomas, who is not nearly as elusive as Browning was.
The Warhawks should be fine on the defensive side of the ball, returning nine starters from last season. The loss of Cameron Blakes is a big one, but linebackers Hunter Kissinger and Ray Stovall are back. The two combined for 17.5 TFL last year. Cordero Smith leads a talented backfield that returns intact with exception of Blakes. This should be one of Berry's better defensive clubs.
Justin Manton handles both kicking duties for ULM. He's an outstanding punter but not the most reliable guy in the world as a place kicker. Ceaser is a solid return man. ULM has to be a lot better in kick coverage, which was their weak spot of their special teams last season.
The financially strapped Warhawks play a tough non-conference schedule every year. This year, ULM is the only school in the country to play all of its non conference games against teams from the "power five" conferences, including three SEC teams on the road. ULM rarely has six home games and this year is no exception as they'll be on the road seven times in their final ten games. They get Troy and Texas State and Louisiana at home and do not play South Alabama, or Georgia State. The conference schedule works in their favor, as they should be favored in road games at Appalachian State, New Mexico State and Georgia Southern Unfortunately, those three games are in the last four of the season and it will be tough to get a ton of wins prior to those games.
OUTLOOK: This team has a chance to be pretty good. They're going to be pretty solid on defense and they have some offensive weapons. But Donald has to stay healthy for really the first time in his career. Thomas can throw the football but he's not as mobile as Browning, and that takes a dimension out of the Warhawks' offense. The non-conference schedule is really the killer for this team as far as postseason is concerned. The Warhawks could go 5-3 in league play (maybe better), but without a season opening win against Wake Forest, it will be hard for them to be bowl eligible.