(Part 1 of an 11-part Sun Belt Conference football preview series)
Stocked with 17 returning starters, Louisiana-Lafayette was anointed as the unanimous preseason favorite in the Sun Belt Conference preseason coaches poll.
Sharing the conference title with Arkansas State last season, the Ragin' Cajuns (9-4, 5-2) went on to defeat Tulane 24-21 for its third consecutive R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl victory. UL-Lafayette joins defending national champion Florida State, Michigan State, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas A&M as the only teams to win bowl games each of the past three seasons.
Fourth-year head coach Mark Hudspeth, who has put together three straight 9-4 seasons in Lafayette, is looking to take the Ragin' Cajuns to the next level in 2014.
Fueling the high expectations in Acadiana is an offense featuring seven returning starters from a unit which ranked second in the conference in scoring (33.8 points per game) and rushing (204.5 yards per game), fourth in total offense (416.8 ypg) and first in third down conversions (50 percent).
Senior Terrance Broadway enters his third season as a starter after throwing for 2,419 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while rushing for 442 yards and eight scores.
Broadway is joined in the backfield by a pair of first-team All-Conference running backs. Powerful senior Alonzo Harris (199 carries, 942 yards, 14 touchdowns) is complemented by speedster Elijah McGuire (103, 863 yards, 8 TDs; 22 receptions, 384 yards, 3 TDs), the 2013 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. McGuire's 8.4 yards per carry was tops in the NCAA.
Seniors Jamal Robinson (54-862-8) and James Butler (26-363-1) were first and third on the team in receiving.
Despite the departure of first-team All-Sun Belt center Andre Huval, who missed only 23 snaps the past three years, experience is plentiful on the offensive line.
Senior left guard Terry Johnson, senior right guard Daniel Quave and junior right tackle Octravian Anderson started all 13 games last season. Daniel Quave has started 39 straight games since redshirting as a true freshman while his brother, junior left tackle Mykhael Quave, enters the season with 26 consecutive starts.
Seven defensive starters return from a unit which ranked second in the Sun Belt in rushing (150.7 yards per game), third in total offense (393.5 ypg) and fourth in points allowed (26.5 ppg).
Senior tackles Justin Hamilton (38 tackles, 9 tackles for loss) and Christian Ringo, who was hampered by injuries in 2013, head the defensive front.
Junior Dominique Tovell (67 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), last year's second-leading tackler, and junior Trae Johnson (32 tackles, 5 TFL in 9 games) are penciled in at the linebackers. Sophomore LSU transfer Trey Grainer is also being counted on to make an impact.
Senior free safety Sean Thomas (63 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles), senior strong safety Trevence Patt (57 tackles, 1 INT, 12 pass breakups), who has switched from strong safety to cornerback, and senior cornerback Corey Trim (45 tackles, 2 INTs) return in the defensive backfield. Junior cornerback Jevante Watson, a Bastrop High product, could also figure into the secondary equation after lettering on special teams the past two years.
Senior Daniel Cadona will handle the punting with junior Stephen Brauchle in charge of field goals and senior Hunter Stover taking care of kickoffs.