By: chalifour.eric | 5/5/12, 1:14 PM EDT
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You can read the entire UL Monroe preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#100 UL Monroe
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Todd Berry, 9-15 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Farmer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Troy Reffett
Though the injury was not revealed until year’s end, quarterback Kolton Browning played most of last season with a broken sternum, one of many injuries that strained the ULM lineup. With nearly 6,000 yards of total offense in his career, Browning, now a junior, is one of the Sun Belt’s most underrated players.
Browning is flanked by a solid stable of skill players. Speedster Jyruss Edwards and power back Centarius Donald form a good one-two punch in the backfield. They combined for 1,081 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns in 2011. Last year’s top two receivers, Brent Leonard and Tavarese Maye, are back, and wideout Je’Ron Hamm looks to be a breakout performer. Keavon Milton, a 288-pound, sure-handed tight end, returns from a broken leg and should give Browning a safety net.
But the offensive line is a major concern. It was young and thin last season, and that status is only slightly improved this year. For all the offense’s potential, it could be hampered greatly if holes on the line are not filled.
Five starters return from last year’s squad that led the Sun Belt in rushing defense and total defense, and two key additions could help keep the Warhawks at that level. Missouri transfer Gerrand Johnson will start at nose tackle in the 3-3-5 scheme. Former Arkansas linebacker Austin Moss will man the middle linebacker spot.
“Gerrand Johnson can certainly be an impact guy, and Austin Moss is what we thought he would be. He’s big and he can run,” coach Todd Berry says. “We were pretty good on defense last year, but I think we’re better this year.”
ULM added size and depth to the secondary, but questions still loom. Key players, including cornerback Otis Peterson, return from 2011 injuries, and third-year starting safety Isaiah Newsome provides stability. Redshirt freshman Mitch Lane could be a difference-maker if he can beat out senior Henry Mitchell at the Hawk position. But ULM signed several defensive backs in case the older players are not effective.
Special teams cost ULM at least one win last season, and tight ends coach Travis Niekamp was hired primarily to focus on fixing the problems. Explosive returner Luther Ambrose graduated, and punter Aaron Munoz transferred. Edwards will handle kick returns, and redshirt freshman Caleb Gammel is the likely new punter. Kicker Justin Manton made only 6-of-14 field goals last year.
Hampered by cuts to scholarships and practice time due to previous academic penalties, ULM struggled to get over the hump in Berry’s first two seasons. Now with those penalties in the past, the Warhawks hope to contend. There’s plenty of youth on the roster, but now ULM has a full allotment of scholarships. That should help with depth, but the Warhawks still might be another year away from their first bowl trip.
“We had high expectations last season, but we couldn’t overcome injuries,” Berry says. “We still need to be healthy, but we have a deeper team now, and we have a chip on our shoulder because of some close games we lost last year. We had to bite the bullet with scholarships in the past, but we’ve got the team we want now.”
Early momentum will be hard to come by with trips to Arkansas and Auburn to start the season and only one home game in the first five weeks.