School: University of Louisiana-Monroe, a coeducational unit of the University of Louisiana system founded in 1931. It offers the only masters in gerontology and pharmacy doctorate programs in the Louisiana system. So if you're into old folks and pills, this is your best bet in the Pelican State now that the Stones have stopped touring.
Mascot: Ace the Warhawk
Location: Monroe, Louisiana
Head Coach: Todd Berry
2014 record: 4-8
Returning starters (Offense/Defense): 5/8
Conference: Sun Belt
Celebrity Fan: Willie "Duck Man" Robertson
It's always tempting to talk up small conference opponents in the preseason as teams capable of putting a scare in the big boys. And UL-M has been that small school team to put a scare (and then some) into SEC squads. But that's not likely this season. It doesn't seem like that long ago that Todd Berry and his "Funroe" offense were winning games (like a 2012 upset of then #8 Arkansas). But it's been a slow descent over the past couple of seasons for the Warhawks, 6-6 in 2013 before settling at 4-8 in 2014.
It was not an uncompetitive 4-8. The Warhawks began the campaign by beating both Wake Forest and Idaho. But a 31-0 defeat at LSU set the stage for a rough stretch of 6 straight losses. To be fair a couple of those were to SEC schools Kentucky and Texas A&M. UL-M then hung with Georgia Southern, the best squad in their conference, in the season finale before falling 22-16.
This Warhawk team is a far cry from the 2012 Independence Bowl team, and UL-M fans are probably anxious to recapture those glory days. Sadly for them 2015 doesn't look like the year that happens. It's not that this is likely to be a terrible football team. There are bright spots. Chief among them is a defense which was very good in 2014 and returns 8 starters for 2015. The Warhawks play a 3-3-5 base scheme which showcases aggressive hybrid players who can bring pressure from anywhere at any time. 2014 saw them ring up 36 total sacks (and 5 or more sacks on 4 separate occasions).
Senior defensive linemen Lorenzo Jackson and Garrand Johnson were extremely productive and will be a challenge for Bulldog linemen. Johnson tallied 62 tackles from his NT spot, a huge number for a guy in the middle of a 3 man front. All told the front 6 for 2015 started 50 games in 2014, and they played some good football along the way. On the back end hybrid safety Mitch Lane was all over the field last year as well, tallying 3 interceptions and 71 tackles. 6 opponents scored 22 points or less, including that Georgia Southern squad who really could have been a bowl team had they been eligible. The 26.3 ppg allowed by last season's UL-M defense was a respectable 58th nationally. They were 14th nationally in passing defense, allowing a miserly 189.9 yards per game. Whoever Georgia's new starting QB ultimately is (more on that tomorrow), this unit will be a solid challenge for him.
On the other hand, the Warhawk offense looks to be a weakness, if not an outright liability. Offensive coordinators prize balance, and last year the Warhawks had none of it. During 2014 they tallied a fairly terrible 834 yards rushing for the year, 126th out of 128 FBS teams. They tallied only 18 rushes of 10 yards or longer during the course of the entire season. And the unit that produced that sterling effort would improve this year except that it's largely no longer on campus. UL-M will replace its starting quarterback, leading rusher, leading receiver, and three starting offensive linemen.
There are bevy of quarterbacks on campus but replacing the departed Pete Thomas will be tough. Thomas completed 60% of his passes and racked up 3181 yards through the air. If there's a bright spot for the UL-M offense it may be that three receivers return who tallied 45 or more catches in 2014. GivenBarry's history in Monroe I expect he'll find someone by the end of the year who can get the ball to those guys. I just don't know that he'll find that guy before the Warhawks show up in Athens. Score prediction: UGA 48, UL-M 17.