The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 90: Louisiana-Monroe
Coach: Todd Berry (9-15 entering third season at ULM)
2011 record: 4-8 (3-5 in Sun Belt, finished sixth in Sun Belt)
Look back: Louisiana-Monroe was hoping to improve on Coach Todd Berry’s 5-7 record during his first year leading the program in 2010, but the football team’s brutal nonconference schedule always makes it tough for the program to earn bowl eligibility. The Warhawks’ money games are essential to help paying for the school’s expenses, but it puts a lot more pressure on winning conference games.
ULM opened the season with a 34-0 loss at Florida State, then claimed a 35-7 home win against Grambling. ULM hit the road for back-to-back tough road games, falling 38-17 at TCU and 45-17 at Iowa. ULM returned home and lost a relatively close game 24-19 to Arkansas State.
The Warhawks earned a 38-10 win at Troy, then dropped a game 38-21 at North Texas. The Mean Green typically struggle, so the North Texas loss represented a step back for ULM. It would be the first of three consecutive losses, including an overtime 31-28 loss to West Kentucky and a 36-35 loss at rival Louisiana-Lafayette. ULM bounced back by winning two of the final three games, claiming a 42-14 win against Middle Tennessee, falling 28-17 against FIU and closing out the year with a 26-0 win at FAU.
The team ranked No. 78 nationally and fifth in the Sun Belt in scoring offense, averaging 24.58 points per contest. ULM’s biggest challenge was net punting. The team ranked No. 119 out of 120 teams nationally with 31.09 yards per punt. The combination of a weak scoring offense and poor punting put ULM’s defense at a considerable disadvantage.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 3/8
Defensive starters lost/returning: 6/5
Key losses: DL Ken Dorsey, DB Darius Prelow, WR/KR Luther Ambrose, DL Troy Evans, LB Jason Edwards.
Top returnees: QB Kolton Browning, OL Jonathan Gill, LB Cameron Blakes, WR Brent Leonard, RB Jyruss Edwards.
Strengths: ULM returns eight offensive starters, including starting quarterback Kolton Browning, starting running back Jyruss Edwards and a strong receiver in Brent Leondard. Offensive lineman Jonathan Gill should be a strong leader up front for the Warhawks.
Berry is beginning his third year leading the Warhawks, which is typically about the time coaches can get the recruits they need in place to run their system. Berry understands what it takes to be successful at ULM. He was the offensive coordinator at ULM in 2005 when the team tied for first place in the Sun Belt.
Weaknesses: It always helps to have an experienced quarterback returning to lead the offense, but Browning has to take advantage of the offseason development time and take care better care of the football. He ranked No. 94 nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 114.43. Browning tossed an interception during the spring game that contributed to his squad’s loss.
The team lost six defensive starters, including talented defensive linemen Ken Dorsey and Troy Evans. Linebacker Jason Edwards and Darius Prelow also were strong contributors for ULM last season. It will be tough for the defense to replace their experience on the field.
Outlook: ULM once again plays a brutal nonconference schedule and has some holes to fill at key positions, especially the defensive line. The Warkhawks success is in 2012 will hinge on the team’s ability to win many of the close conference games it lost last season.
Sept. 8 At Arkansas
Sept. 15 At Auburn
Sept. 21 Baylor
Sept. 29 At Tulane
Oct. 6 At Middle Tennessee
Oct. 13 FAU
Oct. 20 At Western Kentucky
Oct. 27 South Alabama
Nov. 3 UL-Lafayette
Nov. 8 At Arkansas State
Nov. 17 North Texas
Nov. 24 At FIU
Rest of the countdown: