NCF Nation: Mark Hudspeth

The offensive explosion most expected didn't disappoint, as Louisiana-Lafayette and East Carolina lit up the scoreboard in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin' Cajuns and Pirates combined for 45 points in the second quarter and spent much of the game in plus territory. East Carolina erased a 21-point first-half deficit, but couldn't convert enough drives into touchdowns as Louisiana-Lafayette celebrated a New Orleans Bowl championship for the second consecutive year.

Let's take a quick look at what happened in the Big Easy ...

It was over when: A fourth-down rollout pass from East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden to wide receiver Andrew Bodenheimer was broken up by Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Melvin White near the sideline with 2:32 left. Ragin' Cajuns star kicker Brett Baer, who had booted the game-wining field goal in last year's New Orleans Bowl, secured another by converting a 39-yard field goal try with 10 seconds left. After beginning the game with three consecutive three-and-outs, East Carolina had moved the ball well throughout the second half until the decisive drive.

Game ball goes to: Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway. The sophomore was the most dynamic player on the field at the dome despite playing through an apparent right shoulder injury. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and he added 108 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Broadway set the team's single-season total offense record on a third-quarter run, and finished with 416 yards on the day. Cajuns sophomore running back Alonzo Harris also deserves a shoutout after going for 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Stat of the game: Both teams entered the game ranked in the top five nationally in red zone offense -- Louisiana-Lafayette tied for second (94 percent), East Carolina tied for fifth (92 percent) -- and they didn't disappoint. The Ragin' Cajuns and Pirates combined to go 10-for-10 on red zone scores, with eight touchdowns and two field goals.

Unsung hero: Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Jemarious Moten. The first-team All-Sun Belt selection stepped up in his final collegiate game. After a Broadway interception off a deflection set up East Carolina in Cajuns territory early in the fourth quarter, Moten responded with an interception of Carden near the 10-yard line. He also had a third-down pass breakup midway through the fourth. Although he should have had more than one interception -- and a possible pick-six off a trick play -- he certainly was a factor for the Louisiana-Lafayette defense.

What it means: The Louisiana-Lafayette program has arrived under coach Mark Hudspeth, recording consecutive nine-win seasons and consecutive bowl victories. Before last year's New Orleans Bowl, the Cajuns hadn't played in the postseason since the 1970 season (in the Grantland Rice Bowl). Broadway emerged as a star this fall and should give Louisiana-Lafayette an excellent chance to compete for a Sun Belt title in 2013. East Carolina also has a promising young quarterback in Carden, but the Pirates need to rediscover their postseason mojo after dropping their fourth straight bowl game.
Louisiana-Lafayette is making its first bowl appearance in 41 years. Until last season, SDSU hadn't won a bowl game in 41 years. How's that for numerological coincidences? The Aztecs faced plenty of questions this season after Brady Hoke left for Michigan and former New Mexico coach/SDSU defensive coordinator Rocky Long took over. But Long has the Aztecs matching last year's regular-season record, which they capped with a 35-14 win against Navy. Louisiana-Lafayette, with new head coach Mark Hudspeth, is enjoying just its third winning season since 1995.

WHO TO WATCH: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman is the No. 3 rusher in the country, averaging 138 yards per game. He averages 5.7 yards every time he touches the ball and has found the end zone 19 times on the ground. He’s one of the most dynamic runners in the country with a 99-yard rushing touchdown and a 71-yard receiving touchdown to his credit. He's explosive, shifty, and the comparisons to former SDSU great Marshall Faulk have been more than warranted.

WHAT TO WATCH: Long is one of the gurus of the 3-3-5 defense. The Aztecs will be put to the test by Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Blaine Gautier, who has a very respectable 20 touchdowns to five interceptions. The extra safety will likely be tied up trying to cover tight end Ladarius Green (485 yards, seven touchdowns), who is a mismatch for most defenses at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds. SDSU’s defensive scheme is high risk, high reward. Louisiana-Lafayette can find the holes and beat the steady stream of exotic blitzes, there are points to be scored.

WHY TO WATCH: The opportunity for the rest of the nation to see Hillman play should be reason enough. He’s a bona fide NFL talent. Expect a relatively high-scoring affair with two explosive offenses. There are plenty of playmakers on both sides which should make this one of the more entertaining non-BCS bowl games.

PREDICTION: SDSU 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 24. From a pure talent standpoint, the Aztecs have the edge. An NFL-caliber running back and an NFL-caliber quarterback (Ryan Lindley) always make for a difficult backfield to defend. Playing in their home state will be a nice edge for the Ragin' Cajuns, who will have a clear advantage in crowd support. But that won’t be enough to stop all of SDSU’s weapons.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

December, 4, 2011
San Diego State Aztecs (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (8-4)

Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

San Diego State take from college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: The Aztecs are going to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1966-67. Last season, Brady Hoke led the Aztecs to an 8-4 record before they throttled Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl. Defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Rocky Long matched that record as the Aztecs overcame a 21-point deficit in their season finale to top Fresno State.

Quarterback Ryan Lindley's numbers are down a bit, but that's to be expected when your top two receivers from last season are drafted into the NFL. So the Aztecs have been relying on Ronnie Hillman, one of the nation's top running backs, who rushed for 1,656 yards this season and 19 touchdowns.

With injuries to the receiving corps -- the Aztecs lost three potential starters before the season even started -- converted defensive back Colin Lockett has stepped in as the top receiving threat, tallying 46 catches and five touchdowns on the season. Tight end Gavin Escobar leads the team with seven touchdown catches.

The offensive line, which returns four starters from last season, is one of the best in the country, ranking 10th nationally in sacks allowed.

Linebacker Miles Burris is a bona fide play-maker who should be playing on Sundays next season. Defensive lineman Jerome Long is having an outstanding season, as is defensive back Larry Parker, who leads the Mountain West Conference and is tied for third nationally with seven interceptions.

Louisiana Lafayette take by Matt Fortuna: First-year head coach Mark Hudspeth began his campaign with the Ragin' Cajuns with a bang. Their 6-1 start was the best in Sun Belt history and followed a 3-9 campaign from a season ago. Two losses to end the season tempered that a bit, but the season still showed much progress.

Hudspeth replaced starting quarterback Chris Masson with Blaine Gautier, and Gautier delivered by throwing for 2,488 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Gautier has passed for 300 or more yards in a game four times this season. His 20 touchdowns this season are tied with Jake Delhomme for most in school history in one season.

Five true freshmen have started for the Cajuns, both running backs are first-year players and receiver Harry Peoples and safety Jemarlous Moten have been impact junior-college transfers. Moten earned conference defensive player of the week honors in the regular-season finale, recording two interceptions and returning one for a score, the team's seventh pick-six of the season, tying an NCAA single-season record set by Tennessee in 1971.

Mark Hudspeth rejuvenates ULL

October, 20, 2011
He is in his first season as a head coach. His team is young. Not particularly deep, either.

Does that sound like a recipe for success?

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth laughed when asked that very question. His team has bucked convention at 6-1, setting the record for best start in Sun Belt history as it prepares to play Western Kentucky on Saturday. Hudspeth took over a team that went 3-9 last season and a program that many said could never win.

“Our team has bought into the work ethic I wanted to bring into our program,” Hudspeth said in a recent phone interview. “I feel we’ve outworked everybody in the country to prepare our team physically and mentally.

“It sometimes takes a while for the guys to buy in, but our guys bought in to what we were doing early and that allowed us to get more quality work done. We’ve done a lot of work in nine months.”

[+] EnlargeMark Hudspeth
Robert Mayer/US PresswireCoach Mark Hudspeth has led Louisiana-Lafayette to a 6-1 record to start the season.
Hudspeth was hired last December after serving as passing game coordinator/receivers coach under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. He spent seven seasons as head coach at Division II North Alabama, going to the playoffs five times.

Though he had applied for other head-coaching jobs on the FBS level, nobody showed much interest. Until ULL.

“This place is a gold mine just sitting here and hasn’t had the right person to come in here and light the fuse,” Hudspeth said. “Hopefully we may have done that. A lot of people now see some of the success we’re having and see the hard work is paying off and are now ready to jump on board even more financially to take it to a new level. We want to take it to a new level, not just keep up with the Joneses. We want to be the Joneses.”

Hudspeth points to the rich recruiting and economic region ULL is in, along with a bustling town and support for the team. With one home game remaining, the Ragin' Cajuns are on pace to set the school record for average home attendance and break the current mark of 25,224 set in 1977.

Success leads to support, of course, and Hudspeth could not be prouder of his team. When he came in, he made absolutely sure he embraced his returning players and made them feel they were just as much a part of his efforts as the players he was bringing in.

“I told the seniors, ‘I’m not trying to rebuild and push you aside,’” Hudspeth said. “We want to win now, and do everything we can to win now.”

But he also opened every single position for competition.

The Cajuns had starting quarterback Chris Masson coming back, but Blaine Gautier has won the job and been extremely efficient and productive, throwing for 1,054 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception, while adding 225 yards rushing and a score. When Gautier got hurt against Troy, Masson filled in and led the team with an impressive win.

Hudspeth has had to rely on some new players as well. Five true freshmen are starting, and both running backs are first-year players. Receiver Harry Peoples and safety Jemarlous Moten have been impact starters as junior college transfers.

“If we didn’t hit home runs with them, that would have left holes on both sides of the ball,” Hudspeth said.

ULL already has wins over Sun Belt preseason favorites FIU and Troy, and is in control of the conference race. If the Ragin' Cajuns hang on, they will clinch the first Sun Belt title in school history. They already have become bowl eligible.

But that is not something that concerns Hudspeth. He has not even mentioned it once to his team.

“I don’t want the secretaries, the coaches, the players, the managers or the trainers coming up for air to look and see where we’re at,” Hudspeth said. “We’re going to put our head down and keep swimming as hard as we can.”

Weekend rewind: Non-AQs

October, 17, 2011
Taking a look some of the top stories among the non-AQs in Week 7.

The turnaround kids: Bravo to Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1) for becoming bowl eligible after a 30-10 win against North Texas, continuing a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Mark Hudspeth. Not only have the Ragin’ Cajuns doubled their win total from a season ago, they are the first Sun Belt team to ever win six of its first seven games. They already have beaten preseason favorites FIU and Troy en route to a 4-0 league mark, and are hoping for their first bowl appearance since 1970.

But Louisiana-Lafayette is not the only team that has doubled its win total from a season ago.

Eastern Michigan: In 2009, the Golden Eagles finished the season 0-12. Today they are 4-3 after Alex Gillett scored on a 30-yard run with 37 seconds left in a 35-28 win against Central Michigan 35-28. Eastern Michigan racked up 350 yards rushing and all five of its touchdowns came on the ground. This is the first time it is above .500 in October since starting 3-2 in 2005. It finished that season 4-7.

[+] EnlargeMatt Faulkner
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezSan Jose State QB Matt Faulkner is mobbed by fans after the Spartans' win against Hawaii.
San Jose State: The Spartans were one of the worst teams in the country last season, finishing 1-12 after injuries decimated the team. But now they have equaled their win total from the past two seasons combined and sit at 3-4, very much in the thick of the too-hard-to-predict WAC race after a wild 28-27 win against Hawaii on Friday night. Fans stormed the field, and coaches and players danced in celebration, too. After so many dark years, San Jose State is 2-1 in WAC play.

Conference shenanigans: If you want great examples of parity, take a look at the MAC West and the WAC. Five teams are at 4-3 in the MAC West, including Eastern Michigan and Ball State, two of the worst teams in the nation last season. Toledo leads the division with a 3-0 mark in league play. Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State and Northern Illinois are all at 2-1 in league play.

The WAC is having a tough time without Boise State this season. No team is above .500. Fresno State (3-4), which went winless in league play and got smoked 57-7 by Boise State, sits atop the conference at 2-0. Hawaii, the preseason favorite, has had two ugly losses to San Jose State and UNLV. Nevada, which lost one game a year ago, is 3-3. New Mexico State, one of the worst teams in the country the past several seasons, is 3-3 with one league win. Just about every team has a shot at the league, maybe save Idaho (1-6, 0-3).

Let's hear it for the Chandlers: Chandler Jones, WR, San Jose State. Jones scored three different ways in a 28-27 upset win against Hawaii on Friday night. His 20-yard run on a reverse got the Spartans on the scoreboard. Next, a 23-yard fumble return off a fumbled kickoff return gave San Jose State a 20-7 second-quarter lead. Finally, he caught the game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds to go. Incredibly, his longest play going into the game was a 16-yard reception against Nevada in September.

Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois: Harnish became the 10th player in FBS history to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 in a single game, after he accomplished the feat in a 51-22 win against Western Michigan. Harnish ran for a career-high 229 yards, including runs of 51, 29, 45, 40. He also passed for 203 yards. And oh by the way, he only played three quarters. Denard Robinson was the last to pull the 200-200 double -- doing it twice last season.

Helmet stickers

Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Hillman ran 27 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 win at Air Force. It was the Aztecs' first victory in Colorado Springs since 2004, and Hillman's fifth 100-yard rushing game this season.

Cody Hoffman, WR, BYU. Hoffman had nine catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in a 38-28 win against Oregon State.

J.J. McDermott, QB, SMU. McDermott went 20-of-31 for 358 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 38-17 win against UCF.

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Moore went 26-of-30 for 388 yards and four touchdowns in a 63-13 win against Colorado State. He started the game with 18 straight completions. It is the second time this season he completed more than 80 percent of his passes. Teammates Tyler Shoemaker (180 yards receiving) and Doug Martin (200 yards rushing) deserve mention as well.

Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple. Pierce ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-0 win against Buffalo, breaking four school records in the process. He now has 44 touchdowns (43 rush, one receiving) in his career, passing Paul Palmer (1983-86). Pierce re-wrote his own single-season record for touchdowns and now has 18 (previous record was 16 from 2009). He also re-wrote his own season record for points scored (96, which he shared with Brandon McManus in 2009) and now has 102 points this season.

Lunchtime Links

April, 19, 2011
Break time! Now on to some links ...

Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier spoke to the City Club of Boise on Monday night and had some interesting comments, partially transcribed in Chadd Cripe's blog on the Idaho Statesman.

Is Colin Kaepernick the complete package?

It appears San Diego State cornerback J.J. Whittaker will miss 2011 after re-tearing his ACL during the spring.

Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green made his return to practice after being on bed rest following complications from gallbladder surgery.

Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin talks about spring drills.

Tulsa is switching to a 4-3 defense and made improvements throughout the spring.

Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry leads the Herd on the field and on Twitter, too.

First impressions of Louisiana under new coach Mark Hudspeth, from beat writer Joshua Parrott.

The playing surface at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Troy will be named for coach Larry Blakeney.

MAC coaches are taking the new taunting rule very seriously.

Lunchtime Links

January, 28, 2011
T.G.I.F. y'all. Now on to some links.

Boise State hopes to open its new football complex before the 2013 season.

Southern Miss is still looking for a receiver on the recruiting trail.

The Star-Telegram reports that if TCU and BYU do play, it won't be on Thanksgiving weekend.

ULM coach Todd Berry is building a recruiting pipeline into Oklahoma.

Dave Doeren has completed his coaching staff at Northern Illinois.

New Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth is picking up some key recruits.

Tulane coach Bob Toledo is looking for a special-teams guru to help improve his subpar unit.

The Mountain West made the right call when it held off on expansion.

New Non-AQ coaches: Sun Belt

January, 21, 2011
We continue our look at the new non-AQ head coaches for the 2011 season. Up next: Sun Belt.

Arkansas State: Hugh Freeze.

Rating: Like it. Steve Roberts did an admirable job with Arkansas State in his nine seasons, taking the program to its only bowl game in 2005. But things had grown stagnant and a change was needed. It seemed easy enough to turn to Freeze, who directed the record-breaking offense in 2009. The RedWolves broke nine offensive school records that included 4,841 yards of total offense. Ryan Aplin broke the school records for total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions. Freeze is a solid recruiter as well. But he has never been a head coach on the FBS level, so that could be a factor.

Louisiana: Mark Hudspeth.

Rating: Like it. Hudspeth did a great job in his two seasons as an assistant at Mississippi State. This past season the Bulldogs went 9-4, were ranked and made it to a bowl game. He coached at North Alabama before that, so he has ties to the South, which is important for recruiting. But Louisiana is not an easy place to win. Rickey Bustle spent nine seasons there and never took his team to a bowl game. UL had been bowl eligible a few times, but with a .500 record could never quite break through.

North Texas: Dan McCarney

Rating: Love it. The Todd Dodge experiment went horribly wrong, so North Texas was absolutely right to go after a proven winner on the FBS level. McCarney spent 12 years as head coach at Iowa State, and remains the longest-tenured (141 games) and winningest (56) coach in school history. He spent the last several seasons as an assistant at Florida, and did the right thing when he kept Mike Canales on as offensive coordinator. With fertile recruiting ground all around him, plus a new stadium opening, McCarney has what he needs to build a winner.

Lunchtime Links

December, 14, 2010
Here are some links to get you through lunch.

Utah QB Jordan Wynn had successful shoulder surgery on Monday.

Southern Miss' seniors keep their postseason tradition alive.

Nevada returned to practice after a week off, but still has a long wait until playing Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Jan. 9.

Former Fresno State players recall a 73-18 loss to Northern Illinois in 1990 as the two teams prepare to meet in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl.

San Diego State coach Brady Hoke denied having contact with Pittsburgh.

Credit Northern Illinois AD Jeff Compher for the way he handled the hiring of Dave Doeren.

New Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth has to hit the ground running.

Terrance Owens will start at quarterback for Toledo against FIU in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but injured starter Austin Dantin (shoulder/collarbone) could play.

Alabama receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Curt Cignetti has emerged as a leading candidate to be named head coach at Kent State, reports.

California recruit Will Gregory hopes to fill the shoes of Alex Green at Hawaii next season.

UTEP is healthier going into the New Mexico Bowl against BYU everywhere except QB, where Trevor Vittatoe is still hampered by an ankle injury.Vittatoe will get "an extensive operation" on Monday, coach Mike Price said.
For a program that has never made a bowl game, bringing in a new coach with proven experience and a proven track record as someone in charge became vitally important.

Mississippi State assistant Mark Hudspeth fits those qualifications. Now we'll see whether he can win at Louisiana. Hudspeth was introduced as the head coach Monday, taking over for Rickey Bustle, who spent nine seasons with the program but could never get his team into a bowl game despite going .500 or better four times. Bustle had never been a head coach before taking the job at Louisiana.

Hudspeth, meanwhile, spent seven seasons at Division II North Alabama, where he went 66-21 with five NCAA playoff appearances before joining the Bulldogs staff. He hopes to recreate that success in Lafayette.

"It was our goal to hire a football coach that had experience as a head coach," said senior associate athletics director Scott Farmer. "We thought that was very important. We thought that the coach must understand the pressures and demands of this position."

Hudspeth will not coach in in the Gator Bowl against Michigan, instead turning his efforts to recruiting and reshaping the program. Saying his team had "no idea what's in store," Hudspeth vowed to work hard to bring a winning tradition to the school. Louisiana is one of three FBS teams that has never made a bowl game, and the Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a 3-9 season.

“Just changing the name on the head coach's door doesn’t do it," Hudspeth said. "It takes a total commitment. I really feel like we got that today.

"My motto is: 'The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack.' I know at the top of the entire pack is (President Joseph) Savoie, who is setting the pace. He’s that lead sled dog. I want to be the lead sled dog for the entire program. You’re program is only going to run as fast as that lead sled dog out front. We are going to out-work everybody. We are going to out-recruit everybody and do all that we can every day to make our program the best it can be.”

What will help is a commitment to winning. Though contract details were not released, Hudspeth got a significant bump in pay over Bustle. The budgets for assistant coaching salaries and recruiting were also increased, putting them atop the Sun Belt, according to athletic director David Walker.

“The key is that this can’t be a one-person show," Hudspeth said. "My whole job is getting everybody doing their job. Everything we do has to be done with excellence. We’ve got to raise money because everything related to that affects our program. Hopefully, I can raise that level in every department in taking that step in becoming Sun Belt Conference champions.”

Non-AQ head-coaching moves

December, 13, 2010
There have been plenty of head-coaching moves among the non-AQ teams so far this offseason. Here is a quick primer on who is out and who is in:

Arkansas State

Who's out: Steve Roberts.

Who's in: Hugh Freeze. He served as offensive coordinator under Roberts, and this past season, Arkansas State broke nine school records on offense. His previous head-coaching experience came on the high school level and at Lambuth (Tenn.) College.

Ball State

Out: Stan Parrish

In: The Cardinals have yet to make a hire, and athletic director Tom Collins has refused to comment about his search. A few names mentioned in the local newspaper in Muncie include Stanford special teams coach Brian Polian, Indiana offensive coordinator Matt Canada and New Orleans Saints assistant Mike Neu.

Kent State

Who's out: Doug Martin.

Who's in: The Golden Flashes have not made a hire yet, but have reportedly showed interest in West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, who has coaching experience in the MAC as an assistant at Ohio. Ohio State assistant coach Darrell Hazell is rumored to be a candidate as well.


Who's out: Rickey Bustle.

Who's in: Mark Hudspeth. He spent the past two seasons as an assistant at Mississippi State, as receivers coach and passing game coordinator. His previous head-coaching experience came at Division II North Alabama, where he went 66-21 with five NCAA playoff appearances in seven seasons. A news conference is scheduled for later today to introduce him.

North Texas

Who's out: Todd Dodge.

Who's in: Dan McCarney. After the Dodge experiment failed miserably, the Mean Green decided to turn to somebody with previous head-coaching experience. McCarney spent 12 seasons at Iowa State, taking the Cyclones to five bowl games. He most recently served as an assistant at Florida.

Northern Illinois

Who's out: Jerry Kill.

Who's in: Dave Doeren. The Huskies have scheduled a news conference for later today to introduce their new coach, and reports the choice is Doeren. He has been a Wisconsin assistant since 2006.


Who's out: Al Golden.

Who's in: Temple must search for a replacement for Golden, who left Sunday for the University of Miami. Expect defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio to be a candidate.