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After a downfall from eight wins to just two this past year, Louisiana Monroe decided to mix things up and bring in new head coach Matt Viator. The long-time coach at FCS-level with McNeese State brings an offensive style that should help immediately after the Warhawks averaged a measly 21 points per game last year.
With plenty of returning starters, including quarterback Garrett Smith, it's expected this group will improve from the start with a more pass-heavy attack. Smith was okay last year, completing 57.4% of his passes for 17 TDs and 11 INTs. His top receivers return in Ajalen Holley (60 receptions, 709 yards, 6 TDs) and Marcus Green (63 receptions, 698 yards, 7 TDs) as well as top tight end Alec Osborne, who missed all of 2015 due to injury.
Another guy coming back from injury is Tyler Cain, who is expected to step into the top RB role ahead of last year's combo of Ben Luckett (509 yards) and Kaylon Watson (336 yards). Cain is more explosive and that should help from last season's 3.1 yards per carry as a team.
There are a couple young guys along the line, but ULM still has three starters back and that should be enough to help. While this group won't jump to the top of the charts immediately, expect some kind of improvement from last year's disappointing campaign.
Defensively, there is more ways to go with only two returning starters in all. New coordinator Mike Collins, a former player and interim HC, has his work cut out for him. Collins implanted a 4-2-5 scheme that fits well with the seniors he has on the back end, Lenzy Pipkins, Justin Backus and Tre' Hunter. Of course, with the experience on the back end, the front end is filtered with new faces.
The Warhawks allowed 36.5 points per game in 2015 and with the new guys, may be in that same range. Along the line, former backups step into starting roles, while linebacker may actually see a freshman get the start.
The first problem for ULM is that they only have five home games on the year. They'll need to win their favorable home games early on, or this could be another busted season. That means beating Southern, Idaho and Texas State in the early half. Finding a win on the road will be tough, though, especially with games at Oklahoma and Auburn looming. Five wins is a possibility because they can win all of their home games, but can they steal one on the road somewhere? With how the defense looks, that'll be a tall task.
The Warhawks have the second-worst odds to win the Sun Belt, which likely puts them out of a bowl game. The goal for Viator in his first season will be to show improvement. That means three or four wins may be enough for his first FBS campaign.
2016 Louisiana Monroe Warhawks Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Southern
Sept. 10 at Oklahoma
Sept. 17 at Georgia Southern
Oct. 1 at Auburn
Oct. 8 vs. Idaho
Oct. 15 vs. Texas State
Oct. 22 at New Mexico
Oct. 29 at Arkansas State
Nov. 5 vs. South Alabama
Nov. 12 at Georgia State
Nov. 19 at Appalachian State
Dec. 3 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
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