LAFAYETTE — About this time a year ago, even though I was just starting this job and just getting to know the Ragin’ Cajuns football program, I took my best shot at offering some insight into how the season might unfold.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the terminology of my trade, a column is an opinion piece, and my opinion was all but assured to be flawed because I had only a few weeks of observations on which to base it.
But, never one to back down from a challenge, I formulated one anyway. By the time I’d finished it, I figured my opinion was informed by as much research as I could muster.
Predictably, my opinion wound up wrong. I didn’t accrue enough time to observe and interact with the program’s foundational elements to nail down what was truly going on here in Cajun country.
The gist of what I said in last year’s preview column was this: All the elements are in place for the Cajuns to enjoy a program-defining season.
Looking back, this was true. Though the Cajuns eventually succumbed to the pressure of such lofty predictions as my own and fell flat on their faces in a 1-3 start, they had everything an upstart program needed to force itself into the national conversation.
There was an up-and-coming young coach, a loaded senior class that included a star quarterback and a level of continuity to the personnel and coaching that most programs would kill for.
All the elements were in place, I wrote, but if the Cajuns squandered that shot at history, they might never have a better chance.
What gall it took for me to take that stance, based simply on stats and a couple of weeks of notes. I was flat-out wrong.
Because this year, there’s a chance at history — perhaps even a better one than last year.
Who knows? Maybe next year there’s a chance as well. And the year after and so on.
What my limited view told me was the 2014 Cajuns had excellent resources at their disposal, but the expiration date on those resources was rapidly approaching.
What I failed to see was the stores coach Mark Hudspeth had filled to go with the stockpiled seeds for future growth. A year after making my incorrect assessment, it’s become clear that the cupboard’s not bare.
The torch has been passed by that highly accomplished group of seniors to a younger generation of Cajuns that is capable of reaching those heights I mentioned last season. With each passing year, as the program has gone from laughingstock to Cinderella to Sun Belt favorite, improvements to the program have been incremental.
Some improvements were almost excruciatingly minor, like new office equipment in the football facility. Many more were major, like the continuously increasing levels of talent the Cajuns have been able to draw in recruiting classes, the addition of Southeastern Conference-level coaches to the staff and the construction of a training facility that will be on par with schools with much deeper pockets.
All of them, minor and major, have added up to a program that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
At the core of it all is Hudspeth, who will somehow still prowl the Cajun Field sideline in his visor and too-tight muscle shirt this season rather than the sideline of a stadium with 90,000 or more fans in it.
Who knows how long Hudspeth will remain in town? It’s not even worth debating when someone may come in and present an offer he can’t refuse. What’s important is that he has left the framework in place for the program to be successful in the long haul.
All this isn’t to say the Cajuns are going to do in 2015 what some thought they might do last season. It’d be reckless to assume that.
Many preseason prognosticators — perhaps some who were informed only on a surface level, like I was last year at about this time — have shown reluctance to expect too much out of the Cajuns this season, based on the sheer amount of experience that left at graduation.
That’s understandable and also possibly correct. But whether a prediction comes to fruition is inherently dependent on correctly guessing how unforeseen variables will play out.
By getting better recruiting classes, hanging on to coaches and improving the facilities — in other words, Program Building 101 — the Cajuns have taken many of those variables out of the equation.
So I was wrong. They may have missed out on their ultimate goals last season, but they’re still attainable.