LAFAYETTE - National preseason publications had it all wrong when it came to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team in 2011.
Most publications, like Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, pegged the Ragin’ Cajuns for a cellar finish in the Sun Belt Conference.
Four games into the season, however, the Cajuns are a surprising 4-1 (2-0 in SBC) with one of the victories a shocking upset of the league’s preseason favorite.
Now in a prime position heading into the final seven games, with each victory has come more pressure and bigger expectations.
To first-year coach Mark Hudspeth, that’s fine.
“Every week, it builds a little bit, especially when you’re winning,” Hudspeth said Monday.
“... Now, I think we’re starting to make people believe that, hey, we may have something special working down here in Lafayette.”
No one will argue with that in light of Saturday’s dramatic 37-34 victory over Florida Atlantic. Brett Baer’s 26-yard field goal as time expired provided the winning margin as the Cajuns rallied from a 17-7 deficit.
A week earlier, the Cajuns defeated defending league co-champ and preseason favorite Florida International 36-31.
That’s not bad for a team Sports Illustrated predicted would win just two games and The Sporting News rated 120th of 120 teams in college football’s top division.
“We’re just working hard and just trying to get better,” said Hudspeth. “We’re taking it one game at a time and we’re having an awfully good time.”
Throughout the five-game stretch - with the only blemish a 61-34 loss at No. 6 Oklahoma State - the Cajuns have displayed a difference from past teams, a difference Hudspeth attributes to an overwhelming presence of confidence among the players.
When ULL fell behind 17-7 to Florida Atlantic, there was no panic. And there was a similar sense after FAU rallied to tie the game 34-34 with 1:48 left.
The Cajuns, behind quarterback Blaine Gautier and receiver Harry Peoples, took the ensuing kickoff and drove downfield to set up Baer’s game-winning field goal.
“These guys, they’ve invested a lot, and when you’ve invested a lot, it’s hard to let go of that rope,” Hudspeth said. “You don’t want to let go of that rope. You want to just give in when you’ve invested what they’ve invested.
“To me, that’s the difference. They put so much in, they’re not about to let something go away without a fight. ... I just wouldn’t believe that any team has worked harder than our team.”
The Cajuns will need that confidence Saturday when they host Troy (2-2, 1-0). The Trojans have won the past five meetings and seven of the last eight. In addition, they’ve won or shared the league crown each of the last five years.
“This is another measuring stick to see if we can sustain momentum,” Hudspeth said. “It’s one thing to play good, but playing good week in and week out, that’s what makes great programs.”