LAFAYETTE - No one will ever accuse Mark Hudspeth of not being an optimist.
Faced with the daunting task of taking his University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s football team to Stillwater, Okla., to kick off its season against No. 9 Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Cajuns’ new head coach rejects the notion that his Cajuns cannot win.
“I told our guys this: In college football, there are going to be 60 Division I games on Saturday; there’s going to be 60 teams favored and 60 teams not favored,” said Hudspeth at his first weekly news conference Monday. “But I promise you, if you look every week, there’s a bunch of teams that are not favored that are the winning teams.
“I told our guys, it’s what we believe that matters.”
The Cajuns certainly would garner national attention if they are one of those teams Saturday that pull off an upset.
But the odds certainly are against them - 36-point underdogs, to be exact.
Of course, that is not much different from previous times the two teams have met.
And during those times, the Cajuns certainly have had their opportunities against the Cowboys.
To wit: In Nelson Stokley’s first season - 1986 - they came within a point of a major upset, falling 21-20 in the final seconds. Then, last year, the Cajuns led the Cowboys 21-17 at halftime before falling 54-28.
This year, the task seems especially difficult for the Cajuns, who find themselves up against a team that returns 19 starters from a 2010 team that surprised experts by going 11-2, sharing a Big 12 South title and being ranked No. 10 in the country.
However, Hudspeth, who replaced Rickey Bustle after last year’s 3-9 season, said he’s watched the replay of last year’s game and that review has given him reason to be optimistic despite seemingly overwhelming odds.
That replay shows a ULL team that held its own against an OSU team for most of the game.
“The thing that stood out about last year’s game is that we seemed to run out of gas in the season half,” said Hudspeth, whose energy and confidence has rubbed off on his players and coaching staff.
“I think if there’s one thing you can say about our team is that we’re in shape; I think these guys have practiced hard, prepared hard each practice.
“I think when it gets down to it, games that are close in the fourth quarter, we’ll have a shot. We’re going to be in shape, and we’re going to be tough and that’s the thing that didn’t pan out last year.
“I know there were some big plays in the kicking game (ULL) made last year, and we’re going to need that again.”
Hudspeth knows containing the OSU offense won’t be easy, especially with the Cajuns having to contain All-Big 12 quarterback Brandon Weeden and All-American receiver Justin Blackmon.
But he believes the Cajuns will be up to the task.
“Let me say this: Myself, my coaching staff and our players have really been looking forward to this,” said Hudspeth of the game.
“It seems like it’s been an awfully long time since we took this challenge on last December, and we’ve been doing all we possibly can - from offseason training, to summer workouts, to recruiting, to building facilities, to putting in our schemes offensively, defensively and special teams?..
“And now, obviously, we have a chance for it all to come together as we start the season Saturday.”