NORMAN — Oklahoma’s football team is 79 days from kicking off its 2013 season against Louisiana-Monroe on Owen Field.
In preparation for the coming season, today I’m beginning a 12-part blog series with beat writers from each of OU’s 2013 opponents.
The series will run each Tuesday and Thursday at noon for the next several weeks.
To kick us off, Tabby Soignier, the Warhawks beat writer at The News Star in Monroe, La., has graciously agreed to answer five questions about ULM football.
You can follow Tabby on Twitter @soignier.
1. Louisiana-Monroe’s upset of Arkansas early last season certainly made the college football world take notice. Then, the Warhawks nearly upset Baylor. Do you see the possibility for a similarly successful season in 2013?
I do. The teams Todd Berry has put on the field in the past three years never seemed to be wary of any opponent and last year they just happen to have these same players grow up and understand the system. A lot of those same guys are back for their senior years so it is not unlikely for fans to expect a very successful season.
2. How important was reaching that first-ever bowl game last year for this program?
For any program that is trying to build its way up, it is huge. ULM moved up from Division I-AA almost 20 years ago and had only two 6-6 seasons before last year. Last year’s eight-win season reconnected fans and generated some excitement that hasn’t been there in a long time. Coach Berry has said occasion that his players have asked him numerous times about, “How do we fill the stands?” The Baylor game showed what winning can do – marking the biggest crowd in Malone Stadium history – and I think that helps the team’s psyche too.
3. ULM returns several starters next season, including quarterback Kolton Browning. How much will that experience help the Warhawks in a daunting opener at Oklahoma?
This is kind of what I touched on in the first question. Browning is the face of the program, but the Warhawks have everyone back on offense but a lineman, a receiver and a tight end. The defense is missing two linebackers from last year but get a three-year starter back from injury and these guys are not uneasy about where they play. Most of these returners are seniors who have played in several “money games” in some of the most intense stadiums like LSU, Auburn, Florida State, TCU – to name a few. The only time I saw them a little tense last year was in the bowl game and that was unchartered territory, big stadium are not.
4. Which position groups are strengths for ULM in 2013, and where do you see potential weaknesses?
With so many starters returning, it’s hard to look at a weakness. The secondary probably has the most room for growth, especially at the cornerback position. Berry said that the early games against teams like Baylor really made his CBs gun shy when it came to covering receivers so there has been some coaching shuffle with defensive coordinator Troy Reffett moving from coaching linebackers to the corners so that should help those players understand what is expected of them. With the loss of leading receiver Brent Leonard, most may think that is a weakness but I really see it as a strength because that is the only receiver the Warhawks lost. The position is stacked with some great talent led by seniors Je’Ron Hamm and Tavarese Maye.
5. The chances for an upset in Norman seem slim, but obviously not impossible. What does ULM have to do in order to keep the game close and have a chance to pull off a stunner?
Are they slim? After last year, I wouldn’t put anything past ULM. Several coaches from across the south came out to spring practice and said that the Warhawks are the hardest working and most disciplined team they have seen in practice. I think that goes a long way, as we’ve seen what ULM can do in fourth quarters when other teams are tiring out. In addition to so many starters returning, this team is capable of anything. With the Arkansas upset, followed by losses to Auburn and Baylor by a combined seven points, these players are aiming high for this season and that all starts at Oklahoma.