Louisiana-Monroe’s breakout season of 2012 – an upset of Arkansas when we thought the Razorbacks were a quality team, an overtime loss at Auburn, a narrow home loss to Baylor – did Bob Stoops a favor.
Before those verdicts, Stoops might have had to summon a Duck Dynasty reference to get his players’ attention about the Warhawks. Now, Stoops has a little ammunition.
Certainly, fans and media are taking more notice of UL-Monroe. But are the Sooners?
“Hopefully it’s everybody,” Stoops said. “I’m not real concerned what the fans think, but my players understand, this is tough. It’s a real challenge.
“They don’t go through those three games with a younger, more inexperienced team, and play like they did, without being an excellent football team. And they are.”
OK. Louisiana-Monroe is capable. But can we apply the brakes a little on just how potent are the Warhawks?
No doubt, ULM can score. With quarterback Kolton Browning and a spread offense, the Warhawks are dangerous. I chatted with Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry last year – you can read the column here – and his theory is, spread offenses have brought all of college football closer together.
Stoops said Browning is “a great player. Has a lot of experience around him. Four of the five starting offensive linemen back. Defensively, they’re a team that gives you a lot of pressure. Excellent football team capable of beating about any team they play.”
But before we proclaim Monroe the next Boise State, let’s remember the truth about the Warhawks. After that opening salvo last September, Louisiana-Monroe had a solid season. And went 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference. Arkansas State won the Sun Belt with a 7-1 record, and Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette and Middle Tennessee all tied at 6-2.
The Warhawks can score. They dropped 63 on Tulane and 35 on Florida Atlantic and 43 on Western Kentucky and 38 on South Alabama and 42 on North Texas.
But Louisiana-Monroe’s defense isn’t putting the kibosh on much of anyone.
In the Independence Bowl, Ohio U. scored 45 on the Warhawks. Arkansas State scored 45, also. Louisiana-Lafayette scored 40. Western Kentucky scored 42.
I know OU is breaking in a new quarterback. But the Sooners have a veteran line, veteran running backs and a stable of playmaking receivers.
If Trevor Knight is half as good as he’s been billed – literally, half as good – then the Sooner offense should light up Louisiana-Monroe.
If OU struggles in Knight’s debut, that’s a bad sign. A very bad sign.