Last year was a breakout season for ULM as they reached their first bowl game in the history of the football program, ultimately losing to Ohio 45-14 in the Independence Bowl. They finished 6-2 in conference (good for a tie for 2nd), but more importantly had a very impressive non-conference, as you may recall. They WON at Arkansas in OT (34-31), the lost at Auburn in OT (28-31), and they barely lost to Baylor at home (42-47).
So from that very good team, they returned quite a bit: 17 starters overall, 8 on offense, 7 on defense and their kicker and punter.
Leading the way is senior QB Kolton Browning, who led the conference in total offense (3000+ passing, 500+ running). Baylor actually saw two QB's in their game against them last year, including some pretty screwy plays - the other guy - Cody Wells, has graduated.
They did lose their best wide receiver from last year (1100 yds, 10 TD), but they got the next 4 back. Je'Ron Hamm is the best of the group coming back - he's a 6'4", 233lb senior who caught 62 balls for over 900 yards and 6 TD's last year.
At RB, they did return their top rusher from last year, as it was QB Browning (mentioned above). They also returned their actual leading RB, Jyruss Edwards, who will be another senior on the squad. He missed the last part of the season with an injury.
Also coming back were 4 of their 5 offensive linemen, including a 2nd team all conference player from last year.
It's hard to find a lot of holes personnel wise from this offense. They were #32 in the nation in scoring last year, and #27 in passing offense. Baylor saw them put up 42, 30ish against their 2 SEC opponents, they dropped 63 on Tulane, 43 on Western Kentucky, and so on.
If you had to pick a weakness offensively, it would be at running back, where they just haven't produced much. Given their overall rushing statistics (85th nationally last season), Baylor may be able to make them vulnerable if the secondary can hold up early on.
On defense, they run a 3-3-5 and have all of their "5" back. That may or may not be a good thing, considering they were 108th nationally against the pass last season. Experience is good, but at the end of the day you need some talent.
They did lose their leading tackler from last season (a linebackker), along with one other linebacker. Against the rush, they were much better (39th nationally), but still gave up a lot of points overall - almost 30 a game (72nd nationally).
One thing they did well last year was cause turnovers, led by CB Newsome who had 4 interceptions. They led the Sunbelt overall in interceptions, and were 2nd in the conference in sacks.
In some ways, their entire team mimiced Baylor's team. High scoring offense and somewhat shaky defense that tries to be opportunistic.
BearsIllustrated Analysis: This team is picked to win the Sunbelt by most that follow that league. They had a breakout season last year, and return a ton of players. Their coach said "even our two-deep, and sometimes our three-deep, has significant experience, so I feel a lot more comfortable." In some ways, that reminds Baylor fans of what defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and head coach Art Briles have been saying about Baylor's defense - Baylor has had the depth on offense for quite a while.
With that said, this game turns on the fact that it's in Waco, where Baylor has been virtually unstoppable the last 2 years. Baylor is 3 games into the Petty-party, and things are going well. Once again, if the offense is firing as it has in the past, ULM will struggle to contain Baylor.
They do have an advantage in returning all 5 of their secondary members who should be more familiar with Baylor's system, but the one player they had fits with last year - Tevin Reese - is back. If you don't recall, Reese had 8 catches for 145 yards and 2 TD's. They did cause Baylor fits early, forcing Nick Florence into 2 interceptions that led to ULM taking a 14-0 lead.
At the end of the day in that game though, there were only 3 punts and a ton of offense on both sides. Baylor went for it on 4th down 4 times, and made it each time. They had 3 turnovers. They actually had more yards (560 to Baylor's 549). It was just a crazy game.
It comes back to Baylor getting them at home. Although they did play well at their 2 SEC venues last year and just won at Wake Forest, teams struggle in Waco. Baylor knows their system, and so it will be more about talent on talent (vs trying to learn a new opponent for the first time). Baylor's talent is superior, and if history is an indicator, Baylor will play some real good football in Waco. That all adds up to a tough day for ULM.
Incidentally, this game should be much tougher than the previous contest against Buffalo - so it's following the pattern of getting harder and harder. Whether or not a blowout is on hand will depend on the defense, and their ability to slow down Browning and the offense.
In summary, given the close game last year, their returning experience, and their style of play, there are some concerns over this game, much moreso than the first 2. However, their secondary has not always impressed, and breaking in 2 new backers to try to stop Lache Seastrunk will be a difficult task. They may force Bryce Petty into a bad decision or two, but Coach Briles and offensive coordinator Coach Montgomery may keep it simple against these guys and just try to let their talent win out.