Don't Sleep on the Warhawks

This isn't going to be some Lou Holtz song-and-dance about how scary the football team at Louisiana-Monroe is, but also keep in mind that the Warhawks aren't exactly Temple, either.

Saturday's game may not be the blowout everyone in orange expects.

First off, ULM plays in the Sun Belt Conference, which isn't known by many people, even the so-called experts. These are generally small schools in small towns in the middle of no where, but they do take their football seriously.

Troy, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's previous stomping ground, has been a really good lower tier football team the last four seasons. Just ask Georgia Tech and Florida State from last year, or LSU a few years before that.

Just within the past six days, the conference has represented itself well.

Thursday night, Middle Tennessee State matched No. 8 Louisville blow for blow before eventually losing 58-42 in one of the wildest games in a long time.

This past Saturday, Arkansas State traveled to No. 4 Texas and was within a score of sending the game into overtime as the Longhorns hung on for a 21-13 win.

Also last week, Louisiana-Lafayette gave heavily favored South Carolina everything it wanted and then some as the Gamecocks walked out with a 28-14 win.

As far as La.-Monroe is concerned, the Warhawks have never played Clemson, but they did have one common opponent last year in Kentucky. La.-Monroe lost by two in Lexington, while the Tigers lost by eight on a neutral field.

And to get the point across even more, of all those decent teams in the league, La.-Monroe is one of the ones expected to compete for the conference championship this year.

Coming off a solid 2006 season that saw the Warhawks win three of their last four games, Louisiana-Monroe led the league in total offense, pass offense, and turnover margin. The Warhawks also led the league in takeaways.

"Our goals for 2007 are to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship and earn an automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl in December," head coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "The experienced players coming back and a strong incoming class have us really excited about this season."

He should be excited about this team considering all 11 starters return on the league's top offense, while six return on defense. In all, seven starters are returning all-Sun Belt Conference honorees, including 2006 Sun Belt rushing champion Calvin Dawson and Outland Trophy candidate Kyle Cunningham.

"If we keep healthy and improve in all areas, we can come out and play every week like we are capable of playing," Weatherbie said. "The experience we have coming back, especially on offense, gives us the opportunity to be successful."

The star of the Warhawks is senior tailback Calvin Dawson, who rushed for 150 yards on 24 carries last week against Tulsa, the team favored to win its division in C-USA. Dawson has rushed for at least 100 yards in six straight games, which is the third longest in the nation, trailing just Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice (8) and Boise State's Ian Johnson (7).

He is without question an NFL prospect. But then again, so are a few others on the team.

Senior offensive tackle Kyle Cunningham is an Outland Trophey candidate (nation's top lineman); senior center Adam Hill is a Rimington Award candidate (nation's top center); senior kicker Cole Wilson is a Lou Groza Award candidate (nation's top kicker); junior tight end Zeek Zacharie is a John Mackey Award candidate (nation's top tight end); Dawson is a Doak Walker Award candidate (nation's top running back).

"I believe we've got everybody intact to (have a great offense)," Weatherbie said. "It's just a matter of doing it. We didn't throw the ball real well and we didn't catch the ball real well (last week). We felt we had six or seven receivers open that we didn't get the ball to and then we probably had five or six balls dropped that hit receivers in the hands."

Nonetheless, he feels the Warhawks will be prepared to enter the hostile environment at Clemson. His team has been to rough places before and they have done well there in the past.

"I think it's good that you can always draw from those experiences," Weatherbie said. "Anytime you can draw from those previous experiences, that's what they call experience and that's what they call wisdom. So, hopefully we can draw from those experiences last year."

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