In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
[divider]RANKINGS: Top 100 FBS Teams for 2018
TRIVIA: Daily CFB Trivia Question
MORE: Best FBS Player for Each Jersey Number
MORE: Best FCS Player for Each Jersey Number[divider]
No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe
ULM brings back 18 starters from last year's four-win team that lit up scoreboards but couldn't prevent opponents from doing the same.
Third-year head coach Matt Viator and the Warhawks are seeking to reach five victories for the first time since 2013 and their first bowl appearance since 2012. If they can get mediocre — or just not vomit-inducing terrible — play from an adequately healthy defense, they might see a big win improvement.
2017 Record: 4-8 (4-4, Sun Belt)
ULM games were a hell of a lot of fun to watch in 2017. Too bad most of the fun included shootouts during which opposing teams ran over their defense.
The offense was electrifying, ranking in the nation's top 30 in total yards, passing, scoring average and passing efficiency. They scored at least 50 points five times and scored 152 over a three-game midseason stretch.
The defense couldn't stop anyone. They were miserable vs. the run, vs. the pass and on third downs. While the offense struggled in losses to Southern Miss, Auburn and Florida State, an unhealthy defense was responsible for most of the eight losses.
Head Coach: Matt Viator (8-16, 7-9)
Through two years as head coach, seven of Matt Viator's eight wins have come in conference play and he has zero non-conference wins vs. FBS teams. The lone non-conference victory was a 17-point win over Southern in his 2016 debut.
Viator, 54, did, however, double their win total in year one, turned around the offense and has brought a little stability to the program. He was rewarded with a two-year extension in February that runs through the 2020 season.
He has four new assistant coaches, including former NFL assistant Perry Carter as defensive backs coach.
QB Garrett Smith, WR Brian Williams, G Frank Sutton, LB Caleb Tucker, CB Juwan Offray, CB J.J. Dallas, S Roland Jenkins,
None of ULM's losses are crippling. Garrett Smith lost the starting job to Caleb Evans but his transfer still dings their depth. Brian Williams and Frank Sutton will be missed but the Warhawks are fine at both receiver and offensive line.
Defensively, corner Juwan Offray led the team in passes defended (nine) and linebacker Caleb Tucker ranked third on the team in tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (four). JJ Dallas declared for the draft but was not selected.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Caleb Evans, RB Derrick Gore, WR Marcus Green, WR RJ Turner, OT Eastwood Thomas, OT Trace Ellison, G T.J. Fiailoa, G Devin Jackson, C Bobby Reynolds
Stacked. Loaded. Talented. Deep. Balanced. Everything.
This ULM offense has everything and should do whatever they damn well please in 2018. It's also another reminder that this team could flirt with 10 wins with a decent defense.
Caleb Evans finally won the starting job last fall after a long battle with Garrett Smith and was excellent. In his first season as a starter, the sophomore dual-threat quarterback completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,878 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. He joined some elite company with a strong season.
"Accuracy and consistency and just the small things like checking the ball down and hitting the hot reads when the deep ball isn’t there," Evans said when asked about what he's working on the most this offseason. "My completion percentage was 60-some percent last year (61 percent, to be exact) but sometimes my footwork got lazy and I overshot the little passes, like slants and flares to the running backs."
Some checkdowns will go to Derrick Gore, an Alabama transfer who was a capable receiver last year (13.4 yards per reception on 13 catches) but struggled running the ball. Despite a solid offensive line, Gore averaged fewer than four yards per carry.
The line returns six players with significant experience, including veteran center Bobby Reynolds and another former Alabama transfer, Eastwood Thomas, at right tackle.
"We definitely are versatile on our line," Reynolds said. "We have people who can go from tackle to guard, and we have guards who can play center. Both our centers can bounce out to guard."
ULM opponents will pick their poison at receiver. Leading receiver and the country's best return man Marcus Green (below) is back after averaging 15 yards per reception and 32 yards per kickoff return. RJ Turner is another home-run hitter who had at least one catch of 25 or more yards in eight of his 10 games.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Donald Louis, DE Kerry Starks, LB David Griffith, LB Cortez Sisco, CB Marcus Hubbard, CB Rhoy Williams, S Wesley Thompson, S Luke Hedrick, S Collin Turner, S Nick Ingram
The secondary was obliterated by injuries. Three safeties — Hedrick, Turner and Ingram — were lost for the season by Week 4. That forced Hubbard and Williams to move from corner to safety, where they struggled to balance coverage and run-stopping duties. It got even worse when corner J.J. Dallas was lost for the season a couple weeks later, forcing freshmen into the mix. Hubbard and Williams are back at corner, to their excitement, and while Ingram missed spring practice, he's expected to be ready for fall camp.
Linebackers were also hit by injuries but not nearly as hard. Linebacker David Griffith had his second straight season with at least 75 tackles and eight tackles for loss (enters 2018 with 26 career tackles for loss). He played Mike during spring ball and could be moved around this season, as could Cortez Sisco (below), who took over Griffith's Will spot in the spring.
The defensive line is getting stronger but they still can't generate consistent pressure. New defensive line coach Anthony Camp has experienced ends in Donald Louis and Kenny Starks and a lot of young guys with experience.
“We’ll spend a whole period just working hip explosions, hands and footwork,” defensive end Donald Louis said this spring. “The little things are so important as a defensive lineman to make sure you’re at the top of your game.”
RB Jakyle Holmes, RB Javin Myers, WR Zachari Jackson, S Cal Kee III, S Tyler Glass
ULM redshirted four receivers last year, including Zachari Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 192-pounder who will get snaps behind RJ Turner. Two more redshirt freshmen, running backs Jakyle Holmes and Javin Myers, will also get the football in 2018.
The secondary is crowded but it still has a lot of holes, which JUCO transfers Cal Kee III and Tyler Glass could fill.
ULM opens the season at home but plays only one more home game until Oct. 20. They play two Power Five road games, including their first meeting with Texas A&M since nearly upsetting the Aggies in 2014.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. SE Louisiana|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Southern Miss|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Texas A&M|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Troy|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Georgia State|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Ole Miss|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Coastal Carolina|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Texas State|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Georgia Southern|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||at South Alabama|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Arkansas State|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Louisiana|