Louisiana's season started out rather modestly, going 5-4 through the first nine contests. In a high-profile matchup at No. 7 Florida on Nov. 10, the Cajuns were in the midst of pulling off the biggest upset in program history when they were up 20-13 with under two minutes to play, but the Gators scored a pair of touchdowns down the stretch, including the game-winner off a blocked punt in the waning seconds, to deliver the crushing blow.
From there, however, Louisiana caught fire, winning its final three regular season games over Western Kentucky (31-27), South Alabama (52-30) and Florida Atlantic (35-21). For the second consecutive year, it accepted a bid to and won the New Orleans bowl, taking down East Carolina in a 43-34 final.
OFFENSE: Louisiana had one of the Sun Belt's top offenses a year ago, putting up 34.8 ppg and 443.6 ypg, and there's plenty of room for optimism in 2013 as the unit returns eight starters, including perhaps the most dynamic quarterback in the league.
Terrance Broadway began the 2012 season second on the depth chart, but after a late-September injury sidelined Blaine Gautier for several weeks, Broadway stepped up in a big way. Not only is he an outstanding passer (.654 completion percentage, 2,842 yards, 17 TDs, nine interceptions), but he is a game-changer out of the pocket as well, adding 769 yards and nine more scores on the ground.
Broadway was named to the watch list for the 2013 Davey O'Brien Award for the nation's top quarterback, but he still knows that he needs to put together a quality season to merit the honor.
"Although preseason recognition is nice, it has no effect on the season," Broadway said. "It doesn't matter where you start, it's where you finish."
Broadway will benefit from having a pair of big-play receiving threats back, as Jamal Robinson (630 yards, three TDs) and Darryl Surgent (569 yards, three TDs) both averaged more than 16 yards per reception a year ago.
Adding to the Cajuns' dominant rushing attack will be Alonzo Harris, who gained 881 yards (5.2 ypc) and scored 10 touchdowns a year ago.
DEFENSE: Like the offense, the defense was ranked near the top of the league in 2012, allowing 27.6 ppg, but unlike the other side of the ball, it is difficult to predict the unit's continuity as only three starters return.
Justin Anderson was one of the top linebackers in the conference last season, piling up 105 tackles, 8.5 TFL, two sacks and an interception, and after seeing improvement with each passing season, he will eye First Team All-SBC honors as a senior.
The only returning starter in the front four is Christian Ringo, who despite making just 29 tackles in 13 games, was a menace behind the line of scrimmage with 10.5 TFL and seven sacks.
A new-look secondary will include Jevante Watson and Trevence Patt starting at cornerback, and Will Burrowes and Al-Damion Riles at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brett Baer acted as both the kicker and punter last season for the Cajuns, so his departure left two gaping holes on special teams. Sophomore Stephen Brauchle will take of field goal kicking duties, while Daniel Cadona fills in as the punter.
Surgent should continue to get plenty of run back opportunities after accumulating 743 kick return yards in 2012.
OUTLOOK: With Broadway inserted as the starter from the outset and most of his supporting cast on offense returning, Louisiana carries some pretty high expectations into 2013. It's tied with ULM atop the Sun Belt preseason poll, and after accomplishing some impressive feats in recent years, Hudspeth is ready to take the next step.
"(My) first two years, we felt like we have accomplished some good things," Hudspeth said. "Being 10-1 at home in the last two years, winning two straight bowls against good opponents, finishing both seasons with nine wins. But one of our top goals, of winning the Sun Belt Conference championship, we have not achieved yet."
An inexperienced defense could present a problem for the Cajuns, but in conference where most teams sport below-average defensive units, being able to put up points is the most important thing, and they will have no problem doing that. If they can avoid the injury bug, a conference championship run and another bowl berth should be expected.