While Kentucky of the SEC has a huge class edge over UL Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference, the Ragin’ Cajuns should score enough to hang inside the large spread.
Although this game is a mismatch in terms of conference affiliations, the UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns of the Sun Belt Conference are capable of hanging inside the large point spread in the season opener Saturday when they visit the Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY at 7:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPNU.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has UL Lafayette as a big underdog for this contest with the current line at +17 with odds of -105.
Consistent Sun Belt Team
The Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette have been nothing if not consistent in the Sun Belt as they have gone an identical 9-4 each of the last four seasons with all four of those years culminating with trips to the New Orleans Bowl. Most recently, ULL defeated Nevada 16-3 in the 2014 edition of that bowl in a contest tat was not as close as the score, with the Cajuns out-gaining the Wolf Pack by 198 total yards.
Kentucky obviously faces the tougher schedule of these two teams playing in the mighty SEC, but the Wildcats are a lower tier team in the conference, finishing with a losing 5-7 record overall last year including being the losing college football picks in six of their eight SEC games. Granted Kentucky now has its third straight top-40 recruiting class, but that may serve the Wildcats better as the season goes in than in this opening game.
Reigning Sun Belt Player of Year
Perhaps the biggest key to this game is running back Elijah McGuire, who was voted both the Sun Belt Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year last season as a sophomore as he rushed for 1264 yards and 14 touchdowns while also averaging a whopping 7.6 yards per carry! Among his performances was a 265-yard rushing game vs. Arkansas State, and he even averaged 6.6 yards per carry visiting a good SEC defense in Mississippi.
McGuire can be a key in a couple of ways here, either by leading directly to points or by helping sustain time-consuming drives, which is almost never a bad thing for a 17-point underdog. And remember that Kentucky finished just 90th in the country in rushing defense last year allowing a porous 191.2 yards per game on the ground, and now the Wildcats lost star defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith.
Furthermore, the Kentucky defense will be down another lineman in this game in C.J. Johnson, as well as offensive tackle Kyle Meadows as that duo was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. That may help the offensive line of UL Lafayette open up even more holes for McGuire vs. a now inexperienced Kentucky defensive line.
Now, Kentucky should eventually have a potent offense this year with quick-strike ability, and it was just announced this week that junior Patrick Towles held off redshirt freshman Drew Barker for the starting quarterback job. Still, Towles will need to improve on his 57.3 percent completion percentage as a sophomore last year, as well as his ratio of 14 touchdown passes vs. nine interceptions. Towles also averaged an ordinary 6.9 yards per attempt.
The rest of the offense is talented but quite young, with the running game led by sophomore tailback Stanley “Boom” Williams and the main receiving corps comprised of junior Ryan Timmons and four sophomores. Again, the Wildcats could be a team that nobody in the SEC will want to face late in the year, but is it too soon to ask this group to give 17 points, especially vs. a team capable of controlling the clock with the run?
Great ATS Mark as Underdogs
Finally, the Ragin’ Cajuns have been great underdogs since Mark Hudspeth took over as head coach in 2011, going a staggering 15-6, 71.4 percent ATS in this role in that time!
So while UL Lafayette may not win this game on the field, it is certainly capable of shortening this game behind the running of McGuire and we expect the Cajuns to keep that fine underdog ATS run alive visiting Kentucky on Saturday.
College Football Pick: UL Lafayette +17 (-105)