MONROE, Louisiana — As Louisiana-Monroe coach Todd Berry prepares his team for 2014, one of his top priorities is settling on a new quarterback to take over for one of the best to ever play the position for the Warhawks.
So far, North Carolina State transfer Pete Thomas looks like the leading candidate to replace Kolton Browning, who accounted for about 12,000 yards of offense and 99 touchdowns during his career.
"There'll be a little bit of new identity for us on offense," Berry said. "We're going to miss Kolton immensely. He was a tremendous player for us. We designed the whole off basically to fit him and now our offense will change a little bit. ... We'll have to rely on more of our players to make plays this year."
Should Thomas win the job, he'll see an opponent from his ACC days in his first game. ULM begins its season Aug. 28 in a Thursday night home game against Wake Forest.
Here are five things to watch with the Warhawks in 2014:
THOMAS' TIME?: ULM is Thomas' third stop in college. He began at Colorado State in 2010, starting two seasons before transferring to North Carolina State. He started six games for the Wolfpack in 2013, but threw nine interceptions while sinking on the depth chart behind Jacoby Brissett. Because he had graduated, Thomas had the option to transfer again and play immediately in 2014. He entered fall camp competing with Brayle Brown, who is the only returning QB to play last season when Browning was hurt.
PUSHING FORWARD: The Warhawks return an experienced offensive line that is expected to be comprised of four seniors and a junior. That should at least provide whoever wins the QB job with the protection he needs to make his reads, and provide a good push up from for top returning rusher Centarius Donald and fellow ball carrier Tyler Cain, whose 2013 was wiped out by injury.
HAIL CEASER: Last season, Kolton Browning's top receiver was Rashon Ceaser, who had 65 catches for 964 yards and five TDs last season. He'll be back to lead the receiving corps and is bound to be a top target. Ceaser is also the Warhawks' top punt returner.
EXPERIENED DEFENSE: ULM's defense has all but two starters coming back, giving the Warhawks plenty of experience on that side of the ball. However, one of the starters the unit did lose was its top tackler, linebacker Cameron Blakes.
EARNING IT: In addition to Wake Forest of the ACC, the Warhawks' non-conference slate is packed with three SEC opponents: LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Berry says the financial health of ULM's program relies in part on the payouts they get from agreeing to play major programs, so the Warhawks have to had schedule them regularly and are now "used to going in those kinds of environments." Indeed, they won at Wake Forest last season. If ULM can win one of two of its non-conference games in 2014, and win the bulk of its Sun Belt games, the Warhawks just might find themselves rewarded with a bowl bid.