To say the Pirate football team had a great year would be going out on a limb; with that being said, this was a good season for the team. Coach Ruffin McNeill earned his first winning season as head coach and showed Pirate fans this program is on the rise. While a win in this bowl would have done wonders for the team's overall confidence going into next season, this loss shouldn't cast a shadow over how bright the future is for this program.
This bowl loss made it four in a row for the Pirates; but there is more to take from this game than just a heart-breaking loss. In my opinion, this loss could be beneficial for this young team. Going down by so much in the first half, climbing back into the game, and eventually losing could be a lesson for this team.
The Ragin' Cajuns were veterans to this bowl, having won it last year; it was obvious the Pirate's inexperience played a big role in the game. Losing four straight bowl appearances is a statistic that this program needs to improve on and is something they have the talent to do. Best case scenario, this loss taught the Pirates how hard they need to work to figure out how to win these bowl games.
Standouts of the season
This season showed the Pirate Nation that they have a lot to look forward to in the coming years. After starting the season off on a slow note the Pirates hit their stride and began to string together some wins. Finishing the season with an 8-5 winning record and 7-1 in conference play speaks volumes about the hard work of this team.
One of the big standouts of this season was sophomore quarterback Shane Carden, who never looked back after being given the starting role for the third game of the season. Carden's abilities to throw and run added a much needed spark to this Pirate offense; one they didn't have in the first two games. Carden would finish the season with 3,116 yards, 23 passing TDs, and 8 rushing touchdowns; numbers that show why Carden himself was a walking highlight tape for the Pirates.
Senior wide-receiver Andrew Bodenheimer was another standout for this Pirate team. Bodenheimer ended his career catching a pass in 33 straight games, two of those being potential game winning touchdowns this season against Tulane and Marshall. Bodenheimer is the definition of a Pirate football player, his consistency is something that this team will sorely miss.
Sophomore wide-receiver Justin Hardy also had a highlight-filled breakout season for the Pirates, with 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns; finishing 19 yards short of Dwayne Harris' single-season receiving record. Running back Vintavious Cooper went over 1,000 yards rushing with eight touchdowns, earning himself C-USA Newcomer of the Year and in part giving the Pirates the run game they needed for the season.
Defensively, the play of sophomore line-backer Jeremy Grove shined yet again this season. Grove led the team in total tackles with 83; beating junior defensive back Damon Magazu by a total of three. Line-backer Derrell Johnson also played at a high level all season long; leading the team in sacks and tying for third in tackles.
The Horizon is bright
Out of the seven standout players I've named, only one is a senior; this proves that the Pirates are a young team. In this case, youth isn't necessarily the worst thing for the Pirates, being that the two players who scored the most points this season were only sophomores in Carden and Hardy. Also the leading tackler Jeremy Grove is a sophomore himself, proving that this team is filled with young talent; key word being "young."
Non-conference games can play a part in determining where a team ends up at the end of the season. The Pirates have always played a tough non-conference schedule in order to maintain a high level of competition. Next season will be no different; the non-conference schedule consists of Virginia Tech, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, and Old Dominion. These should all be games the team will be capable of winning once they get time to mature over the off-season.
Conference play is the most important thing for a team to get to a bowl game. The Pirate did great in Conference USA this season, but next year the conference is going to look much different after some interesting conference realignment.
C-USA will lose many schools next season, some notables being SMU, UCF, UH, among others. However; the conference will be adding Florida International, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of North Texas, and Louisiana Tech University next season with UNC Charlotte and Old Dominion joining in 2015. As far as scheduled games against these opponents go, that is yet to be seen, but it seems as though the Pirates could end up playing some new competition next season while also playing against some of the teams they beat this season.
Next season has to be one of most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory for the Pirates. With so much young talent on this team the sky could be the limit. The Pirates have a choice to let this bowl loss stunt their growth as a team or bring them together. I prefer to think this team learned from this loss; they learned what it is going to take in the next couple of years to become that next level program, one that wins bowl games. The Pirates have the cast together, it's just up to them to write the script as a team.