Q: What are your thoughts on transfer QB Pete Thomas?
He was never a good fit for what they were trying to do at NC State, but he did show flashes. He has a big arm that he can use to get the ball downfield to speedsters like Ajalen Holley and Kenzee Jackson. He just doesn't always put the right amount of touch on the shorter throws, which really slowed down the Wolfpack offense at times last year.
One of the things that was rumored about why he wasn't able to seize the full-time starting job last year was that he didn't quite grasp the offense from a mental standpoint. But ULM head coach Todd Berry is confident enough that Thomas can handle his offense that he was awarded the job over Brayle Brown, the guy who seemed to be the incumbent earlier in the offseason.
I don't mind giving the job to a redshirt senior with a bunch of experience but maybe not the most raw talent with this team. He's got a ton of experience around him and all he has to do is get the ball out of his hands and into theirs. I'm confident in Berry's understanding of what Thomas' strengths are and his ability to use them in the context of the scheme.
Q: ULM's defense was not great last season, but returns a lot of players. What can we expect to see from the ULM defense in both this game and throughout the season?
This could be the best defense of the Todd Berry era. Nine of eleven starters return from a group that on the surface didn't have a great season last year, but some of those stats were a bit misleading (don't get me wrong, it was still a pretty bad unit last year, just maybe not quite as bad as the numbers may indicate). The biggest question mark is at the edges. ULM mainly sticks to a 3-3-5 scheme, and didn't have much success rushing the passer while also letting up a lot of big runs, mainly to the outside. The secondary should be really solid and I'm excited to see how those guys are used.
Q: Which ULM player/unit do you believe will be the biggest X-Factor in determining the winner?
It will probably be running back Centarius Donald. He's had some small injuries the last couple of year that have held him out of some games, but when he's healthy he is one of the more explosive backs in the Sun Belt. With Thomas starting his first game, the offense will be relying on Donald to get things going. ULM doesn't have a ton of depth at the position with their presumed #2 back getting hurt in preseason, so Donald will be the relied upon even more frequently early in the season.
Q: What must ULM do well in order to win this game?
It sort of goes with what I said above, but the run game needs to get established early. It could be a long game for the Warhawks offense if Donald and Tyler Cain aren't able to churn out consistent 5+ yard gains. I'm not confident in Thomas' ability to win a game with his arm yet.
Q: Finally, give us a final prediction for the game. Who wins and why?
I'm not a ULM homer. Before about a month ago, I didn't know anything more about the Warhawks than I did about any other team in the country. With that said, I'm pretty confident that ULM will take this one. Wake replaces a ton of talent from last year while the Warhawks return a bunch of starters from the 2013 team that beat the Demon Deacons. Obviously Wake also has the two true freshmen at QB and center starting their first collegiate games on the road. To me, all signs point to a Warhawks victory.
Many thanks to AJ for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter @ADevine11.