Lafayette, Louisiana and championship success go together like peanut butter and jelly. Dustin Poirier and Daniel Cormier in the UFC, Brandon Stokley, Jake Delhomme, and Elijah McGuire in the NFL, and more that would take its own article to name. Who knows, maybe Wheaties should build its next factory in Acadiana.
The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns are no different. Ever since Billy Napier stepped in four years ago, championship success has been the expectation. In his first three seasons in Lafayette, he has compiled a 28-11 record with three straight division titles and three appearances in the conference championship game, to go along with two bowl wins.
Heading into 2021, the Cajuns haven’t had to change a lot roster-wise. 20 of 22 starters from last season return for another season, including Levi Lewis, who will start under center for the third consecutive season. Lewis was a different animal last season, throwing for 2,274 yards, 19 TDs and seven interceptions, but also added 400 yards rushing and five TDs on the ground.
Lewis, for the first time in his Cajuns career, looked comfortable leaving the pocket and that brings a whole extra aspect to Napier’s offense. Also returning is the stout offensive line of Max Mitchell, Ken Marks, Shane Vallot, O’Cyrus Torrence, and Carlos Rubio, who bring a combined 140 career starts into 2021. Look for this group to make a big statement up front.
The big question mark for this stacked offense is at running back. Louisiana will be without both Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas (1674 yds, 18 TDs combined in ‘20), as they are now in the NFL with the 49ers and Raiders respectively. Chris Smith (359 yds, 5.6 YPC in ‘20) will be the featured back while Texas A&M transfer Jacob Kibodi, Emani Bailey, TJ Wisham, and Montrell Johnson will fill the supporting roles of this group.
In terms of receivers, the list of weapons Levi Lewis has at his disposal is quite lengthy.
The top 7 receivers from Louisiana’s offense a year ago return, including three true freshmen (Lacy, Fleming, and Rogers Jr) who contributed last season. They also return veterans in Peter Leblanc, Jalen Williams, Jamal Bell (missed 2020 due to injury), and Calif Gossett. The Cajuns also added TCU transfer John Stephens Jr, who is a Logansport native and will look to contribute to an already stacked group.
When referring to the defense Louisiana has returning, fans should know they are extremely deep at each position.
The defensive line will see major pieces returning, including Chauncey Manac, Zi’Yon Hill, and Tayland “Big Sauce” Humphrey. Humphrey and Manac were both recently named to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Big Board and the Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list, so be on the lookout for that.
The linebackers are no different. Ferrod Gardner, Kris Moncrief, Andre Jones, and Lorenzo McCaskill are just a few of the names that will contribute heavily to a defense that returns 10 of its 11 starters from a year ago. Now, for the secondary.
This group gets their own paragraph because of how dominant they will be. Phil Steele ranked them as the 15th-best secondary in the entire nation, and I don’t disagree one bit. Percy Butler and Bralen Trahan are both potential All-Americans at the safety position, Eric Garror is a lockdown corner with punt return abilities, Mekhi Garner is a ballhawk, and AJ Washington is an interception magnet. My prediction is that this will be the best defense that Billy Napier has had in his time in Lafayette, with one of the brightest young coordinators in the country in Patrick Toney leading the charge.
Louisiana has a solid schedule in 2021, and just like 2020, they open with their toughest game. Saturday, September 4th, the #23 Louisiana Ragin Cajuns open the year in Austin against the #21 Texas Longhorns at 3:30 p.m. CT on FOX. After that, they’ll host Nicholls State on September 11th followed by a midweek game against Ohio, and then opening conference play at Georgia Southern to finish out September.
October will be also be a tough month for Napier’s team. They travel to Mobile to play South Alabama before hosting Appalachian State for a midweek ESPN2 contest. Following the Appalachian State game, the Cajuns will play Arkansas State in a weeknight game that always seems to decide the West division before hosting Texas State on October 30.
November’s slate of games includes home games with Georgia State and ULM while traveling to Troy and Liberty.
I think this will be another historic season for Billy Napier and his program. A win vs Texas is not at all out of the question. I think Louisiana will dominate their conference schedule and finish, at worst, 10-2 with losses to Texas and Liberty. However, both of those games are very winnable for the Cajuns, so don’t rule out a 12-0 perfect season.