Rather than take a stab at misrepresenting statistics and regurgitating depth charts, let’s try to get to the heart of what has been ailing the Ragin’ Cajuns in recent years. The era of Mark Hudspeth is over, and we look to Billy Napier as the Cajun savior the team desperately needs. The Cajuns have the means to be great, they just need to find the right way to use the talent on the roster.
The last few years have been volatile for the college football team playing in Lafayette, Louisiana. Almost every season, the Cajuns have all the tools to be a force in the Sun Belt Conference and ruin seasons for the Power 5 teams that they play. Their collection of talent stems from their proximity to one of the American hotbeds of college football recruits.
Still, they find ways to have woefully underwhelming seasons that leave fans wanting more. Take 2017 into consideration; the Cajuns opened up against a former rival that plays in the FCS. All the Power-5 teams schedule cupcakes, why not do it too?
Only that’s not how the game went. The Lions out of Southeastern Louisiana University hung in for the whole game, forcing a shootout that the Cajuns only won by three points. Not exactly the way that they hoped to start the season.
Fast forward a few weeks, that same Cajun team has Texas A&M on the schedule. Heading out to the “big, bad SEC” should be big trouble for a team that struggled to stay atop an FCS team, right? Well, for the first half of that game, the Cajuns had the Aggies’ number. They headed into the locker at halftime with a 21-14 lead... only to lose their edge in the second half and not score a single point.
You can argue all you want about the strength of that Southeastern team and the weakness of that A&M team, but it shows just how hard the Cajuns have been to pin down. They have been playing extremely momentum-based football for a few years, and new head coach Billy Napier needs to find a way to guide that momentum in their favor more often. With Mississippi State and Alabama on the schedule for 2018, we will see whether or not Napier can succeed in that pursuit.
It’s hard to argue against the talent that the Ragin’ Cajuns put on the field every year. This article has already brought up how many great, young players are in the state of Louisiana. That being said, a group of talented players is not synonymous with a team that is capable of playing together. Acting as a unit is the single hardest thing for a football team to execute, and the Cajuns have had trouble in that area recently.
The teams that enjoy consistent success in college football are the ones that are able to “buy-in” to the coaching staff’s vision. Talent can only get you so far — discipline and preparedness are what puts a team over the edge. If the Cajuns can all get on the same page this year (or at least move in that direction), then they are capable of big things.
The year that a team gets a new coach is not always going to be the year that things turn around, but it will be the time to watch out for certain positive trends. If the team is making consistent plays, is clearly acting according to a pre-determined gameplan or guide, and is winning close games, then a first year coach can be considered successful. Building on positive trends is the key to success in college football.
Keys To Success in 2018
Using the previous section as a preface, here is what needs to happen this season for the Cajuns to succeed:
Control the Chaos
The “chaos” in this instance refers to the lack of consistency that we have seen recently with the team. You can’t run a successful program by playing close games against lesser opponents while getting trounced by in-conference opponents. That’s close to scraping the bottom.
Win the Close Ones
This was mentioned before, but it deserves a second mention. Winning close games is an art form. Staying in games long enough to have a chance to win is not. The Cajuns need to do their best to stop letting games get away from them. Billy Napier’s commitment to the run game will help with that.
Be the Team With Momentum
Too often the Cajuns have found themselves in a game where they can’t quite get ahead of the big M-O. Against any opponent, mistakes that simply should not be made will always lead to losses. The Cajuns have had a lot of those in recent years. Momentum is the real 12th man (and 13th, 14th, 15th...).
The Ragin’ Cajun football program highlights why the game of football is so intriguing year-in and year-out. There are so many talented athletes on their roster, yet they find baffling ways to fall out of contention more often than not. As is the case with any team, that’s why we watch. It’s not interesting when what is SUPPOSED to happen is the outcome, but when the uncertainty reigns supreme*.