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Louisiana Football: 2021 Ragin' Cajuns Season Preview and Prediction

Levi Lewis, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Football

Levi Lewis, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Football

Billy Napier has lifted Louisiana to a 28-11 mark and three consecutive Sun Belt titles since 2018. And there’s no debate about the next goal for the Ragin’ Cajuns: Win the conference title and contend to be the top Group of 5 team in the nation for ’21. Both of those goals are in reach. Louisiana is a veteran squad with 20 starters returning, including quarterback Levi Lewis and several key players from a defense that led the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be tested right away with a road trip to Texas and a later date at Liberty. Those two games will make an undefeated season challenging, but Napier's squad should hit double-digit victories and is a slight favorite over Coastal Carolina for the top spot in the Sun Belt.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Louisiana’s Offense for 2021 

Quarterback Levi Lewis made good on his midseason pledge to return for a fifth year, ensuring that the Cajuns will contend again for the title of the Sun Belt’s best offense. Lewis, 24–4 as a starter, already ranks among the most accomplished passers in school history with 54 career touchdown passes to just 14 interceptions. And with four new QBs on campus in the spring — including Maryland transfer Lance LeGendre, a former four-star recruit from New Orleans — the pecking order for the role of understudy/successor will be worth keeping an eye on, too.

There is one glaring hole in the lineup following the departure of prolific RBs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas for the NFL. But the heir apparent, sophomore Chris Smith, has made his limited touches count over the last two years, racking up 1,639 all-purpose yards as a rusher, receiver and return man.

Every member of the WR/TE rotation is back, as well as five O-line starters who boast a combined 107 starts and 7,200 snaps among them. Quality reps won’t be easy to come by anywhere, and incoming transfers from Texas A&M (RB Jacob Kibodi), TCU (WR John Stephens Jr.), ULM (OL T.J. Fiailoa) and Nebraska (OL Matthew Anderson) will only make the competition that much steeper.

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Previewing Louisiana’s Defense for 2021 

The depth chart on defense is extremely fluid in the interest of keeping as many bodies involved as possible, and like the offense, it will look nearly identical to last year. Twenty-two defenders logged at least 100 snaps for a unit that held opponents to a conference-best 4.92 yards per play; all but one of them (OLB Joe Dillon) is slated to return.

The front seven is anchored by massive nose tackle Tayland Humphrey and All-Sun Belt pick Zi’Yon Hill on the line and former SEC transfers Chauncey Manac (Georgia) and Ferrod Gardner (Missouri) at linebacker — all “super seniors” back for 2021. The back end isn’t quite as long in the tooth but boasts eight players who started at least three games. They formed one of the stingiest secondaries in the country: Louisiana ranked second nationally in pass efficiency D and held seven of 11 opponents below 200 passing yards.

Previewing Louisiana’s Specialists for 2021 

Nate Snyder struggled early last year, missing 5-of-10 field-goal attempts along with a pair of PATs, and he was benched at midseason for Kenneth Almendares, who was perfect on both fronts. Snyder has the bigger leg but will have to be more consistent in camp to reclaim the job. Senior Rhys Byrns is back as punter after averaging 42.4 yards per attempt in his first three seasons. In the return game, Chris Smith flashed All-America potential with a pair of house calls on kickoffs. Eric Garror also scored on a punt return.

Final Analysis

The Ragin’ Cajuns have improved in each of head coach Billy Napier’s first three seasons, culminating in a 10–1 campaign in 2020 that yielded the program’s first-ever appearance and finish in the AP poll (15th). The next step: claiming their first outright Sun Belt title. Beyond the SBC race, an opening-day upset at Texas has the potential to raise the stakes even higher. So far, Napier has resisted the lure of a higher-profile gig for the chance to finish the job he started in Lafayette. This senior-laden team gives him that chance.

National Ranking: 23

Podcast: Top 25 Breakdown and Predictions

(Levi Lewis photo courtesy of Louisiana Athletics)