New coach Michael Desormeaux is tasked with keeping Louisiana at the top of the Sun Belt. The former Ragin' Cajun quarterback takes over after Billy Napier left for Florida and inherits an experienced roster with 11 returning starters off a team that won the Sun Belt last fall. However, Desormeaux has a handful of preseason concerns to address, including the quarterback position after Levi Lewis departed, along with a rebuilt offensive line (just one starter back). Louisiana is transitioning under the new staff, but the roster is still in good shape and the West Division doesn't have the depth of contenders seen in the East for '22.
Previewing Louisiana's Offense for 2022
One of the hallmarks of the Ragin' Cajuns' success under departed head coach Billy Napier was their depth. The 2022 campaign will put it to the test: Along with Napier, who took his play-calling prowess to Florida, the offseason exodus from Lafayette included veteran quarterback Levi Lewis, two-thirds of the regular backfield rotation and four starters on the offensive line.
After three years as Lewis' understudy, Chandler Fields entered the spring as the de facto front-runner in a three-way competition with transfers Ben Wooldridge (Fresno State) and Lance LeGendre (Maryland), and Fields ended it in a dead heat with Wooldridge.
Whoever emerges behind center will have the benefit of versatile senior RB Chris Smith, who's averaged 6.5 yards per touch with 15 touchdowns for his career, as well as a familiar cast of targets among the receivers and tight ends. But the vacancies up front loom large. Beyond the lone returning starter, guard AJ Gillie, 2021 injury casualty Carlos Rubio is the only other lineman with notable starting experience.
Previewing Louisiana's Defense for 2022
Like the offense, the defense faces a hard reset with coordinator Patrick Toney and half the starting lineup moving on. The good news for new DC LaMar Morgan is a) the starters who remain have played a lot of football, and b) thanks to liberal substitution patterns, so has most of the supporting cast. Holdovers on the D-line (Andre Jones and Zi'Yon Hill) and in the secondary (Bralen Trahan, Eric Garror and Kam Pedescleaux) are all in their fifth or sixth year in the program. Ditto the rising starters at linebacker, AJ Riley, Kris Moncrief, and Jourdan Quibodeaux, and nickel back Ja'len Johnson, who'll compete at the Star position with Alabama transfer Brandon Bishop.
The biggest question mark is the pass rush, which must replace All-Sun Belt OLB Chauncey Manac and his 10.5 sacks. Riley will move into that role, but Jones and Hill (86 combined QB pressures in 2021, per Pro Football Focus) will also be counted on to supply some pocket-collapsing push.
Related: Sun Belt Football 2022 Predictions
Previewing Louisiana's Specialists for 2022
Senior kicker Kenneth Almendares (9-of-10 on field goals the past two years) is back from an injury that sidelined him for most of 2021. Punter Rhys Byrns was All-SBC in 2021 after averaging 46.0 yards per attempt; he's dropped 81 of his 192 career boots inside the opposing 20-yard line. Senior return men Smith (kickoffs) and Garror (punts) have both taken kicks to the house. Few surprises are in store.
Promoting Michael Desormeaux from within was a signal that the Cajuns have no intention of starting from scratch. Desormeaux, 36, is a Louisiana alum who has lived nearly his entire life within a half-hour of campus. With continuity, though, comes little margin for error in Year 1. The talent base is as solid as any in the Sun Belt, and a fifth consecutive division crown may be the bare minimum for chalking up the transition as a success.
National Ranking: 79
Podcast: Previewing and a Deep Dive + Predictions on the Group of 5 Conferences for 2022