Saturday was supposed to be a coronation of sorts.
The stars — and the seniors — were aligned. The Troy game would’ve been the wrap-up of the finest Ragin’ Cajuns season in school history, and it would serve as a launching pad for a bowl game outside the Sun Belt Conference’s orbit.
The Cajuns were about to plant their flag on the college football map, but they got lost on the way. Instead, they are right back where they started, hoping to win their regular season finale and their ensuing bowl game to wrap up a fourth consecutive 9-4 season.
Disappointing? Yes. Frustrating? At times, very. Understandable? Depends on your mindset.
Way back at the beginning of the season, I wrote about how this would be the year for the Ragin’ Cajuns. I wrote about how this would be a coming-out party for a team that would contend for a shot at the one Group of Five bid in the college football playoff.
I also wrote that the window might close if the team didn’t get it done this season.
Things didn’t happen that way. Now, after having covered the team for what was supposed to be the season of its dreams I see I was wrong on both counts in that preseason column.
What I didn’t account for was the fallibility of the stars.
What I didn’t consider was the foundation that coach Mark Hudspeth laid goes beyond the senior class and the starting 24.
For the Cajuns to achieve what everybody — including themselves — expected of them this year, they would’ve had to be near perfect.
Near perfection might be too much to ask from someone, and that was evident right away. It was obvious early in the year that the expectations were too heavy for this team.
This is where the fallibility comes in. These men — coaches and players — are not perfect, or near perfect. They make mistakes. They believed their own hype, and that was the beginning of the end.
When that hype evaporated two games into the season — right before they were about to play the two games where they’d need to make a statement — they looked lost.
This bunch is flawed, which means they’re human. They found a way to bounce back from their 1-3 start to put together another solid year, but they’ve been fighting that 1-3 start all season.
What about the future? The Cajuns will have to replace a ton of experience next season, including the school’s all-time leader in total yards, a 3,000-yard rusher, and two monsters along the offensive and defensive line.
But, for once, it looks like the Cajuns have enough ammo in the reserves to fill in and perhaps surpass the school’s all-time winningest senior class.
Backup quarterback Brooks Haack looked great in limited work. Elijah McGuire has shown he has the ability to carry the load when his number is called. The young receivers made strides. The defense is loaded with young players who stepped up when the Cajuns needed them.
Don’t get me wrong — they have work to do. The Cajuns had all the elements to make this a magical season, and they failed to make that a reality. The coaching staff needs to take a hard look at what worked and didn’t work this season and have the humility to make changes if they need to be made.
The Cajuns aren’t being crowned as the best mid-major team in college football today, as many, including myself, were expecting before the season.
They’re not vaulting themselves into consideration for the playoff, because even if they tie for a share of the conference, their résumé doesn’t stand out.
They turned in an average season when everybody was expecting greatness. It is disappointing, but this new definition of what is average could be worse.
They’re not going away, either.