1. Can Cajuns repeat as Western Division champions?
It didn’t happen in the conventional way a year ago. The Cajuns finished 7-7 overall and lost three conference games along the way. Chances are, repeating as Western Division champions will require fewer than three losses this season. Making the chore even tougher is the fact that Arkansas State, picked to finish second in the preseason poll, doesn’t have Appalachian State on its schedule this season. On paper, however, the Cajuns have the league’s best running game with three returning star running backs and four returning starters on the offensive line to power the rushing attack.
2. Will passing game be explosive enough?
Junior Levi Lewis returns at quarter. He played in all 14 games last season, which helps, but he only threw 59 passes with 37 completions for 585 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions during that time as a scheduled back-up to Andre Nunez. Lewis still has a lot to prove to be a consistent passer for a Sun Belt division title contender. The other side of the passing game is the wide receiving corps. The group struggled mightily in the Cure Bowl loss to Tulane and is looking for candidates to support Ja’Marcus Bradley, who had a breakout season a year ago with 40 receptions for 608 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jarrod Jackson returns as the other likely starter, but no other returning receiver had more than 19 catches on the season.
3. Is tight end going to play a bigger role in offense?
Not since Ladarius Green left the Cajuns after coach Mark Hudspeth’s first season in 2011 has the Cajuns’ offense sported a true receiving threat at tight end. There were high hopes for Chase Rogers, but injuries have derailed him during his two seasons in Lafayette. He’s expected back and coach Billy Napier has clearly said the Mississippi native has all the tools to be a star at the position. Johnny Lumpkin was thrown into the fire last season and is expected to take another big step forward during his junior season this fall.
4. Is the defensive line going to be healthy or experienced enough to make an impact?
Perhaps the biggest preseason question mark for the Cajuns entering August camp is the defensive line. During the spring, no group had to play more inexperienced players due to injury and the expected reliance on first-year players not arriving until June. Hampered by injuries in the spring, veteran standouts like Zi’Yon Hill and Bennie Higgins hope to prove their both healthy and ready to realize their true potential this fall. Meanwhile, freshmen standouts such as Kendall Wilkerson and Dalvin Hutchinson, as well as Ja-Quane Nelson must show themselves ready for the Division I level.
5. How will the increased depth in the secondary impact the Cajuns’ defense?
The secondary is seemingly filled with more options this fall. Sure, there’s the expected leaders like senior safety Deuce Wallace and senior cornerback Michael Jacquet, but the increase in talent around them suggests a big upgrade this fall. Former Acadiana High standout Bralen Trahan delivered big in the Cure Bowl loss to Tulane, making a big play for increased playing time this fall. Sophomore cornerback Eric Garror showed his poise as a true freshman last season and upgraded depth and knowledge of the defense at both cornerback and safety spots should increase the versatility in the backfield.