First Responder Bowl Football

Thanks in part to the First Responder Bowl win over UTSA, the UL Ragin' Cajuns finished No. 15 in the final AP college football Top 25 poll.

There are those that regularly digest college football polls with a grain of salt, and sometimes that approach is supported by sound logic.

In fact, most head coaches spend much of their weekly press conferences during the season trying to devalue them while numerous staff members in offices around their campuses take full advantage of them in countless ways.

Sure, finishing No. 13 may not do much for the Florida Gators.

But there’s almost no way to shortchange what being ranked No. 15 in the final Associated Press poll means for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns football program.

It’s such a nice round number.

Finishing No. 16 would still have been quite an accomplishment for a program that hadn’t been ranked since Harry Truman was president, but somehow 15 just elevates it.

That No. 15 makes it so much easier to stack as much luggage as a communications department can possibly fit on it between now and the Sept. 4 season opener against Texas Longhorns.

Yes, there will also be naysayers as a program strives to reach new heights, but that No. 15 quiets a lot of them.

Saying your football program won the LendingTree Bowl or the First Responder Bowl is nice, but being ranked No. 15 in the final poll is so much better.

It’s no longer about how significant it was to beat Miami (Ohio) or UTSA, for the entire offseason, you’re now No. 15 overall.

Had the Big Ten and Pac 12 not played this season, it might not have meant as much, but they did. Some predicted UL’s days in the poll were gone the minute those leagues returned to play.

Not even close. The consistency of winning 10 of 11 games won out and the Cajuns actually reached their highest ranking to date by the final poll.

Having played two of the 14 teams and three of the top 26 — with wins over two of them including No. 9 Iowa State — adds a little extra shine to that nice block numeral.

Somehow the empty hole in the heart of Cajuns everywhere left by not being able to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship got a sliver smaller once looking at that No. 15 final ranking.

So much of what’s going on right now in college football is about appearance and about attractive options. No longer do you have to simply recruit players, you have to recruit them two and three times.

You even have to re-recruit your own players because of the freedom to jump ship in college athletics makes NFL free agency look like Major League Baseball before Curt Flood.

Imagine the potential impact of that No. 15 for a former recruit that chose a Power Five program instead of the Cajuns and things didn’t quite work out as planned. Suddenly that Ragin’ Cajuns program is ranked No. 15.

UL coach Billy Napier made it very clear during the recruiting process that he wants UL to be a desired destination for Louisiana players who sign elsewhere and later yearn to return home.

That’s already happened with former TCU wide receiver John Stephens of Logansport, former Kansas State defensive back Tyrone Lewis of Hammond and former Nebraska offensive lineman Mathew Anderson of Leeville.

It can work outside the state lines as well. Former Iowa State defensive lineman Latrell Bankston from Georgia and former Kansas outside linebacker Clinton Anokwuru from Texas are headed this way as well.

It also doesn’t hurt when it comes to coaching hires. Sure, it’s possible a coach like former Alabama player and coach Wes Neighbors might have come to UL anyway to fill a vacancy on the Cajuns’ defensive staff, but that No. 15 must help in pulling the trigger.

That No. 15 is also going to pay dividends in the minds of many poll voters this summer when they cast their ballots for that first poll of the 2021 season.

It may very well create a juicy season-opening showdown in Austin between a pair of nationally ranked teams.

Napier knows the impact of that No. 15 won’t last forever. The program will have to continue to progress, or the ‘what have you done for me lately’ syndrome will eventually set in.

But for this entire offseason, just keep piling it on.

No. 15 can handle it.

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