The reasons to expect the Ragin’ Cajuns to improve are many.
The easiest place to start is the schedule.
In Billy Napier's debut season, when the Cajuns finished 7-7 overall, they Mississippi State and Alabama on the road.
This year, the Cajuns essentially replace Alabama with Ohio. The Bobcats are going to be a tough road challenge, but it’s still a winnable game. The trip to Tuscaloosa wasn’t.
It doesn’t take very long into an interview with Nick Ralston to notice his maturity level.
Furthermore, the Cajuns’ Sun Belt road schedule included trips to powerhouses Appalachian State and Troy. Both of those opponents visit Cajun Field this season. Still tough games, yes — but theoretically, it's easier to knock them off at home.
As with any issue, however, there’s another side.
There's a scheduling quirk that may not work in UL’s favor. This year, the Cajuns must travel to West Division rival Arkansas State in a series that traditionally favors the home team. The Red Wolves also seemingly have a built-in advantage in the West race: They don't have to play Appalachian State at all.
The next-best reason to think the Cajuns will take a step forward is personnel.
You've probably heard a ton of talk about the value of another year in Napier’s system. While that’s accurate, it wouldn’t be as valuable if the Cajuns' trio of star running backs — Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais — had all graduated, or the offensive line weren't returning four senior starters.
He rushed for over 2,200 yards as a junior at Cecilia High, and another 2,600-plus yards as a senior with 56 combined rushing touchdowns over …
There’s no denying Napier’s second team is significantly more talented than his first. Talent doesn’t always translate into more victories on the field. Time will tell on that.
On the offensive side, the talent upgrade isn’t as obvious because so many veterans are back, just with more experience. The one person capable of elevating the offense is junior quarterback Levi Lewis.
The Cajuns were OK at quarterback last season with Andre Nunez and Lewis in the modified two-quarterback system (Nunez and Lewis combined for 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions).
But the passing game was simply not as strong as the rushing attack. If Lewis’ accuracy and overall understanding of the offense has improved as much as Napier indicates, the offense could improve fairly dramatically.
“He’s in Year 2 in the system,” Napier insisted. “He’s relentless now. This guy is relentless. Nobody works like this guy does. He’s going to be fun to watch.”
The next biggest question on offense is wide receiver depth, which is even more critical now because the Cajuns are short on reliable tight ends. Seniors Ja’Marcus Bradley and Jarrod Jackson should do their jobs, but two other options must emerge from a group that includes Jamal Bell, Calif Gossett, Brian Smith and Jalen Williams.
There must be times during UL’s 2019 August training camp that UL senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux has to stop and pinch himself to make su…
If Lewis takes that next step and the receivers produce, this offense should reach a new level.
If not, the offense will still likely be good, just not special.
Obviously, the biggest concerns come on the defensive side.
Just by pure numbers, defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ unit should improve. Napier said recently that in many games last season, only three or four substitutes were available to prove relief to starters.
That’s just asking for trouble. This year, there are many more options at all three levels.
The key is a pass rush. If Joe Dillon is healthy and familiar enough with the new system, he should aid in that endeavor. Chauncey Manac should as well.
Stopping the run will be just as critical. The Cajuns gave up 219.1 rushing yards per game last season. That can’t happen again.
Achieving goals is what UL redshirt sophomore running back T.J. Wisham was trained to do.
The Cajuns' dynamic rushing attack gained 218.7 yards per game last season, but that nice effort is basically neutralized by the porous rushing defense.
A healthy Zi’Yon Hill and Bennie Higgins should remedy much of that, as well as seasoned senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux and Ferrod Gardner.
If those two areas improve, the secondary is deeper and more talented.
The goal is to force more turnovers. UL was minus-2 in turnover ratio last season and hasn’t been better than plus-3 in turnovers since Rickey Bustle’s second season.
Nothing covers up holes on a football team like winning the turnover battle.
UL sophomore cornerback Eric Garror may not have the perfect measurables, but the Mobile, Alabama native has sure been close enough to perfect…
The special teams should be no worse than a push this season.
Also, Napier has reminded us several times this summer that it’s also year two for the coaches as well. Their improved performance this fall should help the bottom line as well.
All of those factors should result in an increased win total.
Unless, of course, injuries, the schedule and/or turnovers foil Napier’s master plan.