In the master plan for UL football coach Billy Napier and all those involved with the Cajuns’ athletic department, Wednesday’s 7 p.m. home game against Sun Belt Conference’s elite football program Appalachian State won’t be the biggest game in school history.
But if everything goes right, it could lead to a few of those landmark contests in the near future.
Napier and many of his players have tried to downplay the significance of this ESPN2 matchup with the Mountaineers.
It’s coach speak at its purest. Nobody saying “it’s just another game” really believes that.
Trust me, Napier hasn’t lost any sleep since last December wondering how in the world he’s ever going to beat Texas State.
But playing mid-week games has become a wearisome proposition for some. Most UL fans would prefer to play Saturday.
This could be the one rare occasion when it’s better on national TV on a Wednesday.
The ultimate goal is to one day be the new Boise State or Central Florida. To do so, you need rivalries, you need wins over programs that fans around the country respect and you need consistent winning.
Progress in all of those areas could start with the program’s first win over Appalachian State on Wednesday.
No, this isn’t just any old game against any old opponent.
When it comes to Xs and Os, I can only hold a conversation with a football coach for so long.
“This game has a lot as far as the ability to go out and take control of the conference from an optics perspective and additionally from what we’re producing out of our football organization, as well as the type of student-athlete that’s coming here to compete,” said UL deputy director for athletic for external operations Nico Yantko.
“This is certainly a big game for us against a truly formidable opponent. Look nationally as well, the latest I’ve seen is what top 26 in some of the polls. That’s pretty impressive. You don’t get much bigger of an opponent to come here and play at Cajun Field.”
Throughout this season, Napier has complimented UL’s fan base. This week, he challenged it.
“I think it’s time for people to show up and really make a statement about how committed we are,” Napier said. “This is a group of young men at a time when, we’re going to play national television on ESPN2, and the type of atmosphere that we can create, I think our fans realize this but they can impact the game.
“And we certainly have made progress there, each and every home game has gotten better and better. But Wednesday night our students, our fans, against a terrific opponent on a national stage, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Yantko and his marketing colleagues at UL have rolled out a ton of incentives to build a crowd and create an atmosphere.
There are $7 game ticket promotions under the Ladies Night umbrella for all. There’s the season-long $12.50 McDonald’s family-of-four pack and then there’s the cheap food and drinks — from $5 drink specials to $4 wine to $3 White Claw to $2 beer to $1 hot dogs.
Moreover, the first 700 ladies will get a Pure Barre free class voucher.
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns are off to an encouraging 4-1 start.
At halftime, there will be Cajun dancing on the field for the nation to see with Lil Nate performing.
It’s all about throwing as many incentives at potential fans and hoping some stick.
In the background, there’s always the hope that a great win or a controversial win or great rivalry commences from a signature moment.
“I’m a big believer that traditions happen organically, but we’re going to create the platforms and the opportunities for our students and student-athletes to create their own experiences and create their own traditions here at UL, which is going to be something special for years to come,” Yantko said.
“That’s building off the momentum and the tradition we already have. Hopefully, we get back to making winning one of those traditions as well. That makes a big difference.”
Wednesday would be a great night for that to happen. Sure, the Cajuns have had a rivalry with Arkansas State for decades, especially over the past decade. But Appalachian State has more national appeal than the Red Wolves.
The Mountaineers also have a win over North Carolina this year. Yeah, that’s the same North Carolina team that took Clemson to the wire.
Perhaps that will intrigue some college football fans in the area on Wednesday to tune in or attend what has the makings of a memorable showdown.
“Let’s be the best thing to watch on TV that night,” Yantko said.
It’s a typical response from a player in a team sport when discussing an individual honor.
Teased by Georgia Southern’s student section in last Saturday’s road win, UL players are thirsting for a great gameday atmosphere at Cajun Field.
“I thought the atmosphere at Georgia Southern was awesome,” UL senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux said. “I love that student section they had. They were talking to us, it’s cool. That type of stuff really fires you up. I think it would be great to play in front of a packed house at Cajun Field.”
UL center Shane Vallot had trouble containing his emotions for this rematch after losing to Appalachian State twice last season.
“We want to make history next Wednesday night,” Vallot said. “I’m excited. I wish we could play now — put the ball down Saturday. I don’t know why we have to wait until Wednesday.”
STATESBORO, Ga. — He wasn’t real pleased with the performance of the passing game in last week’s road win over Ohio.