The matchup no one knew existed five weeks ago in a season many prematurely gave up on months ago is apparently going to happen in a place UL’s football program has never been at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Don’t be confused.
Let’s all say it in unison: After all, it’s 2020.
On one hand, when the UL Ragin’ Cajuns open up this wacky season against No. 23 Iowa State on ESPN, it’s going to be about much more than football.
Remember, many experts declared as late as July and even August that no college football will be played this fall.
Percy Butler’s athletic ability, speed and aggressiveness have never been questioned since joining UL’s program two years ago.
So after the spring sport athletes unfortunately got their season ripped from them by the coronavirus, any programs getting to play football this fall should feel blessed. They should add an extra dose of perspective to their preparation.
Just ask all the Big Ten players who signed petitions in hopes their leaders would let them play.
On the other hand, it’s OK if Saturday’s trip is just about football for coach Billy Napier’s Cajuns.
While it is 2020 and while they are thankful to be playing when others aren’t and while they do know that many have died because of COVID-19, they’re still football coaches and players that had enormous hopes and dreams for this season.
The Cajuns return 17 starters from the first 11-win season in school history. When the original 2020 schedule was released in late February, some wondered if UL could actually go undefeated this season.
Obviously losing all four non-conference opponents to the coronavirus and now opening up at No. 23 Iowa State means the Cajuns will have to do something that’s never been done to make history.
Until Tyrell Fenroy came around in 2005, no Ragin’ Cajuns running back had ever rushed for 1,000 yards in a season.
The Cajuns are 1-28 all-time against Top 25 teams and that one win was at home against Texas A&M in 1996.
The revised 2020 schedule is tougher. Some say much tougher than the one they glanced at when the goal was originally devised.
But, at least publicly, this team didn’t blink.
While most of the college football world seemed pretty chaotic over the summer, UL’s coaches and players have almost sounded like robots since training camp started.
They were intensely focused.
They were a football team in hot pursuit of a lofty goal they established before any of them had heard of the coronavirus.
One Iowa State player UL coach Billy Napier didn’t have to watch a minute of film to be sold on was junior quarterback Brock Purdy.
That focus came from both the coaching staff and the players.
The coronavirus was the reason for all the unique summer protocols, but football was the reason the team adhered to them.
They certainly weren’t just doing it for their health. They did it for each other as they came together to try to achieve this football dream of theirs.
The result was zero positive tests reported throughout training camp.
The mission that begins in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday is what kept these players healthy and willing to put up with the inconvenient guidelines that many around Cajun Country chose to ignore.
How realistic is this goal of going where no Sun Belt team has ever gone?
Time will tell. Come late November, perhaps it’ll appear that way.
It’s not like Patrick Toney is a new face to the UL Ragin’ Cajuns’ defensive unit.
But on paper, taking on Iowa State doesn’t appear hopeless.
The Cajuns are filled with talent and experience. They can legitimately run the football.
They definitely have more confidence deep down than the team that played Mississippi State in the 2019 opener.
Sure it would help if the Cyclones had a first-year starter at quarterback coming off this uncertain offseason, instead of an All-American candidate with two years of experience under his belt.
Sure it would help UL’s chance of pulling off the upset if Iowa State didn’t have one of the best tight end corps in America.
But nobody said it was going to be easy.
Especially in 2020.