Ever had a huge work project that took two, three, maybe even four years to complete? How much work gets done the week after it finally was accomplished?
After defeating Troy 35-21 on Saturday, the No. 21 UL Ragin’ Cajuns unlocked an achievement the program has been chasing for four seasons by securing home-field advantage in the Sun Belt Conference championship game.
Some players arrive from highly successful high school football powerhouses.
Does that make a follow-up road non-conference tilt a potential trap game for the Cajuns?
UL coach Billy Napier doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about that possibility.
Napier spends much of his Monday news conferences each week playing up the opponent, theoretically to help keep his players from overlooking anyone.
He certainly spoke glowingly about Liberty ahead of Saturday’s 3 p.m. contest in Lynchburg, Virginia, but he also made clear motivation won’t be a problem for his team.
“We’ve got a lot to play for,” Napier said. “There’s a lot at stake here relative to the big picture. If you’re a competitor, you circle these on the calendar, knowing they’re going to be hard.”
With a team clearly focused on winning UL's first outright conference title in 51 years, exactly how does playing Liberty fit into “the big picture” motivations?
The time the UL Ragin' Cajuns put into a certain area of the passing game over the offseason is paying off now.
Let’s consider a few reasons.
For one, there’s the winning streak. Already enjoying the longest in school history, finishing the season with 13 consecutive wins would be a cool cherry on top.
“You want to keep the momentum you have,” Napier said. “I think that’s the big thing and certainly this is the next game.”
UL also has won 13 consecutive November games in the Napier era, dating back to a 26-16 road loss to Troy in 2018.
“We use the old Steelers' term, ‘The standard is the standard,’ " he said. "It’s November, you’re a Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun … It’s that time of the year.”
There’s also the challenge of playing an elite quarterback in Malik Willis. Many project Willis to be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL draft, possibly as high as a top-five selection.
Plans have already begun for UL’s participation in the Sun Belt Conference championship game at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Cajun Field.
That’s understandably a motivating factor for defensive coaches and players.
It also creates a situation where a little selfishness might benefit the team. With so many NFL scouts putting Willis under the microscope, it’s a great opportunity to make an impression.
“I think our players understand that,” Napier said. “This will be a tape that gets watched because of the quality of the personnel on the other side — how you hold up against good players? How do you play in the big game, a competitive environment?”
The Flames are 7-2 all-time against Sun Belt teams. UL was the first Sun Belt team to beat Liberty and would like to be the third as well. It would be a big feather in the Sun Belt's cap.
Napier also reminds us the vast majority of a week’s preparation is about the finer details of each matchup, not rah-rah motivational speeches.
“I think we’re beyond that … I would like to think that,” he said. “I think we have enough maturity on our team to where you point out the things that could be motivating factors at times throughout the week, but in general here, everybody’s aware of where we’re at and what we need to do.”
Only moments after his No. 22-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns secured homefield advantage in the Sun Belt Conference championship game following a 35-…