UL-Lafayette was almost an afterthought on the All-Sun Belt Conference football team Thursday, with only one player among the 28 first-teamers — even though the Ragin’ Cajuns won the West Division and ranked second in the league in scoring and total offense.
The Cajuns had only three players among the combined 56 named to the first and second teams, which were announced two days before the inaugural Sun Belt championship game.
UL-Lafayette (7-5, 5-3) takes on East Division winner and game host Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina.
Reaching the inaugural Sun Belt Conference championship game should be reward enough, but UL-Lafayette’s claim to the West Division title came…
Junior guard Kevin Dotson of Plaquemine was the sole Cajuns player on the first team, while sophomore running back Elijah Mitchell of Erath and junior tackle Robert Hunt of Burkeville, Texas, were picked to the second team.
Arkansas State, who finished behind UL-Lafayette in the West and lost their regular-season meeting, had a league-high 12 players on the first two teams as well as four of the six top individual honors.
Quarterback Justice Hansen was Player of the Year, end Ronheen Bingham was Defensive Player of the Year, running back Marcel Murray was Freshman of the Year and Destrehan’s Kirk Merritt was Newcomer of the Year.
Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas was picked as Offensive Player of the Year and Scott Satterfield won Coach of the Year honors. App State had 10 players picked to the first and second team, and Troy, which lost to the Mountaineers last week in a de facto East Division title game, had 11 players on those two teams.
Cajuns junior running back Trey Ragas, the league’s second-leading rusher with 1,040 yards, was named to the third team along with sophomore defensive end Zi’Yon Hill, junior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux and junior wide receiver JaMarcus Bradley — the league leader with 10 touchdown catches.
Running back Raymond Calais, defensive end Bennie Higgins, linebacker Justin Middleton and kicker Kyle Pfau were honorable mentions.
Good time slot
Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson lobbied ESPN for an attractive network positioning and time slot for the championship game, and the outgoing league boss got his wish.
Benson, who will retire following the current academic year, was able to get the 11 a.m. slot on the main network, giving the Sun Belt a lead-in from ESPN’s iconic "College GameDay" show that airs Saturday from the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
“I think that’s huge for us,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “Millions of people are going to be watching 'GameDay', and it’s rolling right into our championship game. Everything that we’re about will be right there, so it’s an opportunity for everyone involved. Give Karl Benson a lot of credit.”
ESPN3 will provide wrap-around coverage of championship game activities beginning two hours before kickoff at 9 a.m.
UL-Lafayette president Joseph Savoie and athletic director Bryan Maggard will be part of that coverage along with Benson, R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl chairman Paul Valteau, AutoNation Cure Bowl executive director Alan Gooch and Dollar General Bowl president Jerry Silverstein.
Satterfield has been identified by multiple sources as the leading candidate for the Louisville job to replace Bobby Petrino, who was fired in early November after the Cardinals went 2-10. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, a former quarterback for Louisville, withdrew his name Wednesday.
Satterfield has made no public comment, but ESPN, YahooSports and 247Sports list him as the likely replacement.
“Obviously that could be a distraction for the young players, and for people in their building,” Napier said, “but most coaches I know are very professional about things like that and stay focused on doing the job. Ultimately it’s about doing your best for the organization and the players. I have all the respect in the world for Coach Satterfield and his team. They’re a product of consistency and stability, and they’ve got a blueprint that works.”
Napier said the only regular player who's definitely out for Saturday’s game is nickelback Terik Miller. The junior from Pensacola, Florida, has missed the past two games with a knee injury. Special teams regulars Tommy Whitted and Lenard Calloway remain sidelined with concussions.
Starting cornerback Eric Garror (knee) and defensive end Garrald McDowell (leg bruise) had missed two games and linebacker Ferrod Gardner (groin) had missed one, but all three defensive regulars played extensively in last Saturday’s 31-28 win at UL-Monroe and should be at full speed Saturday.
The Cajuns altered their travel plans from their earlier trip to Boone six weeks ago, moving up Thursday’s practice session by three hours and flying out on their charter Thursday afternoon.
“We wanted to quality control from the last trip,” Napier said, “and with the early kickoff and the media obligations on Friday, we felt that it was better to go and get settled. Our administration allowed us to travel a day early.”
The Cajuns will hold their final walk-through practice Friday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.