2017 Louisiana Football Preview
● By Robert Frey
Your Guide To Area High School, College
And Professional FootballBy Scott Brazda
Have the pieces been assembled to give the Drew Brees-led Saints one or two more runs for glory?
Is Jordan Davis ready to assume the reins and reignite a Ragin’ Cajuns offense and, perhaps, a UL-Football program?
Will Ed Orgeron prove the naysayers wrong and, at the same time, show everyone that dream jobs can lead to national titles?
That we’re even asking these questions means it’s time to suit up, hit the field, fill the stands and turn up the television sets.
Football season is here.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is 38-years old, but… he’s still one of the best around.
That alone should always give members of Saints Nation a reason to hope that a Super Bowl might, maybe, perhaps…be in the crystal ball for 2017.
At some glances, the team looks to have its most powerful offense in ages. Mark Ingram returns to lead the running corps, and there’s some guy named Adrian Peterson (free agent signee from the Vikings) who might deserve a carry or two as well. Early reports from camp are that Peterson looks reinvigorated and just as talented as ever; if so, wouldn’t that shake things up for the better?
As to who will catch the ball, the emergence of 6’3” Michael Thomas in 2016 made Brandin Cooks expendable (something possibly not helped by Cooks’ complaints about his role in some games). Willie Snead and Ted Ginn, Jr. will be sure to rack up catches and yardage, too. The offensive line is in a tenuous situation, especially with the injury to left tackle Terron Armstead.
On defense, the question is: Will youth be served? Nick Fairly’s season-ending injury means highly-touted Sheldon Rankins will have to grow up even more quickly, as will draftees Marshon Lattimore (cornerback) and Marcus Williams (safety). If that happens, then, yes, the Saints could loosen the hold that the Falcons and Panthers have had on the NFC South in recent years. If none of this pans out, the Payton (and perhaps Brees) Departure Watch might begin.
Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns
And what of the Ragin’ Cajuns? For the first time in five years, Coach Mark Hudspeth won’t have the multi-talented Elijah McGuire to run and catch and make tons of big plays, so that means a new group of Cajuns will have to stand up and be counted.
UL finished 6-7 overall last year, but did make it to yet another New Orleans Bowl. Still, there is some restlessness among Cajuns fans, and a solid season by new quarterback Jordan Davis would most definitely calm some nerves. Four starters return to the offensive line, but who replaces Eddie Gordon at center is crucial to the Cajuns being able to make it to seven, eight or nine victories. Ken Marks and Cole Prudhomme appear to be the leading candidates.
So who replaces McGuire? Darius Hoggins and Jordan Wright had some moments in 2016, as did Cecilia product Raymond Calais. New offensive coordinator Will Hall has some tools to play with, and no doubt hopes one—or two—will show some McGuire-esqe moments.
Sophomore Joseph Dillon may not be the biggest defensive lineman out there, but he sure plays big. Dillon racked up 51 tackles, seven sacks and had 12 tackles for a loss as a freshman, so there’s lots upon which to build. Senior Taboris Lee has started for over two seasons on the line, so Dillon has some help inside.
Davis remains a big key to another New Orleans Bowl visit, however. He throws the short ball well, is elusive when he has to be, and has been known to toss a fairly good deep ball, too. While it’s about more than just one player, how he fares when the season begins could reflect how the Cajuns’ season goes, too.
LSU Fighting Tigers
It’s the job Ed Orgeron always wanted. But now that the dream has become reality, and Orgeron is officially the head man in Baton Rouge, will that translate to everything he—and the LSU Tiger faithful—want it to be?
Quarterback Danny Etling, out during the Spring because of minor back surgery, is expected to find success under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and Derrius Guice assumes full-time duty as running back. Guice’s 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago gave everyone a tantalizing preview of what could happen this year.
K.J. Malone is back at left tackle, but while the offensive line appears to be very solid, the release of Maea Teuhema makes line depth a concern. D. J. Chark is the veteran receiver, but, after him, it appears a young pass catcher or two will have to rise to the occasion.
Defensively, Christian LaCouture and Arden Key have seemingly dealt with injury and personal problems, respectively and appear ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith’s departures from the linebacking corps makes a good season by Donnie Alexander a necessity; he can do it—he was the Tigers’ second leading tackler in 2017.
Where can this team finish? Preseason polls have LSU in and around the Top 10. It all starts with Brigham Young in early September.
Tulane Green Wave
Willie Fritz’s first season at Tulane was a disappointing 4-8, but hopes are that year two will bring a better grasp of his somewhat complicated offensive system. Jonathan Banks, the new quarterback, has a skill set that seems ideal for what Fritz wants to do.
The Wave’s rushing attack, headed by senior Dontrelle Hilliard, averaged 228-yards a game last year, but has the potential to do even better. Junior Terren Encalade (36 receptions last year) leads a group of young receivers.
Defensively, senior cornerback Perry Nickerson keys a secondary that returns four starters.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Louisiana Tech won nine games. Again. Coach Skip Holtz continues to… continue on in Ruston; last year the Bulldogs made it to the Conference USA title game and finished things off with a thrilling 48-45 win over Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Sophomore J’Mar Smith takes over at quarterback for the departed Ryan Higgins, but he can grow into the role while 1,000-yard rusher senior Jarred Craft carries the load on the ground, helped by speedster (and fellow senior) Boston Scott.
Senior defensive end Jaylon Ferguson set a school record with 14.5 sacks last year, and he will be a force that opposing offensive lines will have to handle.
Matt Viator went 4-8 in his first campaign at UL-Monroe, and one of his priorities for 2017 has to be shoring up the Warhawks defense. In eight of its games, ULM allowed 30 points or more.
Viator’s team was a respectable 3-5 in Sun Belt Conference play, but the non-conference slate is a killer, with Memphis, Florida State and Auburn part of the mix. Junior quarterback Garrett Smith and sophomore Caleb Evans will battle it out to lead the offense. Junior linebacker David Griffith is one to watch on defense.
McNeese State Cowboys
Junior quarterback James Tabary is on a number of national ‘watch” lists, and his play will be key to the McNeese State Cowboys’ 2017 season. Tabary threw for 23 scores and over 3,000 yards during his first season in Lake Charles, and that has Coach Lance Guidry smiling.
It’s a team that’s fully loaded: the top three rushers and top five receivers will suit up again on offense, and eight Cowboys starters are back on defense.
Yet another conference championship and FCS playoff spot are predicted.
Nicholls State Colonels
Third-year coach Tim Rebowe has the Nicholls State Colonels on the right track. After a 3-8 campaign in 2015, the Colonels improved to 5-6 last year (which included a two-point loss to SEC power Georgia).
For the rebuilding to progress in 2017, quarterback Chase Fourcade will have to continue his development. Fourcade completed 55 percent of his passes in 2016, and junior Damion Jeanpierre (37 catches in 2016) has the potential to turn every play into a highlight. Sully Laiche (9-1/2 sacks as a freshman) is one to watch on an ever-improving defense.
Seven Southern Jaguars were chosen for the All-SWAC Preseason team, but will that convert to regular season success? The Jags won eight straight games in the heart of the 2016 season, but a 52-30 loss to arch-rival Grambling State brought things to a season-ending halt. Senior lineman and pass rushing standout Aaron Tiller will lead a stout Jaguars defense into the fray.
Coach Dawson Odums has another senior—quarterback Austin Howard—ready to the call the shots on offense, and two running backs—Herb Edwards and Darbbeon Profit—are expected to get most of the carries when Southern turns to its ground game.
Southeastern Louisiana Lions
The Southeastern Louisiana Lions went 7-4 in 2016, but just missed out on a spot in the playoffs. Coach Ron Roberts has running back Julius Maracalin back (747 yards, 8 tds) and big play receiver Juwan Dickey (432 catches, 7 tds) back, but who’ll play quarterback could be a start-of-the-season decision. A solid offensive line will help the unknown signal-caller develop. A big key to any success? Developing a pass rush on the defensive side of things, where Lee Spight keys a strong linebacking corps.
Northwestern State Demons
Northwestern State won only a single game a year ago, a regression from 2015 when the positive number was four. The Demons haven’t had a winning season since 2008, but fifth-year coach Jay Thomas sees things turning around. J.D. Almond is back for another year at quarterback (although Clay Holgorsen is still in the competition), and he’ll be fronted by a veteran offensive line, led by the talented Korliss Johnson. New coordinators on both sides of the ball hope reinvigorate the program, and help the Demons turn the corner.
Grambling State Tigers
The SWAC’s Offensive Player of the Year is back to lead the Grambling State Tigers in 2017. DeVante Kincade returns, as does his running mate, Martez Carter, who dazzled folks in the conference championship last season. That alone means a team that won 11 games has the potential…to do it all over again. Coach Broderick Fobbs will have to replace the bulk of his receiving corps and SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Blain Winston. But the pieces are in place for yet another season of Tiger excellence.