2018 Louisiana Football Preview
08/31/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux
Your Guide To Louisiana College And Professional FootballBY: Raymond Partsch III
Will the New Orleans Saints be able to put last year’s playoff heartbreak in Minnesota behind them and march their way to another Super Bowl?
New head coach Billy Napier and his staff are creating a new culture with the Ragin’ Cajuns, but will that result into a winning season at Louisiana Lafayette?
Can the LSU Tigers stun the Southeastern Conference, and the rest of the nation, with a run to the SEC Championship game, and a possible upset of mighty Alabama?
All of those questions will be answered soon enough as the 2018 football season is officially upon us.
New Orleans SaintsAfter three straight 7-9 seasons, expectations in 2017 were lukewarm at best and after starting off the season 0-2 thoughts of another subpar seaswn began to take hold. But then the team, and the city they proudly represent, came alive.
Led by a stout running game with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, an efficient Drew Brees and an improved defense led by rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the Saints ended the regular season with an 11-5 and were crowned the NFC South champions. The Saints defeated the division rival Carolina Panthers at home in the Wild Card round but the season ended in stunning fashion on a Hail Mary play in a 29-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The expectations are a little higher entering 2018.
The offense will once again be led by the 39-year-old Brees who returns his favorite target in Michael Thomas who is coming a 104-catch season. Despite Ingram being suspended for the first four games, the running game should be just fine as Kamara, the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year, returns in the backfield. The offensive line should be even better with franchise tackle Ryan Ramczyk now entering his second season.
The defense will be anchored by All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan (a career-high 13 sacks in 2017) and Lattimore who earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. In free agency, the Saints focused on defense and brought in even more veteran help with safety Kurt Coleman and linebacker Demario Davis.
The schedule is also far tougher this season as the team has games against 2017 playoff teams like the Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Not to mention, the NFC South will be a dogfight once again.
But with Brees turning 40 during the season, the window for the Saints and head coach Sean Payton is a small one and there is a sense of urgency in New Orleans that if they don’t make a run this year it might not happen.
Louisiana Ragin’ CajunsThe Ragin’ Cajuns begin a new era on the gridiron with first-year head coach Billy Napier, a former assistant of Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. Napier, and his coaching staff, have already made an impact on the recruiting trail (they already have the top-ranked signing class for 2019), and are building a new culture in Lafayette.
But what about the on-field philosophy? Napier has indicated that the offense will be a run-first scheme, which makes sense with the slew of running backs on the roster, including returning leading rusher Trey Ragas (813 yards, 9 TD), as well as former Cecilia High star Raymond Calais and former Erath High star Elijah Mitchell. The wide receiving corps is another position filled with experience and depth. The question mark on offense is who will be quarterback as Levi Lewis and Andre Nunez are competing for the starting spot.
The defense meanwhile, under new defensive coordinator and former Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts, will have a completely new look as the team returns only two starters on that side of the ball, and must replace two players (safety Tracy Walker, cornerback Simeon Thomas) who were drafted into the NFL. The defense though has room for improvement as it gave up 40 points and nearly 500 yards per game in 2017. The defensive line is expected to be a strength with Ole Miss transfer Gerald McDowell and former Catholic High of New Iberia star Zi’Yon Hill anchoring the front. The secondary meanwhile will be led by Nevada transfer and former St. Thomas More star Kendall Johnson.
Expectations by many experts is that 2018 will be a rebuilding season for the Ragin’ Cajuns, and the schedule is difficult with road games at SEC powers Mississippi State and Alabama, as well as a three-week stretch against the Sun Belt’s three best teams (Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy).
That said, don’t expect the team’s new 38-year-old head coach to lower his expectations.
LSU Fighting TigersThere isn’t a lack of questions, and doubts, about head coach Ed Oregon and LSU. The Tigers are coming off a season of nine wins, which at first glance is impressive, but there was the embarrassing 30-point road loss at Mississippi State, the lackluster effort in the bowl game loss to Notre Dame and of course the 24-21 loss to Troy inside Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers fall camp has been eventful as well with two starters (right guard Ed Ingram, linebacker Tyler Taylor) being suspended from the team, and one quarterback (Lowell Narcisse) transferring out of the program.
All that said, LSU still has enough talent to be a team to make noise in the SEC.
The defense is the team’s strength as the Tigers are led by linebacker Devin White (133 tackles) and cornerback Greedy Williams (6 interceptions). This will be the third year the Tigers will be playing in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense and word is that the Tigers will be taking a step forward in 2018.
Former Northside High and Crowley High star Tyler Shelvin (after being redshirted last year) and Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko are expected to make impacts on the defensive line.
The offense meanwhile returns four starters on offense but there are question marks all over the place. For the first time in years, the Tigers don’t appear to have a feature running back along the lines of Leonard Fournette or Derrius Guice, but the bigger question is who will be under center running offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger’s offense? As fall camp proceeds, it appears to be between Myles Brennan and Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow.
The Tigers also have a daunting schedule with playing both Georgia and Alabama (the two teams from last year’s national title game), as well as road games at Auburn and Florida and open the season in Dallas against the University of Miami.
If LSU can find an answer at quarterback, put some of the off-field distractions behind them, and play inspired football then maybe the Tigers could have a surprising and successful season.