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2018 Louisiana Football Preview

08/31/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux

Your Guide To Louisiana College And Professional Football

BY: 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 Saints

After 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’ Cajuns

The 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 Tigers

There 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.

Tulane Green Wave

The Green Wave have made major strides under head coach Willie Fritz by winning four games in his first season at the helm and then five games in 2017, including an upset of conference for University of Houston. With several starters returning on offense, including dual-threat quarterback Jonathan Banks (2,389 combined yards and 19 TD in 2017) and three returning starters at wide receiver the offense will be strength. There are question marks on defense as the team must replace five of its top nine tacklers, but they do return linebacker Zachery Harris (69 tackles) and cornerback Donnie Lewis (3 interceptions). If the team can find playmakers on defense, there is a good chance the Wave go to a bowl game for first time since 2013.

LA Tech Bulldogs

After three straight nine-win seasons, the Bulldogs had bit of a down year in 2017 with a 7-5 overall record, but that wasn’t surprising considering the amount of talent the team lost to graduation. Head coach Skip Holtz, entering his sixth season, is expected to have his team bounce back as the team returns 14 starters from last year. The defense will be anchored by All-C-USA defensive end Jaylon Ferguson (7 sacks) and cornerback Amik Robertson (5 interceptions). The offense has playmakers but the Bulldogs will only go as far as junior quarterback J’Mar Smith (2,974 passing yards, 16 TD). Smith must improve if the Bulldogs will once again compete for the Conference USA championship.

ULM Warhawks

The Warhawks were the surprise team of the Sun Belt Conference in 2017 as the team was competitive in nearly every conference game, including a huge 52-45 upset win over Appalachian State. ULM won only four games but expectations are on the rise for head coach Matt Viator’s program. The Warhawks return a total of 15 starters and will be led by junior quarterback Caleb Evans (22 total touchdowns) who guided the team to 33.9 points and 458 yards per game in 2017. The defense though will need to vastly improve as it surrendered 41 points and 532.1 yards per game. If the Warhawks can even become marginally better on defense, then making a bowl game for only the second time in program history is achievable.

McNeese State Cowboys

Despite going 9-2 overall, the Cowboys were left out of the FCS playoffs and are determined to get back there. Despite losing six full-time starters from the defense, the Cowboys and head coach Lance Guidry will look to build off of last season when the team led the nation in rushing defense (54.5 yards per game), 3rd down defense (.238) and 1st down defense (150). The key to the team’s success may be on the offensive side of the ball where they return senior quarterback James Tabary (2,511 yards, 21 TD) and running back David Hamm (805 yards, 6 TD). Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys compete for the SLC title in 2018.

Nicholls State Colonels

The Colonels were the surprise team of the Southland Conference in 2017 as the team posted an 8-4 overall record, and earned their first berth in the FCS playoffs since 2005. With last year’s success, no one will be taking the head coach Tim Rebowe’s Colonels for granted in 2018, especially considering the team loses only three starters on each side of the ball. The offense will be led by third-year starting quarterback Chase Fourcade. The defense will be led by All-SLC honorees in defensive lineman Sully Laiche and Kenny Dotson. The Colonels have the talent, and more importantly experience, to once again to be a force in the SLC.

Southeastern Louisiana Lions

Longtime college and NFL assistant coach Frank Scelfo (a New Iberia Senior High alum) takes over the reigns of the Lions program. After winning back-to-back SLC titles in 2013-14, the Lions have fallen back to the middle of the pack in the conference, including finishing 6-5 in 2017. Scelfo, an offensive-minded coach, inherits an offense that averaged the third most rushing yards per game (283.1) in the country. Running back Marcus Cooper (646 yards, 3 TD) and 2017 SLC Newcomer of the Year, quarterback Lorenzo Nunez (1,101 yards, 11 TD) will lead the way on offense. If the Lions can develop a defense that will go a long way to if SLU returns to the top of the SLC.

Northwestern State Demons

NSU has turned to one of their own to help make the Demons a winning program. The Demons have not had a winning season since 2008 when the team went 7-5 overall under coach Scott Stoker who was let go after the season. In the years since then, NSU has ever averaged 3.5 wins per year. Laird, a record-setting quarterback at NSU, will be looking to build off the improvement on defense started last year when he served as defensive coordinator. Defensive ends Zack Krolczyk and Obinna Iheoma will anchor the defensive line. Laird also brought in Brad Smiley in as offensive coordinator to run a high-tempo offense which will be led by either Clay Holgorsen or Trinity Valley Community College transfer Shelton Eppier. This will be a rebuilding year for the Demons, but the program may have found the right coach for the future.

Southern Jaguars

Southern won the SWAC Championship in 2013 and then returned to the title game in 2014 – losing that season to Alcorn State. In the three seasons since then, Southern has been thwarted of reaching the conference title game by losing to rival Grambling in the Bayou Classic each of the last three seasons. Head coach Dawson Odums will be looking to have his team improve on last year’s 7-4 season, and had just two players (DB Andre Augustine, OL Jeremiah Abby) earn preseason All-SWAC honors. That’s not saying that Odums can’t guide the Jags back to prominence especially considering that he has already led them to the top of the SWAC before. 

Grambling State Tigers

Under head coach Broderick Hobbs, the Tigers have won the SWAC West Division crown three straight seasons, the SWAC Championship back-to-back years and have one 31-6 overall in those seasons. Grambling once again is the favorite to win the SWAC as the Tigers placed 15 players on the preseason All-SWAC teams, including Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Grambling State De’Arius Christmas (88 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss). With several starters returning on both sides of the ball, Grambling will be a force to  reckon with in the SWAC.















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