Are We Seeing A Changing of the Guard In the Sun Belt West?
Some times it takes an entire season to realize a team has risen or fallen.
Take the New England Patriots for example, having never won Super Bowl, they were 14 point underdogs to the Greatest Show on Turf, the St. Louis Rams, who were World Champions two seasons earlier.
Never mind the Patriots had won 9 in a row and 11 of their previous 12 games. The lone loss was 24-17 to the Rams, a game in the which the Patriots fumbled their way to losing.
Now we know what the last 20 years or so of Patriots football has been.
Looking at the Sun Belt and especially the Western Division, it’s been dominated by the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. So much so, the Cajuns were a perfect 16-0 against Western Division foes until they lost 21-17 to ULM Saturday night.
The Cajuns improved play dates back to 2011 and Coach Mark Hudspeth when they won 9 games for the first time in school history and did so for 4 straight seasons.
Issues finding a quarterback and a couple off-the-field incidents prompted a coaching change which resulted in Billy Napier moving to Lafayette. Napier turned the team around quickly, but it wasn’t until 2021 they reached the heights they had wanted to for so long.
Lead by 5th year quarterback Levi Lewis, the Cajuns went 13-1, winning the Sun Belt, finally and the New Orleans Bowl, again. Their only loss, was the season opener to Texas.
The results allowed Napier to jump to the SEC and the Florida Gators. He brought, maybe too many coaches and a few key players with him, for example, OL O’Cyrus Torrence and RB Montrell Johnson, Jr.
With all of the losses on the staff and the field, 2022 should’ve been considered a rebuilding year for Louisiana. Nonetheless, they were still picked to win the Sun Belt’s Western Division. Following the first four games of the season, I have a feeling, no one is picking them now.
At least three teams are ready to challenge the Ragin’ Cajuns for Sun Belt West Supremacy; South Alabama, ULM and Troy. South Alabama is a botched fake field attempt against UCLA from being 4-0. The Jaguars are averaging almost 39 points a game and are balanced offensively.
Not knowing what to make of ULM until this past weekend because Texas and Alabama beat the Warhawks as expected while ULM routed Nicholls State. Saturday ULM beat Louisiana in Monroe for the first time, oddly enough, since 2005.
Troy is 2-2 following their home win over Marshall on Saturday and they’re a Hail Mary against Appalachian State away from being 3-1. The other loss, in which they held their own, was 28-10 to Ole’ Miss.
This weekend it’ll be the Jaguars turn at the Cajuns. Since his arrival in December 2020, Head Coach Kane Wommack has made it clear, Louisiana is the “standard bearer” in the Sun Belt West and his goals are to match or surpass their excellence.
South Alabama is an early 5 point favorite heading to Lafayette. The thing is, the Jaguars are better than the Cajuns, offensively and defensively. While statistics don’t guarantee a victory, i.e. Bills vs Dolphins, I would be surprised if the Cajuns keep this a one score game.
This time we just may see the changing of the guard right before our eyes.