Louisiana runs out of the tunnel as a ranked team for the first time since World War II Saturday when the Ragin’ Cajuns visit Georgia State in their Sun Belt Conference opener.
With their 31-14 victory over Iowa State last week, the Cajuns (1-0) earned their first Associated Press poll ranking since Nov. 1, 1943.
At No. 19 they are the fourth-highest-ranked Group of Five team behind No. 13 Cincinnati, No. 14 UCF and No. 16 Memphis and ahead of Sun Belt colleague No. 24 Appalachian State. The Sun Belt went 3-0 against the Big 12 last weekend.
Georgia State will be playing its opener. The Panthers return 16 starters from a 7-6 team that started last season with a win at Tennessee. Coach Shawn Elliott has taken the Panthers to a bowl in two of his first three years.
“I’m very impressed with Georgia State and the improvements they made last year,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “I thought they were one of the best teams in our league last year.”
One of the three new starters on offense for the Panthers will be at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Cornelious “Quad” Brown IV will take over for Dan Ellington. Brown played in only four games last year to preserve his redshirt season, completing 11 of 28 passes for 130 yards with an interception.
He earned the starting role over two other redshirt freshmen, K.J. Harvey and Vanderbilt transfer Jamil Muhammad. A fourth quarterback candidate, highly regarded signee Mikele Colasurdo, is playing catchup after battling COVID-19 earlier this summer.
An early test indicated possible myocarditis issues for Colasurdo but further evaluation confirmed that he does not suffer from myocarditis or other heart ailment, and he has been cleared medically.
“It’s been a long, unusual camp,” Elliott said. “To some degree it’s been good and to some degree we’ve had some stoppage in play. But we’re ready to get going.”
Junior running back Destin Coates (546 rushing yards in 2019) will step in for departed senior Tra Barnett (1,453 yards), while senior Cornelius McCoy (70 receptions, 757 yards) returns at receiver.
Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis, an all-conference candidate, passed for only 154 yards against Iowa State, but one of his 13 completions was a 78-yard touchdown bomb to Peter LeBlanc.
Senior running back Elijah Mitchell is expected back at full strength after being limited by various bumps and bruises to just eight carries against Iowa State.
The Cajuns managed only 272 yards of total offense but got a 95-yard kickoff return from Chris Smith and an 83-yard punt return by Eric Garror to post what Napier called a “significant win in the history of this place.”
Now the goal is to capitalize on the opportunities that such a win over an opponent picked to contend in the Big 12 presents, he said, adding that it’s time to hit the “reset” button.
“The big challenge here is to get back into our routine and execute the process this week,” Napier said.
–Field Level Media