Seven months after the confetti fell on national champion Alabama, a new college football season is nearly here. As part of Sports Illustrated's 2021 preview content, we're rolling out scouting reports for all of SI's preseason top 25 teams, featuring all the names, storylines and big games you need to know. Starting with No. 25 Nevada and running through No. 1 Alabama, we'll be featuring five teams per day from Monday through Friday.
The Big Story: Louisiana
Back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins was no fluke for Billy Napier and the Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana enters 2021 primed for another year atop the Sun Belt, with 10 starters returning on both sides of the ball. There was a significant exodus of assistants in the offseason, but there’s still plenty of talent on this roster. Expect Louisiana to be one of the nation’s best Group of 5 schools in 2021.
Quarterback Levi Lewis is back on campus for a fifth season as he looks to put an exclamation mark on an impressive career. Lewis is 24–4 as a starter with Louisiana, and his 54 career touchdown passes sits second in program history. Another strong season under center could see Lewis break Jake Delhomme’s school records for both touchdown passes and passing yards.
Key Question: Will there be enough production in the backfield?
Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas ran ragged through the Sun Belt last season, combining for over 1,600 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. With both players now gone from the program, the pressure will be on sophomore Chris Smith to carry the load. The 5’ 9” junior rushed for 5.6 yards per carry last season, and he looked impressive in Louisiana’s spring game. His ability to handle a heavy workload could very well swing the Ragin’ Cajuns’ season.
X-Factor: The front seven
Louisiana sports quite the imposing group, with a pair of defensive linemen ready to steal the show in 2021. Nose tackle Tayland Humphrey is a run stuffer of the highest caliber at 6’ 5”, 350 pounds, and fellow lineman Zi’Yon Hill could approach double-digit sacks in his senior season. This is a talented Louisiana team on both sides of the ball, with its defense standing as one of the more underrated units in the nation.
Date to Circle: Sept. 4 at Texas
This date marks one of the bigger games in recent program history, with a matchup against Texas slated as Louisiana’s season opener. The Longhorns should hover near the top of the Big 12 this season, but don’t mistake Steve Sarkisian’s squad for a playoff contender. We could very well see the Ragin’ Cajuns pull off an upset in Austin to kick off the 2021 season.
The Bottom Line
A wealth of returning contributors should keep Louisiana in the hunt for the Sun Belt crown throughout 2021. If Lewis shines in his final campaign, perhaps an undefeated season is on the horizon.