Ah, Louisiana: a state where football is king, home of a high school athletic association that has five classifications when it could get along with just four, proud domain of a Bowl Championship Series champion and several colleges trying to carve successful niches for themselves on the fields of battle.
The state is represented by 12 universities that participate in intercollegiate football. Louisiana produces an abundance of blue-chip high school athletes each year, most of whom pencil in LSU as their in-state school of choice. Others will choose to sign with the “big-name colleges” elsewhere. That leaves coaches from the other 11 schools picking through the remaining talent or looking for outstanding players from other states. As a result, just a few have enjoyed success in their respective conferences.
With LSU coming off of its second BCS championship in the past five years, it has established itself as one of the nation’s elite football schools. Louisianians regard the Baton Rouge behemoth as the state’s flagship college.
A once-proud Tulane University has managed just 13 winning seasons since its administration de-emphasized funding the sport in 1950, and a parade of coaches have tried in vain to sustain a winning program. Those who experienced brief success moved on to more successful programs.
Louisiana teams are members of seven different conferences –– the Southeastern, Conference USA, Western Athletic, Sun Belt, Southland, Southwestern Athletic and American Southwest.
The most successful of the state colleges has been McNeese State University from Lake Charles, which has in recent years dominated the Southland Conference, a Football Championship Subdivision league formerly known as Division I-AA. The McNeese Cowboys are again favored to take the title.
Grambling State and Southern universities are expected to battle it out in the Bayou Classic for the SWAC championship.
The remaining schools, most of which once battled each other in a league of their own, will try to gain notoriety in their less-heralded conferences. Louisiana State University Tigers
Stadium: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge (capacity 92,400)
Head coach: Les Miles, fourth year (34-6)
Key players: With beleaguered ex-quarterback Ryan Perrilloux dismissed from the school and now a distant memory, Miles is relying on untested newcomers with whom the coaching staff will have to work closely. But the team is loaded with talent on both the offensive and defensive lines. Running back Keiland Williams has speed and is a potential 1,000-yard rusher, as is another junior, running back Charles Scott. Senior Herman Johnson (6-feet-7-inches, 386 pounds) anchors the offensive line, and potential All-Americans Tyson Jackson (6-feet-5-inches, 290 pounds), defensive end, and Darry Beckwith (6-feet-1-inch, 232 pounds), linebacker, are the top players on a fairly solid defense.
What to expect: Having won its second BCS championship since 2003, LSU has a clear target on its back, and some of the SEC’s top guns are taking dead aim. If there is any vulnerability, it lies in a rebuilt defensive secondary and the questionable quarterback position. But the Tigers have enough speed in the offensive backfield and overall talent to continue to prevail in the West.
Predicted order of finish: (West) 1. Auburn 2. LSU 3. Alabama 4. Mississippi State 5. Arkansas 6. Ole Miss (East) 1. Georgia 2. Florida 3. South Carolina 4. Tennessee 5. Kentucky 6. Vanderbilt.
Tulane Green Wave
Stadium: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans (capacity 69,703); Tad Gormley Stadium, New Orleans (capacity 24,500).
Conference: Conference USA
Head coach: Bob Toledo, second year (4-8)
Key players: Overall, the Greenies are very thin, but three veteran offensive linemen on the left side –– Troy Kropog (6-feet-6-inches, 315 pounds), Michael Parenton (6-feet-2-inches, 287 pounds) and center Andrew Nierman (6-feet-1-inch, 294 pounds) –– are among the better blockers in the conference. Seven starters are back on defense, including seniors Reggie Scott (6-feet-4-inches, 260 pounds), defensive end, and David Skehan (6-feet, 208 pounds), a safety-turned-linebacker.
What to expect: Like LSU, the Greenies lack experience at quarterback, and they have to find a replacement for their departed Matt Forte, a 2,100-yard rusher who carried much of their attack in ’07. Although Tulane returns the bulk of its receiving corps, key offensive linemen and two experienced fullbacks, the defensive line will not match up well in size against the better teams in Conference USA. Coach Toledo is on the right track in rebuilding this program, but it may not show this season.
Predicted order of finish: (West) 1. Tulsa 2. Houston 3. Texas El Paso 4. Southern Methodist 5. Tulane 6. Rice (East) 1. Central Florida 2. East Carolina 3. Southern Mississippi 4. Memphis 5. Marshall 6. Alabama-Birmingham.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston (capacity 30,600)
Conference: Western Athletic
Head coach: Derek Dooley, second year (5-7)
Key players: Antonio Baker is a first-team All-WAC defensive player who had 10 or more tackles in eight games last year. Running back Patrick Jackson (950 yards in ’07) has a chance to move up in the school’s record book. He is ninth in career rushing yards and needs 1,170 to claim the top spot. Senior linebacker Quin Harris is a second team All-WAC player who led the conference in passes defended (11).
What to expect: Under Dooley, son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, the defense made vast improvements last season. The Techsters also return eight offensive starters. They have enough weapons to improve on their 5-7 record of a year ago and possibly gain a bowl berth. But without a veteran quarterback, the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to match the talent of Fresno State, Boise State and Nevada. Four long road trips to Hawaii, California, Idaho and New Mexico are also toll-takers.
Predicted order of finish: 1. Fresno State 2. Boise State 3. Nevada 4. Hawaii 5. Louisiana Tech 6. San Jose State 7. New Mexico State 8. Idaho 9. Utah State.
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Stadium: Cajun Field, Lafayette (capacity 31,000)
Conference: Sun Belt
Head coach: Ricky Bustle, seventh year (26-44)
Key players: Not many teams have more than one 1,000-yard rusher, but the Cajuns have two returning in quarterback Michael Desormeaux and tailback Tyrell Fenroy. Center Chris Fisher and linebacker Antwyne Zanders earned second team all-conference honors last season.
What to expect: How does a team with such an outstanding running attack win only three of 12 games? The answer is a defense that allowed its opponents to average 35 points a game while the offense produced just 23 points on the average. And that is an area Coach Bustle must shore up in order to compete in the Sun Belt Conference. On paper, the offense appears to be potent, with five starters returning on the offensive line, but the receiving corps is thin. Zanders leads the overhauled defense, which concentrated heavily on recruiting defensive backs.
Stadium: Malone Stadium, Monroe (capacity 30,427)
Conference: Sun Belt
Head coach: Charlie Weatherbie, sixth year (21-37)
Key players: Sophomore running back Frank Goodin (5-feet-9-inches, 194 pounds), who ran for more than 100 yards against Clemson and Grambling, seems ready to blossom into a top-tier back. Senior quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster passed for nearly 2,000 yards last season, in which the Warhawks went 6-6. His top target should again be tight end Zeek Zacharie (6-feet-3-inches, 240 pounds), an all-conference performer and team’s No. 2 receiver in 2007. Junior defensive back Greg James (6-feet-1-inch, 195 pounds) is just six interceptions shy of the school record of 15.
What to expect: Considering that the University of Louisiana-Monroe returns 19 starters from a team that won five of its final six games, including a 21-14 upset of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Warhawks should be improved a year later. It will be interesting to see if the Warhawks ride that momentum into the 2008 opener at Auburn. This team could possibly be a contender for a minor bowl berth.
Predicted order of finish: 1. Florida Atlantic 2. Arkansas State 3. Troy 4. Middle Tennessee 5. Louisiana-Monroe 6. Louisiana-Lafayette 7. Florida International 8. North Texas.
McNeese State Cowboys
Stadium: Cowboy Stadium, Lake Charles (capacity 17,410)
Head coach: Matt Viator, third year (17-3)
Key players: Wide receiver Quinten Lawrence (6-feet-1-inch, 180 pounds) figures to improve upon his 31 receptions, 645 yards and six touchdowns in the Cowboys’ high-scoring offense. Three big linemen –– Kyle Link (6-feet-6-inches, 295 pounds), Lance Fremin (6-feet-1-inch, 300 pounds) and Eman Naghavi (6-feet-2-inches, 300 pounds) –– are back to block for veteran quarterback Derrick Fourroux, a 2,000-yard passer who clicked on 16 touchdowns. The return of 2006 conference Player of the Year Steven Whitehead, who missed last season with a leg injury, adds to an already potent offense. MVP defensive end Bryan Smith led the Southland in quarterback sacks.
What to expect: Coach Viator led the team to its fourth undefeated season in history and its first since 1995 and has won conference titles in his two years at the helm. Undoubtedly, McNeese has the talent to make it a triple. Seven starters are back on offense and five on defense. That number includes all of the key players necessary to continue its dominance.
Northwestern State Demons
Stadium: Turpin Stadium, Natchitoches (15,971)
Head coach: Scott Stoker, seventh year (36-33)
Key players: Players with all-star potential are tailback Byron Lawrence, the conference rushing leader with 1,377 yards on 246 carries; wide-out Dudley Guice (28 pass receptions, 430 yards and four touchdowns); and former University of Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback John Hundley, who transferred to Northwestern. He threw four touchdown passes in the spring scrimmage.
What to expect: The schedule is manageable with no national powers scheduled this season. Having paid its dues with hard knocks the past few years, the team should improve on its 4-7 record. Sixteen returning starters and seven games at Turpin Stadium may give Stoker a new lease on his coaching office after a four-year playoff drought.
Nicholls State Colonels
Stadium: John L. Guidry Stadium, Thibodaux (capacity 14,125)
Head coach: Jay Thomas, fifth year (21-21)
Key players: Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year, defensive back Ladarius Webb, won player of the week honors on offense, defense and special teams last season, a SLC first. Quarterback Vincent Montgomery, who suffered a knee injury in a season-ending loss to Southeastern, is back and seemingly healthy for his senior start. The Colonels’ triple-option offense will find senior running back Isa Hines touching the ball a great deal. Much defensive talent was lost to graduation. Webb and all-conference linebacker Garrick Spain lead the defensive charge.
What to expect: Coach Thomas returns several seasoned veterans from a team that won six of 11 games, and he has a promising crop of newcomers. The 78-man roster features just 20 seniors, so it’s fair to say that the Colonels’ football fortunes will be brighter in the next few years. The team needs to cut down on the 26 fumbles and 33 turnovers it incurred last season. At least four of five home games are winnable.
Southeastern Louisiana Lions
Stadium: Strawberry Stadium, Hammond (capacity 7,408)
Head coach: Mike Lucas, second year (3-11, served as interim coach in final three games in 2006)
Key players: The key top the offense is senior running back Jay Lucas, no kin to the coach. His 1,724 all-purpose yards led the conference. His 51 pass receptions yards led the team. In junior quarterback Brian Babin, the Lions have a 6-foot-4-inch 225-pound veteran who was 4 yards shy of a 2,000-yard passing season last year. The top defenders are junior defensive back Tommy Connors, whose 75 tackles ranked second on the team, and linebacker Mark Newbill, who led all SLC freshmen with 84 tackles in ’07.
What to expect: If the Lions are to move up from the conference’s bottom rung, they cannot expect Jay Lucas to carry them alone. The addition of a few significant junior college transfers and the return of 13 starters on each side of the ball are other bright spots. Southeastern can boast a +7 turnover margin, which ranked second in the conference.
Predicted order of finish: 1. McNeese State 2. Central Arkansas 3. Northwestern State 4. Sam Houston State 5. Nicholls State 6 Texas State 7. Southeastern Louisiana 8. Stephen F. Austin.
Southern University Jaguars
Stadium: A.W. Munford Stadium, Baton Rouge (capacity 24,600)
Conference: Southwest Athletic
Head coach: Pete Richardson, 15th year (105-38)
Key players: Quarterback Bryant Lee sparked the Jaguars to an 8-3 season that culminated in a 22-13 victory over Grambling State in the Bayou Classic. Now a senior, he’s caught the eyes of pro scouts who wonder if he can top his 2,326 yards and 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions of a year ago. Defensively, Jonathan Malveaux (79 tackles) leads a good crop of linebackers, and Glen Bell is one of the best safeties in the SWAC.
What to expect: If Lee gets help from an unproven lot of running backs, the offense could continue to be one of the most productive in the conference. Coach Richardson has enjoyed 12 winning seasons in Baton Rouge and should be able to compete with Grambling State and Jackson State again. The three losses suffered last year were by an average margin of four points.
Grambling State Tigers
Stadium: Eddie Robinson Stadium, Grambling (capacity19,600)
Conference: Southwest Athletic
Head coach: Rod Broadway, second year (8-4)
Key players: A pair of sophomore backs –– Frank Warren and Cornelius Walker –– combined for 1,466 ground yards and 10 touchdowns with Warren gaining 901 of those yards. Defensive back Jeffery Jack, who transferred from LSU in 2006, was the Tigers’ second-leading tackler with 77. The literally big man on the defensive line is 6-feet-5-inches 305-pound senior tackle Melvin Matthews, who was a key element in the team’s finish as No. 2 in defense in the SWAC.
What to expect: The 1-2 running back tandem and seven returning starters on defense, it would appear that Grambling’s offense is ready to rock and roll as it did in 2007 when the Tigers won their first eight games of the season. But wait. The offensive line is green, the receiving corps is sparse, and the team plays just four home games. Combined, these factors may hinder Grambling’s climb to the top.
Predicted order of finish: (West) 1. Southern University 2. Grambling State 3. Prairie View A&M 4. Arkansas-Pine Bluff 5. Texas Southern (East) 1. Jackson State 2. Alabama A&M 3. Mississippi Valley State 4. Alabama State 5. Alcorn State.
Louisiana College Wildcats
Stadium: Bates Stadium (capacity 7,500)
Conference: American Southwest (Division III)
Head coach: Dennis Dunn, third year (9-10)
Key players: Quarterback Ben McLaughlin followed his 2006 Freshman of the Year with a solid sophomore campaign in which he completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,978 yards and 21 touchdowns in Dunn’s passing scheme. Wideout Taylor Huffman, who caught 76 passes for 928 yards and five touchdowns, is McLaughlin’s go-to man. Defensively, linebacker Donovan Williams is one of the best all-around defenders in the conference.
What to expect: Overtaking Mary Hardin-Simmons, which averaged more than 50 points a game last season, is a Mount Everest task, especially for a team that lost to the conference champion 70-14. More reasonable is the opportunity for LC to improve on its 5-5 mark and perhaps qualify for the playoffs. This is still a fairly young program, having re-started in 2000. The offensive line and running game need vast improvement, and the defense will have to replace five starters.
Predicted order of finish: 1. Mary Hardin-Baylor 2. Hardin-Simmons 3. Mississippi College 4. Louisiana College 5. Sul Ross State 6. East Texas Baptist 7. McMurry 8. Texas Lutheran 9. Howard Payne.
Louisiana Football Schedule Aug. 30
Appalachian State at LSU
Mississippi State at LOUISIANA TECH
UL-MONROE at Auburn
UL-LAFAYETTE at Southern Miss
McNEESE ST. at North Carolina
Texas A&M-Commerce at NORTHWESTERN ST.
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at Alcorn State
SOUTHERN at Houston
GRAMBLING STATE at Nevada
NICHOLLS STATE at New Mexico St.
TULANE at Alabama
LOUISIANA TECH at Kansas
UL-MONROE at Arkansas
Delta State at McNEESE STATE
NORTHWESTERN STATE at Baylor
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at Mississippi St.
SOUTHERN at Tennessee St.
Alcorn State at GRAMBLING STATE
LOUISIANA COLLEGE At Bacone
North Texas at LSU
East Carolina at TULANE
Alabama A&M at UL-MONROE
UL-LAFAYETTE at Illinois
Cal Poly at McNEESE STATE
GRAMBLING STATE at NORTHWESTERN STATE
South Dakota at SOUTHEASTERN LA.
Miss. Valley State at SOUTHERN
Rhodes at LOUISIANA COLLEGE
LSU at Auburn
UL-MONROE at TULANE
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at LOUISIANA TECH
Kent State at UL-LAFAYETTE
Cal Poly at NORTHWESTERN STATE
NICHOLLS STATE at Memphis
Jackson State at GRAMBLING STATE
Hardin-Simmons at LOUISIANA COLLEGE
Southern Methodist at TULANE
Mississippi State at LSU
UL-LAFAYETTE at Kansas State
Southern Virginia at McNEESE STATE
SE Oklahoma State at NORTHWESTERN STATE
North Dakota at SOUTHEASTERN LA.
SOUTHERN at Alcorn State
Langston at GRAMBLING STATE
LOUISIANA TECH at Boise State
Army at TULANE (Tad Gormley Stadium)
UL-LAFAYETTE at UL-MONROE
McNEESE STATE at South Dakota State
NICHOLLS STATE at Northern Iowa
SOUTHERN at Jackson State
GRAMBLING STATE at Prairie View A&M
LOUISIANA COLLEGE at Mississippi College
LSU at Florida
TULANE at Texas-El Paso
LOUISIANA TECH at Hawaii
UL-MONROE at Arkansas State
UL-LAFAYETTE at North Texas
Texas State at McNEESE STATE
NICHOLLS STATE at NORTHWESTERN STATE
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at Stephen F. Austin
Texas Southern at SOUTHERN
GRAMBLING STATE at Alabama A&M
Mary Hardin-Baylor at LOUISIANA COLLEGE
LSU at South Carolina
Idaho at LOUISIANA TECH
North Texas at UL-MONROE
Arkansas State at UL-LAFAYETTE
McNEESE STATE at Sam Houston State
NORTHWESTERN STATE at SOUTHEASTERN LA.
Stephen F. Austin at NICHOLLS STATE
Florida A&M at SOUTHERN
Alabama State at GRAMBLING STATE
LOUISIANA COLLEGE at East Texas Baptist
Georgia at LSU
Rice at TULANE
LOUISIANA TECH at Army
Florida Atlantic at UL-MONROE
NICHOLLS STATE AT McNEESE STATE
Sam Houston State at NORTHWESTERN STATE
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at Central Arkansas
SOUTHERN at Prairie View A&M
Howard Payne at LOUISIANA COLLEGE
TULANE at LSU
Fresno State at LOUISIANA TECH
Troy at UL-MONROE
Florida Int’l at UL-LAFAYETTE
McNEESE STATE at SOUTHEASTERN LA.
NORTHWESTERN STATE at Texas State
Central Arkansas at NICHOLLS STATE
Ark.-Pine Bluff at SOUTHERN
GRAMBLING STATE at Mississippi Valley
LOUISIANA COLLEGE at Sul Ross State
Alabama at LSU
TULANE at Houston
LOUISIANA TECH at San Jose State
UL-MONROE at Middle Tennessee
Texas-El Paso at UL-LAFAYETTE
Stephen F. Austin at McNEESE STATE
NORTHWESTERN STATE at Central Arkansas
Sam Houston State at NICHOLLS STATE
Texas State at SOUTHEASTERN LA.
GRAMBLING STATE vs. Ark.-Pine Bluff at Little Rock
Texas Lutheran at LOUISIANA COLLEGE
Troy at LSU
Alabama-Birmingham at TULANE
Utah State at LOUISIANA TECH
UL-MONROE at Ole Miss
UL-LAFAYETTE at Florida Atlantic
McNEESE STATE AT NORTHWESTERN STATE
NICHOLLS STATE at Texas State
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at Sam Houston State
Alabama State at SOUTHERN
LOUISIANA COLLEGE at McMurry
GRAMBLING STATE at Texas Southern
Ole Miss at LSU
TULANE at Tulsa
LOUISIANA TECH at New Mexico State
UL-MONROE at Florida Int’l
UL-LAFAYETTE at Troy
McNEESE STATE at Central Arkansas
NORTHWESTERN STATE at Stephen F. Austin
SOUTHEASTERN LA. at NICHOLLS STATE
LSU vs. Arkansas at Little Rock
TULANE at Memphis
Nevada at LOUISIANA TECH
SOUTHERN vs. GRAMBLING STATE at New Orleans
Middle Tennessee at UL-LAFAYETTE