The New Orleans Saints suffered yet another postseason heartbreak last year with the stunning and controversial loss in the NFC Championship Game. Can Drew Brees and company put the loss behind them and win the Super Bowl?
Head coach Billy Napier found instant success in his first season at the helm of the University of Louisiana football team, but can the Ragin’ Cajuns take that next step and claim a conference championship and bowl win?
The LSU Tigers are coming off a 10-win season and a win over UCF in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Expectations are sky high in Baton Rouge entering this season. Will the Tigers live up to the preseason hype and win the SEC?
All of those questions will be answered soon enough as the 2019 football season is officially upon us.
New Orleans Saints
For the second straight year, the post season ended in stunning heartbreak for the New Orleans Saints. A year after losing in the NFC Divisional Round to the Minnesota Vikings on a play forever known as “The Minneapolis Miracle,” the Saints lost in overtime in the NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams on a controversial non-call.
The Saints return the majority of last year’s core with the biggest departures being a pair of veterans — Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Alex Okafor who both departed in free agency.
Alvin Kamara will be looked to carry more of the work load at running back, but the Saints signed former Minnesota and Oakland running back Latavius Murray to backup Kamara. He could become only the third running back in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and record 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. In 2018, Kamara rushed for 883 yards with 14 rushing touchdowns while also hauling in 81 passes for 709 yards and 4 more scores.
The Saints also made tight end a priority in the offseason and the signing of Jared Cook from the Oakland Raiders could give Drew Brees’ that big pass-catching tight end that he has been missing since the Jimmy Graham trade.
With locking up wide receiver Michael Thomas with a $100 million deal, adding Cook and already having Kamara, expect Brees to put up monster offensive numbers yet again.
Brees is coming off a stellar season in which he threw for 3,999 yards, 32 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions and completed 74.4 percent of his passes.
The offensive line must replace veteran Max Unger, who retired in the offseason, but the team seems confident that rookie Erik McCoy out of Texas A&M can fill that void.
The defense meanwhile added some depth to the secondary with drafting Chauncey Gardner-Johnson out of Florida and Saquan Hampton out of Rutgers. The big question mark though remains the development of pass rusher Marcus Davenport who the team traded up for a year ago. Davenport’s rookie season was inconsistent and ended prematurely due to injury.
With Okafor departing, the Saints need Davenport to develop into that bookend pass rushing defensive end to pair with All-Pro Cameron Jordan if the team wants to become a dominant defensive unit.
The window is closing on the Saints and the soon-to-be 41-year-old Brees, but last season’s heartbreak could easily give them the fuel to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time.
UL Ragin’ Cajuns
The first season of Billy Napier at the University of Louisiana was without a doubt a success.
The Ragin’ Cajuns won seven games overall, claimed the Sun Belt Conference Western Division title and earned a berth in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Not to mention, shortly after the season UL locked up the highest-ranked recruiting class in the conference.
However, UL enters the 2019 season with a bad taste in its mouth by how last season ended. The team lost the inaugural SBC Championship Game to Appalachian State by the final score of 30-19 and then laid an egg in the bowl game losing to Tulane 41-24.
If the Cajuns can harness that disappointment into positive motivation, the team could make strides in year two of the Napier era.
A strength of the Cajuns will be their offense. Even with the possible season-ending injury to returning center Cole Prudhomme of Eunice, the offensive line returns four starters and tons of experience. Those lineman will be paving the way for the best running back group in the Sun Belt Conference.
The trio of Trey Ragas, former Erath High star Elijah Mitchell and former Cecilia High star Raymond Calais combined for 2,920 rushing yards and scored 28 touchdowns on the ground.
That will help the development of quarterback Levi Lewis who enters the season as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. Lewis saw significant playing time last season as he passed for 585 yards and 7 touchdowns while completing 62.7 percent of his passes.
The Cajuns’ defense will look to improve from last season when the team gave up 34.2 points and 435.9 yards per game. The secondary could very well be the team’s strength as the back end of the defense returns numerous starters including Deuce Wallace, Michael Jacquet, Eric Garror and Bralen Trahan.
The schedule is difficult as the team plays perennial SBC powers Appalachian State and Troy, as well as Georgia Southern who is coming off a 10-win season, and that is in addition to SBC West rival Arkansas State.
UL could make a major statement in the opener inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference. Regardless if the Cajuns can upset the Bulldogs or not in the opener, UL has enough talent and experience now to once again make some noise in the SBC.
Entering the 2018 season, the buzz about the LSU football team was nothing but negative.
LSU was selected to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, head coach Ed Orgeron was discussed by national media as being on the proverbial hot seat, a few players were arrested off the field and a pair of quarterbacks transferred out during fall camp.
Yet, despite all of that, LSU ended the season as one of the best in the nation. The Tigers racked up 10 wins for the first time in years, defeated University of Central Florida in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, and ended the season ranked in the Top 10 in the nation.
With several starters coming back off of last year’s team, LSU will begin the season ranked in the Top 10 and is buzzed about as a contender in the SEC and a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff.
Despite losing Dick Butkus Award winner Devin White and All-American cornerback Greedy Williams to the NFL Draft, LSU may have one of the best defenses in the SEC and the country.
The defense will be led by star safety Grant Delpit who became just the ninth unanimous All-American in program history last season. Delpit will be joined in the secondary by cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and true freshman phenom Derek Stingley Jr.
The defensive line, which Orgeron has publicly challenged to play better, brings back experience in defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko and a slimmed down Tyler Shelvin (formerly of Northside High and Notre Dame of Crowley) is expected to get significant time at nose tackle in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s scheme.
The offense will be led once again by quarterback Joe Burrow who won over the locker room, and Tiger fans, last season with his leadership and gritty play on the field. Burrow threw for 2,894 yards with 16 touchdowns while also running for 399 yards and 7 rushing scores.
Burrow’s favorite target from last season returns in wide receiver Justin Jefferson who led the Tigers in three different receiving categories — receptions (54), receiving yards (875) and receiving touchdowns (6).
A question mark for the offense is who else is going to step up to help LSU become a more wide-open and up-tempo offense. Something new – passing game coordinator and former Saints assistant Joe Brady wants to establish.
Terrace Marshall, Ja’Marr Chase and true freshman Trey Palmer will be in the mix at wide receiver, while tight end Thaddeus Moss could finally give LSU a dynamic pass catcher at that position.
The biggest issue for LSU in 2018 was that of the offensive line who struggled with injuries and more importantly pass protection. LSU quarterbacks were sacked 35 times in 2018. Lloyd Cushenberry and Damien Lewis are experienced quality players, but the other three guys will need to step up and play at an elite level.
If the o-line is improved then LSU could finally end Alabama’s reign in the SEC West, win a conference championship and play in the college football playoff.