UL Lafayette’s first road win against a Top 25 opponent has led to the team’s first ranking in the modern era after Billy Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns stunned 23-ranked Iowa State 31-14 Saturday.
The Cajuns were voted No. 19 in the Associated Press TOp 25, and No. 21 in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll Monday. LSU remains ranked No. 6 in the AP and No. 5 in the Coaches Poll and won’t start its season until Sept. 26 at home against Mississippi State.
UL Lafayette had not been ranked in the AP poll since Nov. 1, 1943, a streak of 1,109 consecutive polls, according to a prepared statement from the university.
The Cajuns are joined by Sun Belt Conference rival Appalachian State in the polls (tied for 23 in the AP and No. 23 in the Coaches Poll), the first time the conference has had two teams in the AP poll since sponsoring football in 2001. Three other Power 5 teams (No. 13 AP/14 Coaches Poll Cincinnati, No. 14/13 UCF and No. 16/15 Memphis) also moved into the polls as the nine Big 10 and Pac-12 teams that had been voted into the preseason poll dropped out with the start of play. Those two conference voted to postpone football in the fall, and the voting organizations opted to allow them to be voted into the preseason poll but not to receive votes in the regular season polls.
Ten new teams moved into the polls this week, with Iowa State dropping out of both Top 25s.
Saturday’s win for the Cajuns was sparked by a solid defensive effort (no points allowed over the final 31:17) and three touchdowns covering 75-plus yards — a 95-yard kickoff return by Chris Smith, a 78-yard touchdown pass from Levi Lewis to Catholic High graduate Peter Leblanc and an 83-yard punt return by Eric Garror. It marked the first time the Cajuns had two special teams returns in a game since Raymond Calais returned two kickoffs against Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 2, 2017.
The win is the second in school history against a Top 25 opponent. The Cajuns beat then-25th ranked Texas A&M 29-22 on Sept. 14, 1996 at Cajun Field. It also marks the first win over a Big 12 opponent since a 17-15 win over Kansas State on Sept. 12, 2009.
With preseason No. 2 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State and No. 9 Oregon no longer eligible to receive votes, Alabama moved up a spot to No. 2 , Oklahoma moved up to No. 3 and Georgia and Florida are 4 and 5.
New to the polls this week in addition to the five Power 5 teams are Miami (17 AP/18 Coaches), Virginia Tech (20/19), BYU (21/22), Army (22/25) and Kentucky (T-23/20). Pittsburgh is No. 25 in the AP poll and Baylor is No. 24 in the Coaches Poll to round out the new entries.
The Cajuns return to action Saturday with a trip to Atlanta to open Sun Belt play against Georgia State. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2, continuing a stretch of five games in six weeks earning national broadcasts for UL Lafayette.
Following that game, the Cajuns play host to SBC foe Georgia Southern on Sept. 26 on ESPN2, travel to Appalachian State on Wednesday, Oct. 7, for a game on ESPN, and play at UAB on Friday, oct. 23 with the game to be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.
Thee Ragin’ Cajuns have been named the FWAA National Team of the Week following Saturday’s win at Jack Trice Stadium.
This is the first time that UL Lafayette has earned the honor. With South Alabama winning last week’s award, the Sun Belt has had two teams honored in the same season for the first time since the award began in 2002.
In addition to the team honor, several players picked up individual honors for the week.
Smith was named the Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance.
Linebacker Ferrod Gardner also received high praise following his nine-tackle performance, being named the Walter Camp FBS National Defensive Player of the Week and the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week.Gardner is the first Ragin’ Cajun to earn Defensive Player of the Week honors since Jacques Boudreaux on Dec. 2, 2019, while Smith became the team’s first Special Teams Player of the Week since Stevie Artigue on Nov. 25, 2019.
Lewis was recognized nationally as well following the victory, landing on the Davey O’Brien Award’s Great 8 List.
All Division I FBS and FCS schools are eligible to be selected for the National Team of the Week honor. This is the 19th season for the FWAA to award a National Team of the Week.
Napier was named The Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week, the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl announced on Tuesday afternoon.
The Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week award honors a football coach who led his team to a significant victory during the previous week, while also embodying the award’s three pillars of scholarship, leadership and integrity.
“This was truly a historic win for the Ragin’ Cajuns football team,” said Jim Terry, chairman of the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation. “Coach Dodd would have been proud of Billy Napier’s ability to lead his team to such a big victory on the road to start the season, especially given all of the challenges this unique offseason has brought.”
“Coach Napier has had an immediate impact on the Ragin’ Cajun football program,” said Gary Stokan, CEO and President of Peach Bowl, Inc. “He’s raised the program’s APR off the field and just landed his football team in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1943.”
Also on Tuesday, first-year defensive coordinator Patrick Toney was named the Defensive Coordinator of the Week by Athlon Sports.
Toney’s defense held the Cyclones to just 14 points and 303 total yards, with no play going longer than 19 yards. Additionally, the defense held Iowa State scoreless over the final 31:17 of the ballgame.
The team also forced two turnovers with an interception by AJ Washington, the fourth of his career, and a forced fumble by Jourdan Quibodeaux which was recovered by Percy Butler.
Linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill led the Ragin’ Cajuns with 10 total tackles, tied for the third-most tackles in a season opener, while Ferrod Gardner posted nine tackles and 1.0 sack, the first full sack of his career