In Billy Napier’s first season at the helm of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, his team won seven games. They went to a bowl game, but lost. There was a confusing home loss to Coastal Carolina at one point during the season. It was a year filled with mixed results. There was good, and there was bad.
Sound familiar? While it may not have felt like a similar season, Michael Desormeaux’s first as head coach of the Cajuns saw many similar story lines. They won six games instead of seven.They also went to a bowl game and lost. There was a confusing loss as well, this time on the road to ULM. The biggest accomplishment Napier’s first team had that Desormeaux’s did not was a West Division title and a trip to the Sun Belt Championship game. However, that was a much weaker version of the Sun Belt West, without teams like Troy, who won twelve games in 2022 including the Sun Belt Championship.
A deeper look at the numbers via sports-reference.com actually suggests that the 2022 Cajuns might have been better than that 2018 team. The 2022 ranked 78th in points for and 37th in points against for a net average ranking of 57.5. The 2018 team was 41st in points for and 105th in points against for a net average of 73. The simple rating system, which takes into account point differential as well as strength of schedule, had Napier’s first team at 87th and Desormeaux’s initial squad at 71st.
These numbers do not account for other surrounding factors, such as expectations. Napier was trying to pivot the program after a coach was fired. Desormeaux was tasked with continuing the momentum from a golden era in the program’s history. What these numbers do show, however, is that expectations can sometimes change our perceptions, especially in a sport that narrows a huge number of plays across a long season into slightly more than a dozen wins or losses.
How about one more interesting parallel? Both Napier and Desormeaux dealt with weather issues for the spring game heading into their respective sophomore seasons. Desormeaux has an interesting set of circumstances heading into his second year. He has an unsettled quarterback situation with three players still in the mix. That differs from Napier, who knew Levi Lewis would be his guy. The Sun Belt is also deeper and better than it was five years ago. Time will tell if Michael Desormeaux can surge his way to double-digit win seasons and conference titles the way Billy Napier did. These numbers suggest that he is closer than we may think to breaking through and returning the Cajuns to where they want to be.