Nine Cajuns seniors who would normally be graduating and leaving the team will return for 2021, thanks to the NCAA's extended eligibility given because of the coronavirus.
Levi Lewis, Blair Brooks, Nate Snyder, Jalen Williams, Tayland Humphrey, Chauncey Manac, Cameron Solmon, Ken Marks and Ferrod Gardner will all return next year. Gardner was one of the final pieces to announce his plan to stay in Lafayette; for him and Marks, it'll be an (uber-rare) seventh season.
Seven of those players are starters, including quarterback Levi Lewis, who will be a fourth year starter. He is the program's third all-time leading passer with 6,286 yards. His 54 passing touchdowns is second.
Ferrod Gardener, a linebacker, finished second on the team in tackles: he led Louisiana with 4.5 sacks.
Chauncey Manac, a second returning linebacker, has 9 career sacks and more than 100 tackles.
Cameron Solomon, who split time with Braylan Trahan at safety, solidifies the return of Louisiana's starting secondary. The Cajuns intercepted 16 passes in 2020, the third most in the FBS.
Offensive guard Ken Marks, who returned in 2020 because of a medical waiver that cost him most of the 2019 season, has 27 career starts.
The Cajuns' biggest subtractions come in the back field. Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas both declared for the NFL draft. Ragas leaves the program as the third leading rusher all-time; his 38 rushing touchdowns ranks sixth. Mitchell, an Erath native, led the team in rushing this year. He ranks fifth all-time in yards and touchdowns with 41.
The return of talent solidifies Louisiana as the favorite to win the Sun Belt West next year. This week the final AP standing ranked Louisiana the 15th best team in college football. It was one of two SBC teams to earn a final ranking: Coastal Carolina was ranked 14th, while Appalachian State received the most votes of all non-ranked teams.
"A lot of our institutions, our teams, have played well in the crossover games against group of five teams, we've played well against the power five competition," said Cajuns head coach Billy Napier in a season wrap-up interview Wednesday. "It's respectable level of football. The personnel is improving, the coaching is improving and I think it's only going to get better."
The Sun Belt ended the season with an exclamation point, recording a 4-1 bow record. It's the fifth-straight season the conference had a winning record during bowl season. On that span the Sun Belt has accumulated an 18-8 bowl record.
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