You can feel it in the air. Anticipation builds as football fans buy their season tickets and ponder how their favorite teams will perform on the gridiron this year. There are lots of changes to report for Southwest Louisiana’s top teams – McNeese, LSU, and the Saints. Writer Matt Dye gives us all the details, plus his own insider predictions. In this annual special section, you’ll also discover the best places to watch the game and find some grub; and you’ll get to know McNeese ‘s long-time athletics radio broadcaster, Tom Hoefer, in our First Person Q&A. Go teams!
by Matt Dye
“It’s going to be an exciting brand of football,” new McNeese head coach Gary Goff promises. “We’re going to attack on both sides. The Air Raid gets a lot of attention, but there will be a lot of pressure on the defensive side.” Exciting and new is exactly what the McNeese Cowboys need after a few dismal seasons and changes at head coach, but now, just as the lights at The Hole shine again, things are beginning anew under a new regime.
Gary Goff comes from building a championship level program at Valdosta State and is committed to doing the same here at McNeese. “I can tell you, you’ve got stability. I’m here for the long haul.” One thing in Goff’s favor is that he inherited a veteran, and now healthy, O-line to run his Air Raid offense behind, led by pre-season First Teamer Caron Coleman and Second Teamer Calvin Barkat. The question is, who will be throwing the ball for the Cowboys?
Goff’s Air Raid offense doesn’t yet have a full-time commander, as the Cowboys are looking to a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2016. Right now, there are three candidates to lead this run ‘n gun offense. Walker Wood is the closest thing to an incumbent, having played a little quarterback before playing wide receiver last season. He’s switched back to QB and will compete against Cam Ransom, a transfer from Georgia Southern and dual-threat option, and Knox Kadum, a transfer from Virginia Tech who ran the Air Raid in high school.
“I’m excited about the offense,” said Mason Pierce, Second Team wide receiver and First Team returner. “He’s brought in my type of style.” A second-generation Cowboy, he’s all about the team mentality. “You can’t really focus on one player. We’ve got a lot of people that can make plays. As soon as we mesh together, it’s going to be a really good year for us.”
Carrying the rock will be another Southland pre-season First Teamer in Deonta McMahon. McMahon led the Cowboys in rushing last season while scoring a team high eight touchdowns. The defense will be led by three pre-season First Teamers in D-lineman Mason Kinsey and Accord Green, and linebacker Kordell Williams, who is just 80 tackles away from joining McNeese’s 300-Club. “The biggest thing is being consistent,” defensive end C.J. Semien said of playing for Coach Goff. “Every day reminding everyone of the culture we’re working toward.”
McNeese opens the season with two out of conference road games, the first against FCS runner-up Montana State, followed by one at Rice. These games will not only be a test for Goff’s squad but also a litmus test for their toughness, as they will likely be heavy underdogs. Then, in some of the best news of all, the Cowboys come home on September 17 to play Alcorn State under the lights in The Hole for the first time in three years. “We’re not playing at noon with the sun above our faces the whole time,” Pierce said, recalling last season. “It was hot. The cool conditions really help for a team, so it’s going to be fun.” Semien agrees. “The atmosphere for a night game is different than a day game. The fans are more excited, there’s tailgating. It’s going to be more electric for the players and the fans as well.”
From there, another home game against Mississippi College before the Cowboys start conference play on the road against last year’s conference champ, Incarnate Word. Then it’s five more conference games and a home game against Eastern Illinois that culminates in the renewed rivalry match-up at home against Lamar on November 19. With the realignment of the Southland Conference in the last two years, and the mercurial nature of the conference in general, it’s anyone’s guess how Goff’s first year might go, but he’s got a whole city behind him for support.
“Lake Charles is a special city,” Goff said. “They’ve really opened the doors to our families. And they have a true passion for McNeese athletics. I’m anxious to see these fans come out and pack The Hole and help us get some wins.” Due to late conference schedule finalization, the TV schedule isn’t set, but every game should be available either via ESPN+ or Cox YurView.
To order season tickets, call 337-562-4678 or go online, McNeeseSports.com. Or check out the 337 Package. You’ll get a reserved season football ticket, men’s and women’s basketball season ticket, baseball season ticket and softball season ticket, all for just $337. It comes out to about $3.50 per ticket per game!
Week 1 Sept. 3 @ Montana State
Week 2 Sept. 10 @ Rice
Week 3 Sept. 17 vs. Alcorn State
Week 4 Sept. 24 vs. Mississippi College
Week 5 Oct. 1 @ Incarnate Word
Week 6 Oct. 8 BYE
Week 7 Oct. 15 vs. Texas A&M-Commerce
Week 8 Oct. 22 @ Nicholls
Week 9 Oct. 29 vs, Southeastern (Homecoming)
Week 10 Nov. 5 vs. Eastern Illinois
Week 11 Nov. 12 @ Houston Baptist
Week 12 Nov. 19 vs. Lamar
by Matt Dye
It’s hard to believe The Tigers are two years removed from being one of the greatest teams in college history. In some ways, it feels longer after a 5-5 and then 6-6 season that saw Coach O go from King of Louisiana to just somebody who used to coach.
LSU will begin the Brian Kelly era, a decision that at first had many fans questioning. After personalities such as Les Miles and Coach O, Kelly is decidedly boring, so much so that videos of him trying to dance with recruits blew up Twitter. But make no mistake, Kelly is just what the LSU program needs; a program that in some ways has been too full of itself for a while, allowing all sorts of shady business under the guise of winning.
Detractors will point out that Kelly coached at Notre Dame but could never win it all, but these fans are lost in the days when Notre Dame was like the entire SEC conference unto itself. Instead, Kelly helmed that ship with some of the strictest recruiting standards in the country to finish consistently in the Top 10.Now, without those handcuffs, it will be interesting to see what teams Brian Kelly will build in the future at LSU. The present though is a huge question, with uncertainty everywhere for this current LSU team.
There’s no doubt that Kelly inherited a ton of talent; it’s just how that talent fits his system that we’re going to find out. If it starts at the quarterback, at the time of this writing, LSU might have narrowed it down to three. There’s Myles Brennan, who because of COVID-19 is a sixth-year senior. The assumption is that he’ll get the job just because of his tenure with the team, but there’s no guarantee that’s how Kelly will roll. The other two candidates are Jayden Daniels, a transfer from Arizona State, and Garrett Nussmeier, a redshirt freshman gunslinger who’s looked to have potential in his few opportunities so far.
Whoever gets the nod at QB, they’ll at least be throwing to Kayshon Boutte, LSU Pre-season 1st Team All-SEC Team pick. And if LSU can keep being WR-U, one of the sophomores from Brian Thomas Jr., Malik Nabors, or Jack Bech should step up. LSU fans have been waiting for John Emery, a five-star recruit in 2019, to explode at the running back position, and this may finally be the season for it. If not, look for Corey Kiner or Armoni Goodwin, both sophomores with major upside.
The defense, as always, should be strong for the Tigers, starting with the big guys up front led by defensive first team selection BJ Ojulari. Mike Jones Jr. leads a strong linebacking core that should contain the middle of the field well. The question comes from an all-new secondary that lost players such as Derek Stingley last season. The new starters come from the transfer portal, so there’s no way to know yet how they’re going to fare in SEC ball when they’re facing guys like Bryce Young.
The schedule this year at least works to LSU’s advantage in the beginning. The season opens September 4 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Florida State Seminoles. While not a home game, it should feel like one, and while FSU opened the checkbooks to be competitive again after four losing seasons in a row, LSU should still come out victorious.
Then it’s three real home games in a row, with the SEC opener against Mississippi State. Best case scenario, the Tigers could find themselves 4-0 heading into October and the real meat of the schedule. At that point, many of these games will be toss-ups, with home games against Tennessee and Ole Miss and road games at Auburn and the Swamp.
If by some miracle the Tigers make it 8-0, it’ll probably all come crashing down when Bama comes to visit on November 5. Then there’s one more cupcake sandwiched between two harder-than-they-should-be road games to finish the season at Arkansas and Texas A&M respectively. A true purple and gold fan will have them going 12-0. An optimist might say 9-3. But a realist will tell you 7-5 with hope for the future.
Week 1 Sept. 4 FSU (in NOLA)
Week 2 Sept. 10 vs. Southern
Week 3 Sept. 17 vs. Mississippi State
Week 4 Sept. 24 vs. New Mexico
Week 5 Oct. 1 @ Auburn
Week 6 Oct. 8 vs. Tennessee
Week 7 Oct. 15 @ Florida
Week 8 Oct. 22 vs. Ole Miss
Week 9 Oct. 29 BYE
Week 10 Nov. 5 vs. Alabama
Week 11 Nov. 12 @ Arkansas
Week 12 Nov. 19 vs. UAB
Week 13 Nov. 26 @ Texas A&M
by Matt Dye
After 16 years, a new era in Saints’ lore starts this season as we have said goodbye to not only Drew Brees but now also Sean Payton. Dennis Allen takes over Head coaching duties after spending the last six years as the Saints’ defensive coordinator. This will be Allen’s second chance as a head coach, his first time with the Raiders in 2012, and the 2nd stint is usually when a head coach catches fire. His defense has certainly been on fire. For those who stayed with the team through all the struggles of last season (Saints still went 9-8), the one consistent positive was the defense. And that defense now looks to be better than last year, even with the loss of Marcus Williams to free agency and Malcolm Jenkins to retirement.
Most fans already know about The Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, coming back to the bayou to take what he wants, but the Saints secondary also adds veterans Marcus Maye and Daniel Sorensen to help shore up a pass defense that still must face Tom Brady twice a season. With Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport controlling the line, the Saints defense should again be more than capable of keeping them in games.
The biggest question mark is on the offense, which was hampered by injuries in the first season without Brees at the helm. Four different QBs saw playing time as Jameis Winston suffered a torn ACL in Week 8 against the Bucs. Fans finally got to see what Taysom Hill as a full-time QB looked like, and they weren’t impressed. And last year’s rookie Ian Book appears to have a lot of room to grow.
Injury also kept out the Saints’ most potent weapons in Alvin Kamara for a few games and Michael Thomas for the season. This season, everyone should be healthy, and the Saints have also made great additions at receiver, bringing back another LSU boy in Jarvis Landry and drafting Chris Olave out of Ohio State, who should contribute immediately. Assuming Winston stays healthy, he should have more than enough weapons to take this Saints team back to the playoffs. To do that, they’ll again need to get through divisional opponents in the Brady-led Bucs. For 41 days, the NFC South felt like it was up in the air as Brady retired, but that didn’t last long, and the Bucs look to repeat as division winners.
New Orleans’ other two divisional rivals are also on the come-up, with the Carolina Panthers bringing in Progressive commercial star Baker Mayfield to try to right the ship and the Atlanta Falcons going with former Heisman Trophy Winner and Winston draft contemporary Marcus Mariota. Both of these organizations are hungry to get back to being competitive, with neither team posting a winning record since 2017.
That said, the Saints divisional road may be very clear after opening the first three weeks of the season with all three divisional opponents. A 1-2 start could mean a rough road to the Wild Card for the Saints.
After that, the schedule doesn’t let up, with a trip to London in October to play Minnesota before coming home to host the Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati Burrows. Then the 2nd half of the season is even more brutal with five of their final eight games on the road against teams such as the Steelers, 49ers, Bucs, and Eagles; the latter three being possible playoff match-ups.
The Saints’ potential will largely lie on how healthy they can stay, but right now, no one outside of Louisiana is expecting much from a team a year removed from Payton and Brees. But that’s the way they like it. Projected Record: 11-6
Week 1 Aug. 13 @ Houston
Week 2 Aug. 19 @ Green Bay
Week 3 Aug. 26 vs. L.A. Chargers
Week 1 Sept. 11 @ Atlanta
Week 2 Sept. 18 vs. Tampa Bay
Week 3 Sept. 25 @ Carolina
Week 4 Oct. 2 vs. Minnesota (in London)
Week 5 Oct. 9 vs. Seattle
Week 6 Oct. 16 vs. Cincinnati
Week 7 Oct. 20 @ Arizona
Week 8 Oct. 30 vs. Las Vegas
Week 9 Nov. 7 vs. Baltimore
Week 10 Nov. 13 @ Pittsburgh
Week 11 Nov. 20 vs. L.A. Rams
Week 12 Nov. 27 @ San Francisco
Week 13 Dec. 5 @ Tampa Bay
Week 14 BYE
Week 15 Dec. 18 vs. Atlanta
Week 16 Dec. 24 @ Cleveland
Week 17 Jan. 1 @ Philadelphia
Week 18 Jan. 8 vs. Carolina