The 2020 Sun Belt Conference football championship game was to be the biggest in the history of the league as it was to be the first of ranked teams: No. 12 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 19 Louisiana. Alas, the game was canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic effects within the Coastal Carolina program and the teams were declared co-champions for the 2020 season. Don’t be surprised if they meet in the title game again this year as they are the favorites. Let’s break each team down with odds to win the conference title.
Sun Belt Conference Football 2021
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (+100)Louisiana was picked to win its fourth-straight Sun Belt West Division title in the Preseason Coaches Poll, while capturing 9-of-10 first-place votes. ULL’s only loss in 11 games last year was 30-27 in the regular season to Coastal Carolina. The Ragin’ Cajuns closed the season with a 31-24 win over UTSA in the First Responder Bowl.
In addition to their final AP Poll ranking of No. 15, Napier’s team finished the campaign ranked No. 16 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 19 in the College Football Playoff, the team’s highest ranking in all three polls.
Perhaps the biggest offseason news was that the school was able to keep in-demand head coach Billy Napier. He had been rumored for a few Power 5 jobs but stayed put and got a nice new extension from the school. The new contract, which runs through Dec. 31, 2025, would nearly double the total value of Napier’s previous deal, from $1.005 million in 2020 to $2 million. His contract also includes a $900,000 budget increase for his assistant coaches and staff, from $2.87 million to $3.77 million.
If Napier, 41, were to end his deal with UL, he would have to pay UL a $3 million buyout if it were to occur between June 30 and Dec. 31, 2021. The buyout would drop to $2 million if he would want out of his contract in 2022 or 2023.
Louisiana was ranked No. 23 in the AP Preseason Top 25. The ranking marks the first time in program history that the team has been ranked in the news agency’s national preseason poll. The Ragin’ Cajuns occupied the same slot in the season’s first USA Today Coaches Poll.
Quarterback Levi Lewis is the rare super senior who took advantage of the extra year of eligibility afforded to players due to COVID-19. Last year, Lewis threw for 2,274 yards, the 26th most nationally, and 19 touchdowns, the 20th most in the country. Lewis also propelled the Ragin’ Cajuns offense on the ground, rushing for 335 yards and five touchdowns. Lewis currently ranks second in school history with 54 career passing touchdowns and third in program history with 6,286 career passing yards. Both records are currently held by Jake Delhomme.
Louisiana opens the season at No. 21 Texas on Sept. 4 and does not play Coastal Carolina during the regular season.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (+150)Coastal Carolina finished the 2020 regular season at 11-0 but lost to a very good Liberty team 37-34 in overtime in the Cure Bowl as Elijah James blocked Massimo Biscardi’s 42-yard field goal attempt in overtime.
Like Louisiana coach Billy Napier, Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell was in high demand this offseason but signed an extension. Chadwell won several National Coach of the Year honors in 2020 but was the conference’s lowest-paid coach at $319,866. Chadwell was originally scheduled to make $375,000 last year, but took a $56,034 pay cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chadwell’s base salary for the 2021 season will be $850,000, making him the second-highest paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference behind Napier.
Coastal Carolina redshirt sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall was dubbed the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for 2021. McCall was the Sun Belt Player and Freshman of the Year in 2020. He led the Sun Belt and ranked 10th nationally with 26 passing touchdowns on the season. He also led the Sun Belt and ranked in the top 30 nationally in passing efficiency at 184.3 (fifth nationally), points responsible for with 202 (ninth nationally), points responsible for per game at 18.4 (16th nationally), passing yards with 2,488 (19th nationally), and in total offensive yards per game at 277.9 (30th nationally). What’s more, he rushed for 569 yards and seven scores.
Coastal Carolina paced all conference programs with 11 Preseason All-Sun Belt selections for this year, including a conference-best seven first-team picks. McCall was joined on the first team senior tight end Isaiah Likely, senior wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh, redshirt senior bandit end Jeffrey Gunter, super senior defensive tackle C.J. Brewer, super senior linebacker Silas Kelly, and senior cornerback D’Jordan Strong.
The Chanticleers return 19 starters from last year’s championship team – 10 defensive starters and nine offensive starters – and over 75 percent of their total offensive yards, 72 percent of their scoring, 91 percent of their tackles, 75 percent of their sacks, and 100 percent of both their field goals and punt yards.
CCU is ranked No. 22 in the AP Preseason Top 25 and 24th in the USA Today Poll after finishing 14th in both a year ago. Coastal’s No. 14 nationally ranking in the final Top 25 polls of the season were both Sun Belt Conference records, eclipsing Appalachian State’s final rankings of No. 18 in the coaches poll and No. 19 in the AP poll in 2019.Expert PredictionCoastal Carolina beats Louisiana in title game
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