Some Power 5 schools are certainly aware of him, but Louisiana head coach Billy Napier has a big opportunity in front of him on Saturday.
Billy Napier has worked as an assistant under both Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. But when he took the head coaching job at Louisiana, it was after a one-year stint as offensive coordinator at Arizona State. So in a national sense, he was not a well-known name.
In two seasons under Napier, the Ragin’ Cajuns are 18-10 with two Sun Belt West Division titles. They went 11-3 last year, as Napier won conference Coach of the Year. So interest from Power 5 schools was natural, as Baylor and Mississippi State had him on their radar.
With the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other smaller conferences not playing this weekend, the college football schedule is condensed. In particular, the noon ET window of games would usually be well-populated with Big Ten teams playing non-conference games.
What will this national matchup do for Billy Napier?
Louisiana is rarely on national television, and when they are it’s CBS Sports Network or a maybe a conference-specific network in non-conference. But on Saturday, at 11 a.m. local time in Ames, Iowa, Napier and the Ragin’ Cajuns will be on ESPN against the 23rd-ranked Iowa State Cyclones and head coach Matt Campbell.
The Cyclones are a popular sleeper team this year, as an expected contender for the Big 12 title heading into Campbell’s fifth season. Louisiana has become one of the most efficient and balanced offenses in the country under Napier, finishing sixth in the country in yards per play last year. They are one of only four programs to average more than 235 rushing yards and 225 passing yards per game over the last two seasons.
This week, Chip Patterson of CBS Sports put the Cyclones on upset alert.
“I’ve got the ‘Clones on upset alert,” Patterson said Wednesday on CBS Sports HQ. “I think that this Louisiana team is locked and loaded with their eyes set on potentially winning the Sun Belt championship. They made the championship game twice, both years under Billy Napier, falling to Appalachian State. They want to be a Top 25 team this year. It starts with getting a Top 25 win on the road in Ames.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns are a double-digit underdog on Saturday (11.5 or 12 points depending on the source). So beating the Cyclones would be a pretty good upset. Napier is already well-known to bigger schools that may have a job opening coming, but a win (or even a narrow loss) in a national TV game on Saturday will notably advance his profile .