When No. 21 Texas faces No. 23 Louisiana on Saturday, it will mark the start of the Steve Sarkisian era for the Longhorns. But the Ragin' Cajuns could present a tricky nonconference game as they return to Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium for the first time in 16 years.
The story of this game between the Longhorns and Ragin' Cajuns rests on both sidelines with the two head coaches. Sarkisian takes the reins as a coach for the first time since he was let go at USC in 2015. On the other side, Louisiana coach Billy Napier is one of the hottest young coaching prospects in the profession and has been connected to past vacancies at Auburn, Mississippi State and several other SEC schools. That speaks to what Napier has built at Louisiana.
In many ways, it's a season of expectations for both schools. Louisiana is fresh off its first AP Top 25 finish in program history and is ranked for the first time entering a season. After three straight top-25 finishes, conference and New Year's Six contention is the bar for Texas. Picking up an early win vs. a ranked opponent is critical to pull in national attention.
Texas won both previous matchups against the Ragin' Cajuns, including a 60-3 win to open its 2005 national championship season.
Texas vs. Louisiana: Need to know
Sark's debut: After a long offseason, Sarkisian is set to coach his first game on the 40 Acres. Sarkisian came to Texas after coordinating Alabama's explosive offense to a perfect season and national championship in 2020. However, Texas presents a different challenge. The Longhorns fired head coach Tom Herman after a 7-3 season, including a win over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. That wasn't good enough. All eyes will be on Sarkisian as he tries to get the Longhorns back to a championship level before Texas moves to the SEC.
Rising star: There might not be a hotter coaching candidate in college football than Napier. The 42-year-old has experience coaching under Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban on his resume and a 28-11 record over the last three seasons. For comparison, Mark Hudspeth led Louisiana to a 15-22 record in the three seasons before Napier arrived. Napier has already turned down bigger opportunities to keep building the behemoth in Lafayette. Eventually, the right job will come along and launch him to superstardom.
The Bijan show: Texas running back Bijan Robinson went off over his last four games in 2020, rushing for 522 yards and four touchdowns to close the year. Against Kansas State and Colorado, Robinson cleared 18 yards per carry thanks to a number of breakaway runs. Louisiana's run defense was pedestrian in 2020, so Robinson will present a unique challenge.
Giant killer: Most of the Power Five did not play any nonconference games last year, but Louisiana got one of those exclusive spots against eventual Fiesta Bowl champion Iowa State, crushing them 31-14. While ULL was aided by three Cyclone turnovers, their defense also allowed just 4.3 yards per play. While Texas is a more talented team than even Iowa State on paper, there's no reason to think Louisiana will crumble due to talent deficit alone.
Insane experience gap: The Ragin' Cajuns rank No. 1 nationally in returning production according to ESPN's adjusted returning production metric. That includes 10 starters on both sides of the ball, with veteran quarterback Levi Lewis among them. Texas, on the other hand, ranks No. 95 by the same metric and has to replace a star quarterback, left tackle, edge rusher and free safety. If there's a game to get Texas, the opener is a good place to start.
How to watch Texas vs. Louisiana live
Date: Saturday, Sept. 4 | Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium -- Austin, Texas
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Texas vs. Louisiana prediction, picks
There's no question: Texas is the more talented team, perhaps the most talented team Louisiana has played in several years. Yes, Texas is breaking in a number of unproven underclassmen, but after all the upset alert talk this offseason, it's unlikely the Horns will overlook this critical home opener. Still, Louisiana's defense keeps this close down the stretch. Prediction: Louisiana (+9)
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