Last Modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 5:42 PM
Standing on the Ragin’ Cajuns’ practice field Monday, you could not help but look around and wonder if you seeing McNeese State’s future or a missed opportunity.
The University of Louisiana as it wants to be called, or as we know it better Louisiana-Lafayette, has everything going in the right direction.
Their football team enters this season a co-favorite in the Sun Belt and winners of nine games, including a bowl, in each of the last two years.
There is national attention, exposure is up and more some of their games will be on national T.V.
All this means there are more eyes on the college football team from Lafayette than ever before.
Granted, the Cajuns are still buried in the shadows of LSU, but what state school isn’t?
However, over the last two years under head coach Mark Hudspeth this program has started to carve out a niche for itself.
Louisiana-Lafayette is one of nine schools nationally to post nine-win seasons and capture a bowl game over the last two years.
Even LSU can’t make that claim, having lost each of its last two bowl games.
Sure, I can hear the skeptics say it is only the New Orleans Bowl, but you got to start some place and the Big Easy isn’t a bad place to start.
And then there was that strong showing against Florida in the Swamp last year that raised even more eyebrows.
“The bowl wins, the Florida game, that gives us great exposure,” Hudspeth said.
In the world of college football nothing beats national exposure, especially these days.
Will the Cajuns be able to keep this up if and when Hudspeth moves on is another question, but they have already come a long way.
There is the indoor practice facility, plans for expanding the stadium and just about everything around that looks like you are in the big time.
It’s a far cry from the days when the Cajuns were nothing more than a speed bump for a McNeese program, something the Cowboys seemed to run over on their way to the postseason each fall.
Could this have all been there for McNeese is hard to say.
Lafayette is a bigger town than Lake Charles, has more media and more students go to ULL than McNeese. All that makes the Cowboys fighting an uphill battle when it comes to cash.
But the truth is, McNeese was ahead of the Cajuns not so long ago. Even just two years ago one wondered if the move up was a good one for Louisiana-Lafayette.
Now, the Cajuns are positioned in a pretty good spot when it comes to the future of college football and their place in it.
As for McNeese, there will be some big decisions to come. The Cowboys will have to find their place.
It seems likely that one day another giant shift in college football will take place, as the elite programs and conferences decide they don’t want to share the wealth. Talk has already started that the Big Ten might no longer play down a division, thus hurting schools like McNeese who use those games as ways to get revenue.
The Cowboys open with such a game at South Florida this year and play Nebraska the following fall.
The Cajuns have start-the-season games against Arkansas and Kansas State.
If the giant shift comes, an extra group level of play could take place. You could have the giants like LSU and the SEC, then a second tier with ULL and its Sun Belt friends, and then a third group, possibly the likes of McNeese and the Southland Conference.
On paper, that might not seem much different. But if all the revenue in college sports doesn’t even out, you don’t want to be left behind, especially when the team down the road is getting a bigger piece of the pie.
And don’t think other Southland teams like Lamar and Sam Houston don’t have thoughts of moving up, too.
It is nice to think McNeese wants to stay in the Southland, but what if the Southland doesn’t look the same?
The Cowboys don’t want to be left without a chair at the big boys table when the music finally stops.
It is important that McNeese find a way to position itself so that when the time comes. It is the school’s administration that makes the decision on where the Cowboys end up, not somebody else.
McNeese State has a great football tradition and can bring more than a few bargaining chips to the table. But don’t think schools that used to get beat up by the Cowboys will be quick to welcome them in to their division.
You don’t open your arms wide to somebody who used to kick your teeth in.
Yes, the landscape of college football is changing and that change could be here soon.
For McNeese, a short drive to Lafayette might be all it takes to see what the future could bring.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org