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USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.

USA TODAY

LAFAYETTE, La. — One FBS program from Louisiana is nationally ranked this week, and it is not the one most might expect.

It is Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana Lafayette (3-0), which moved up from No. 23 to No. 21 in the Amway Coaches Poll and the AP Top 25 on Sunday, the same day defending national champion LSU – located about 60 miles to the east – dropped out of both rankings following its 45-41 loss at Missouri.

The Tigers (1-2) had been No. 16.

Reaction to the reality was from the heart for members of a Group of Five team that’s spent decades living in the shadow of its big brother from the SEC.

“I love it,” said Jalen Williams, a starting receiver for the Cajuns who prior to transferring to UL spent the 2016 season as a walk-on redshirt at LSU.

“This is something I dreamed of; really, everybody on the team dreamed of,” starting defensive end Andre Jones added. “We always have been labeled as a smaller school; underrated. We’re gonna shock the world now. We’ve just got to keep it going.”

The Cajuns get a chance to do just that Wednesday night in front of an ESPN audience when they host Coastal Carolina (3-0) in their third Sun Belt game of 2020.

Jalen Williams makes a catch and takes a hard hit from Jav’n Singletary as The Louisiana Ragin Cajuns take down Georgia Southern 20-18 at Cajun Field. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)

More: Florida, LSU and others in the SEC suffer steep drops in this week’s NCAA Re-Rank 1-126

More: Opinion: Shocking transformation for defending national champ LSU makes fans wonder how bad it will get

‘WE JUST … PLAY FOOTBALL’

That UL is ranked in both polls one spot below 3-1 Iowa State – which it beat 31-14 in the season opener for both schools – hardly seemed to matter on a day LSU joined Louisiana Tech and others in a long list of others receiving votes.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Jones said of the Cyclones being No. 20. “We can’t do anything about where they put people. We just go out and play football.”

Which has been the mantra all along for Cajuns coach Billy Napier, who was a bit more reserved than some of his players.

“These are all other people’s opinions,” Napier said. “And that’s nice.

“You know, it comes with the territory as you start to build a program and develop a team that’s got an identity that people respect on the outside looking in. It’s a good thing for everyone involved.”

UL is nationally ranked this season for the first time since 1943, when it made an appearance in the AP Top 20.

The Cajuns broke into the polls this year with their win at then-No. 25 Iowa State, moved up after winning their Sun Belt opener at Georgia State in overtime, dropped out after beating Georgia Southern 20-18 in their home opener, reappeared during an off week and moved up despite also not playing last week.

UL has been idle since beating Georgia Southern behind Nate Snyder’s last-second 53-yard field goal on Sept. 26.

That’s partly because an Oct. 7 game at Appalachian State was postponed until early December because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the Mountaineers program and partly because their game against Coastal Carolina that was to have been played last Saturday was postponed by Hurricane Delta’s arrival on the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

ALL ABOUT THE WORK 

After losing two days of practice to hurricane prep it’s back to business now for the Cajuns and Napier, who was treating his team’s placement in the polls Sunday with only a tad more hype than he has for the past month.

“We’ve got to make sure we use it as a positive,” the former Arizona State and Clemson offensive coordinator said. “If it motivates you, great.

“But I do think we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t affect how we prepare – the self-discipline that we have in executing our routine. We’ve got to remember what got us that recognition and why people’s opinion of us maybe has changed over time, and that’s because we’ve worked hard to improve … and we compete and we execute on game day, and we play winning football.

“When we see those numbers by our name,” Napier added, “we need to think about all the work it took to create that and we need to continue to do that work so we can finish.”

Napier’s message apparently was delivered, and heard, when the Cajuns practiced Sunday, because wide receiver Williams, for one, echoed his words Sunday night.

“I would tell a bunch of players before the season started that we were capable of doing anything that we wanted to,”  he said.

“The program that we’re in is set up to make us champions. We work harder than anybody, I believe, so it’s just we’re reaping the benefits of all the work we put in.”

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