Ragin’ Cajuns Prepare Bowling Shoes After Dominance In Monroe
By Dan McDonald (Special for ESPN1420)
The post-game activities said volumes Saturday night, right after Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns had finished off a 34-27 road victory over in-state rival UL Monroe.
The Cajuns had just taken their sixth straight win, not to mention a third straight road victory, and had exacted a not-small measure of revenge over the Warhawks after last year’s upset ULM win cost them an outright Sun Belt Conference title.
At the end of that game, Warhawk players danced and gyrated on the Cajun Field turf in celebration, including one memorable image of a ULM player standing on a team bench pointing at and taunting the fans who remained in the stands.
Saturday night, the Cajuns didn’t have any such reactions. It was business as usual after the final horn ... a walk over to where the UL band played the alma mater and a parade of hand-slaps with a Cajun fan section that nearly outnumbered the ULM faithful during the final period.
(To that point, where did everybody go? There was a surprisingly strong crowd at Malone Stadium considering ULM’s six-game loss streak, an announced 19,544, during the first half, and the hosts had momentum with a field goal on the final play of the first half and was set to receive the second-half kickoff. By early in the third quarter, half of the ULM followers had departed, and that number declined steadily even though the outcome was still undecided.)
Some satisfied yelling, but no dancing and definitely no YouTube-worthy antics.
If you knew nothing about the teams and the programs and watched the end of those two games, you’d surmise that ULM didn’t expect to win last year, and the Cajuns expected to win on Saturday.
Therein lies the contrast. For UL, it’s now not about single wins or even single seasons. It’s about becoming a consistently good program, one that’s successful year in and year out. After years of mediocrity, the Cajuns now have 34 wins in four seasons including three straight bowl wins, and are a solid favorite for a fourth straight nine-win season.
They’re also on their way to a fourth straight bowl, with that bid coming sometime in the next two weeks.
They expect to be successful every time they hit the field. Many teams claim that attitude, but they don’t believe it. Deep down, there are doubts and questions, and the Cajuns had more than their share over the previous decades.
Things have changed. UL athletics director Scott Farmer says repeatedly in public appearances that it’s a great time to be a Ragin’ Cajun, and he’ll probably tell people the same this Saturday when UL wraps up its home season against a rejuvenated Appalachian State team.
He’s right. It is a great time. Go out and enjoy it Saturday.
WHERE THEY’RE GOING: The Cajuns have been successful for two months by staying in the moment and not looking ahead.
They won’t be talking about bowl trips this week because they don’t look ahead.
But that trip’s not far away, both time-wise and mileage-wise.
UL locked up a fourth straight bowl trip Saturday, with the win at ULM giving them seven victories. The Sun Belt currently has three bowl-eligible teams – UL, Arkansas State and South Alabama – and has three automatic bowl tie-ins – the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and the new Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 20 and the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile on Jan. 4.
One quick look at a map is enough to assume the Cajuns back in New Orleans for a fourth year, the Jagaurs making their first-ever bowl appearance at home in the GoDaddy, and the Red Wolves headed for Montgomery after making the longer trek to Mobile in each of the last three years.
That makes sense, and that’s a likely scenario. Some may desire a different destination for UL, but here’s numbers to consider: The New Orleans Bowl had never drawn more than 30,228 in its first 10 years, and drew 42,481, 48,828 and 54,728 in the past three years when UL played in the game.
Then again, the Camellia isn’t that far from Mobile, and the GoDaddy may not want an in-town team because of the economic impact derived from a true visiting team. The GoDaddy would love the Cajuns over a fourth straight A-State appearance. On the other hand, New Orleans Bowl officials have already been adamant about welcoming UL for a fourth straight year.
A wild-card could get played if the Sun Belt gets a fourth bowl-eligible team. The conference office may look to position teams at other locations to maximize its bowl squads, and that could lead to teams heading to different locations. There’s also the situation at Georgia Southern, which is hoping that the nation’s bowls come up short of eligible teams and a door opens for the Eagles (see below).
Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth is on record saying last year’s acceptance after UL’s final home game – that loss to ULM – was a mistake he won’t repeat again. But if UL wins over Appalachian State Saturday, don’t be surprised if an announcement comes afterward – whether that night or the next day.
MORE BOWL STUFF: With two full weeks to go in college football’s regular season, the number of bowl-eligible teams in the FBS increased to 60 over the past weekend. UTEP’s late-night win over North Texas Saturday made the Miners the 60th of the 76 teams that will be involved in bowl games in December and January.
Three of those are now in the Sun Belt thanks to South Alabama’s win over Texas State Saturday night. The Jaguars joined the Cajuns and Arkansas State in that group, and the league can still get a fourth bowl-eligible team if Texas State wins one of its last two (the Bobcats’ best shot may be the finale at Georgia State).
Georgia Southern would be bowl-eligible, and this week’s Cajun opponent Appalachian State could get there, but both are ineligible under regular bowl regulations since they are in their final year of transition from the FCS ranks.
Georgia Southern, which got steamrolled Saturday by a Navy team that itself isn’t bowl-eligible yet, still has a fleeting chance because of NCAA regulations passed in 2012. Those regulations insure that enough teams are available to the 39 bowl games (38 true bowls and the national title game that matches Rose and Sugar winners). The Eagles can get in if less than 76 teams reach bowl eligibility and those remaining spots aren’t filled through other means.
Numbers-wise, that’s looking shaky. Sixteen spots remain, and there are 31 teams that can still become bowl-eligible entering the final two weeks (two of those 31 play each other, so in effect it’s 30 teams playing for 16 spots). If half of those get in, it’s going to be close. Stay tuned.