In the end, edge to Tulane, but the 12th man could be the deciding factor.
I won the first football bet I ever made. Ray, the janitor at the drugstore where I worked, gave me a card, told me to circle three teams and give him a dollar. I won. The next week I peeled a buck off my wad of winnings and circled three more teams. They all won. But when I approached Ray for my payoff, he explained "point spreads." I have had a bias against them ever since.
Photo courtesy Tulane Athletics
But it was too late. I had already learned that money won was far better than money earned. For years I searched other options before settling on horse racing. Picking winners at the race track seemed logical, enjoyable and afforded valuable life lessons. Handicapping, from my limited capacity, has consisted of Class, Form, Connections, and Hunches. My handicapping selection for the New Orleans Bowl follows.
Class: Defined as "a quality demonstrated by competition." A win in "fast company" means a horse has high class. Lose to lesser competitors, not so much. It was why so many felt a one-loss SEC team (pick one) was superior to an undefeated Ohio State before the Buckeyes proved them right.
For football purposes class amounts to a team's schedule and how they competed in particular games. The Cajuns were 0-2 against teams from Automatic Qualifying conferences (Kansas State, Arkansas), playing both competently. Tulane was 0-1 against Syracuse, from the worst AQ conference, and played poorly. UL was 1-1 against bowl teams (Kansas State, Arkansas State). Tulane was 2-1 (North Texas, East Carolina, Rice). The Cajuns' best win was at Arkansas State (23-7). The Greenies' best was in the Dome against 9-3 East Carolina (36-33 in 3OT). UL's worst loss was away against South Alabama (30-8). Tulane's was an inexplicable 17-34 blowout to Florida Atlantic three (3) days after FAU Head Coach Carl Pelini left for allegedly using illegal recreational drugs or failing to report conduct of a member of his staff in a timely manner (you decide). The only plausible explanation was that the Owls discovered the stash Pelini left behind. UL and Tulane played two common opponents: ULM and USA. The Cajuns lost to both. Tulane lost to USA 39-41 and beat the Warhawks 31-14.
Slight edge to Tulane after throwing out the suspect loss to FAU.
Form: Defined as "current condition, fitness, readiness." The Cajuns aren't just built to score; they have to score. Coming off an 8-point effort is not a good sign. The turnover problems in the Cajuns' last two games are symptoms, not reasons for their finish. A longer bowl break would have given greater distance from the USA game, allowed quarterback Terrance Broadway more time to heal, and freshened up legs and attitudes. Tulane is also coming off a disappointing though competitive loss to Rice, the eventual Conference USA champion. With an extra week of rest, an offense that is complementary rather than essential, and the novelty of a bowl game, Tulane should be ready.
Edge to Tulane
Connections: Defined in horse racing as "owner, trainer, and jockey" converted to AD, head coach and quarterback. For some reason scheduling has always been difficult for UL (and USL for that matter). Tuesday games may be great for national exposure, but they take their toll. And five home games and an away game after a rivalry game are never good ideas. The Cajuns deserved better. Head Coach Mark Hudspeth knows bowls (2-0), and he's an excellent learner. He figured out how to win on Tuesdays, for example. The next lessons will cover postgame interviews and the timing of bowl bid acceptance. Consider them learned. He has his hands full without Broadway at full strength, at best, and a team suddenly facing a possible three-game losing streak. Not to be negative.
Tulane's AD thought he had a guaranteed three-game winning streak to start the season, but South Alabama does get around. The Syracuse game was a debacle, but at least no drugs were involved. From there things went fairly well. (The loss at UTSA was against Ex-Miami National Champion coach Larry Coker and the Roadrunners finished 7-5). Tulane's QB, Nick Montana, is a game manager and, unlike his dad, is not crucial to his team's success. He sat out Tulane's wins over East Carolina and Tulsa. Head Coach Curtis Johnson has energized the Tulane program. Going from 2-10 to 7-5 is no small feat, and while it hasn't been 40 years since a bowl appearance for the Wave, it's been over a decade.
After holding seven opponents to 17 or less, expect a conservative game plan from Johnson. If UL's pair of All-Sunbelt running backs and offensive line are ready to play, that should suit Hudspeth just fine.
Photo by Danny Landry
The 12th man could be the difference in UL's Dec. 21 matchup with Tulane.
1. Broadway will sit. The offensive line will be key for the Cajuns.
2. Tulane will be enthusiastic. It always is, always will be as long as it's winning. Fall behind and it starts thinking about its long plane rides home.
3. Cajun fans will double Tulane's. They better, it might be the difference.
Pick: First race at The Fairgrounds goes off at 12:30 p.m. Plenty of time before kickoff.