Cajuns in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome?

by Leslie Turk

What the heck? We're making the call now.

Having a 6-1 football team, one that's two games ahead of everyone else in the Sun Belt Conference in the win column, should be enough excitement for any UL athletic fan.

But now, after Saturday's 30-10 win over North Texas to cap off the three-game homestand sweep, there's one more thing to be excited about: a trip to New Orleans for a bowl game.

It's true that the Ragin' Cajuns are only one game past the halfway point of the regular season, and have five games to go - four of them on the road. It's true that four of those games are Sun Belt games, and the Cajuns could still finish as low as 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the league if the magic suddenly vanishes. There are still a lot of things that can happen before the first hurricane at Pat O'Brien's.

But with the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl policies currently in place, start setting aside the third week in December and start spreading the news. The Cajuns are all but a dead-solid lock to play in that game Saturday night, Dec. 17, 8 p.m., the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

You read it first here.

It's complicated, but unless there's some deeply-guarded regulation or a secret agreement that nobody is talking about, it's all but a done deal even though UL still has four conference games in the next four weeks.

Here's why: The New Orleans Bowl has hosted the Sun Belt champion or co-champion in nine of its 10 years. The only year that a league titleist didn't play in the Crescent City was 2009 when Troy won the league at 8-0 and took a spot in the nearby Mobile-based GMAC Bowl - now the Bowl. Middle Tennessee at 7-1 took the New Orleans Bowl spot.

But - and this is a big "but" - the New Orleans Bowl is not required to take the league champion, as long as the league winner has a bowl game to participate in. Enter the game, which is in the first year of a three-year agreement to take a Sun Belt team for its Jan. 8 game. As long as the league has the Mobile bowl game to place its champion, the New Orleans Bowl can take any bowl-eligible league member.
League standings, head-up performances, end-of-year finishes they don't particularly matter. If the New Orleans Bowl wants you, and you're bowl-eligible, you're getting their invitation.

Make no mistake about it, the New Orleans Bowl wants the Cajuns and those 29,420 fans that UL is currently averaging at home. You can bet that bowl officials smiled when they saw Saturday's 32,823 attendance - the highest in Sun Belt history for a league game. They don't have to look at a map to figure out that Cajun Field's only two hours from the Superdome.

Obviously, nobody affiliated with the bowl game in any capacity can say anything, or can even appear to be leaning in any direction, this early in the season. And the only mentions of New Orleans and bowls in the same sentence by UL staffers are incredibly generic.
"If the opportunity did present itself, the New Orleans Bowl would be great for our program because it would be great for our fans," UL acting athletic director Scott Farmer said Monday. "If we were fortunate enough to be invited, it's close enough that the fans that have been so great to us could easily be a part of the celebration."

Cajun head coach Mark Hudspeth told his Monday press conference audience that he didn't know and didn't care that his team was bowl eligible. "Right now, all I see is Western Kentucky, and that's all that any of us see," said senior offensive lineman Kyle Plouhar, referring to Saturday's road game in Bowling Green, Ky., that starts the rugged road trek.

But there are always rumors, one of which has the key members of the UL athletic administration gathering for a multiple-hour meeting early this week to begin bowl-trip preparations - something they haven't had to worry about in four decades.
If they're making those plans, why shouldn't we? After all, there are some great travel deals and hotel rates in New Orleans in mid-December.