Cajuns' loss delays NO Bowl invite

by Leslie Turk

It's like waiting for Christmas to arrive 'cause you know the one gift you want is under the tree.

If you're a UL football fan, you know the bowl invitation is coming. It just seems like it's never going to get here.

The Ragin' Cajuns' 30-21 loss at Arkansas State on Saturday pushed back plans for an official bid extension to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for another week. Had the Cajuns won on Saturday, plans were for the New Orleans Bowl bid to be extended this week, probably Tuesday, in a ceremony in Lafayette.

Since the Cajuns turned the ball over five times against the Red Wolves four interceptions from a team that went in ranked among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency those plans quickly changed.

Now, another set of tentative plans are in place, and all pending what happens within the rest of the Sun Belt Conference since UL has finished its conference slate.

Arkansas State and Western Kentucky both have two league games remaining, but ASU's in the driver's seat for the league title. The Wolves need to win either Saturday's road game at Middle Tennessee or their Dec. 3 home finale against Troy to lock up a share of the crown. WKU, one up on the Cajuns on the loss side, travels to North Texas and hosts Troy over the next two weeks, while UL has an open date this week and plays a non-league game at Arizona on Nov. 26 to end the regular season.

After that, it's still pretty much off to New Orleans for the Dec. 17 bowl game. UL director of athletics Scott Farmer said he spoke to New Orleans Bowl officials Monday and indicated they still plan to extend the bid to the Cajuns as soon as the league champion is determined.

"We think everything is still on track," Farmer says. "We're making plans in that direction so we can be ready to go full speed ahead with tickets and everything else as soon as we make an announcement."

According to sources close to the Arkansas State program, the Red Wolves have been in the same type of discussions with the GoDaddy.Com bowl in Mobile, which is set for Sunday night, Jan. 8, one day before the national title game in New Orleans.

The best scenario for both teams is for ASU to win this weekend at Middle Tennessee (a 2 p.m. game on ESPN3) and WKU to lose Saturday at North Texas (a 6 p.m. game on the Sun Belt Network). If those two things happen, it is likely that ASU gets the GoDaddy bid and the Cajuns get the New Orleans bid early next week.

And if that happens, Farmer says, he's going to push for a Monday announcement so that UL's student body can be involved before the exodus for the Thanksgiving holiday at mid-week.

If WKU wins or ASU loses, though, the official announcements will likely be pushed back one more week.

"If they want us to sell as many tickets as we can, hopefully they'll announce something soon," says UL assistant athletic director John Dugas, who is coordinating the process of taking ticket orders now even though the bowl destination isn't official.

Dugas says fans have already placed tentative orders for over 5,000 tickets and put down a $30 deposit for each, and he's hoping those orders can start turning into actual ticket sales by next week.

WKU appears to be out in the cold as far as the Sun Belt's two official bowl tie-ins, but the Hilltoppers still have a good chance of playing past the regular season. That's because several conferences in the country very likely the SEC, among others will not fill their bowl allotment and will open up slots for at-large picks.

As of Monday, there are 53 bowl-eligible teams out of the country's 120 FBS members, and 70 bowl spots available. There are also 28 teams that cannot become bowl-eligible, leaving 39 teams aiming at 17 remaining slots, and the odds are heavily against a good number of those 39 reaching bowl eligibility.

For example, the SEC has nine bowl slots 10 if an SEC team plays in the national title game. Ole Miss can't get to six wins, and both Kentucky and Tennessee are 4-6 and both play ranked teams (Georgia and Arkansas) this weekend before playing each other at the end. Barring an upset, that's one open spot from the SEC.

The Mountain West and the Big 12 are in similar situations, but it's the SEC bowl tie-ins that Sun Belt folks are watching and some of the lower SEC bowls are located within the geographical footprint of the Sun Belt. The Compass Bowl in Birmingham and the Beef O'Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg would be natural fits for WKU and bowl-eligible Florida International (6-4).

A lot will happen over the next two weeks, but one thing hasn't changed. Barring the extremely unforeseen, the Cajuns are still headed to New Orleans. It's just going to take a little longer for it to become official.