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Ragin’ Cajuns football bowl game possibilities starting to narrow

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Dec. 8, 2020

A Christmas Day appearance in the Camellia Bowl appears to be atop the list for the No. 17 Ragin’ Cajuns as postseason possibilities begin to narrow.

UL athletic director Bryan Maggard said Monday night he expects the Cajuns to play in one of three Sun Belt Conference-affiliated bowls – but holds the door ajar for another.

“We are looking at either the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery (Alabama), the Cure Bowl in Orlando and maybe a distant third would be the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile (Alabama), as of now,” Maggard told The Daily Advertiser.

The Camellia Bowl scenario has the Sun Belt’s West Division champion, UL (9-1), facing a MAC team, perhaps Buffalo (4-0) on Dec. 25 (1:30 p.m., ESPN). But that comes with a caveat: Things can always change.

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The Sun Belt has primary contractual agreements with five bowls: the new Myrtle Beach Bowl on Dec. 21 in Conway, South Carolina; the Dec. 23 New Orleans Bowl; the Camellia Bowl; and the Cure Bowl, the LendingTree Bowl, both of which are scheduled for Dec. 26.

For the two teams appearing in the Dec. 19 Sun Belt championship game – UL and Coastal Carolina – playing in Myrtle Beach or New Orleans isn’t feasible, based on compacted turnaround time.

Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill cited “the reality of the way we built our bowl schedule,” with one game Dec. 25 and two Dec. 26.

“We did that with the intention to make sure … the teams that played in our championship game would have the opportunity to go to bowl games with a week’s rest, or at least a six-day rest in terms of the 25th,” Gill said Monday.

“I think that’s going to give us flexibility to make sure we can create the best matchups for the teams in our championship game in those bowls that will give them significant rest.”

With the Louisiana High School Activities Association announcing Tuesday it has changed the time and site of its state championship games from Dec. 26-28 at the Superdome in New Orleans to Dec. 27-30 at Harry Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches, New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante was asked it is possible his ESPN-televised game could be moved to sometime after Christmas, allowing it to accommodate hosting a team like the Cajuns.

UL has been to five New Orleans Bowls since 2011, the last a loss to Southern Miss in 2016.

“As of this phone call right now,” Ferrante said late Tuesday, “I haven’t had any conversation with ESPN at all, and I doubt very seriously that I will – because I don’t think they’re looking to move inventory around.”  

Undefeated Coastal Carolina (10-0) appears slotted for the Cure Bowl, but if the No. 13 Chanticleers were to get pulled elsewhere that could land UL in Orlando or, less likely, Mobile.

That scenario could require Coastal Carolina beating Troy in its regular season finale Saturday and UL in the title game, and having Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference lose to Tulsa in that league’s title game, potentially putting the Chanticleers in a New Year’s Six Bowl as the College Football Playoff’s highest ranked Group of Five program.

But is it possible UL – which beat Miami (Ohio) in last season’s LendingTree Bowl and lost to Tulane in the 2018 Cure Bowl – lands an upgrade to something beyond one of the usual Sun Belt bowls?

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“I think there’s an outside chance,” Maggard said, “but we would need help from others.”

One possibility could be created if No. 7 Cincinnati defeats No. 19 Tulsa in the Dec. 19 AAC championship game, making the Bearcats the CFP’s highest ranked Group of Five team, and UL beats Coastal Carolina.

“With Cincinnati not going to an Athletic Conference bowl,” Maggard said, “does that open something up like ESPN would want to place the Sun Belt champion against an opponent from the Power 5, or something like that – a higher-ranked opponent?”

Gill, however, squashes that suggestion.

He instead envisions an undefeated Coastal Carolina in a New Year’s Six Bowl as perhaps the only scenario that would pull a Sun Belt team away from the five bowls it has deals with.

More:What we learned from No. 21 Louisiana football’s loss to Coastal Carolina

“I really do think the options that will be in front of us are trying to get to a New Year’s Six … or trying to play in our contracted bowls,” he said. “That’s generally how it’s set up … and that’s what I would anticipate would be in front of all of our teams.”

Gill also suggested announcements on which SBC teams will play in the Myrtle Beach and New Orleans bowls could come sooner than later.

But he said no official decision on where the title game participants go will “necessarily be solidified before the championship game.”

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Already this year, 10 FBS bowls have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic: Sun, Holiday, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Bahamas, Motor City, Fenway, Pinstripe, Celebration, Redbox and, mostly recently, the new LA Bowl.

Gill, however, isn’t concerned.

“I feel really good that the five bowls we are contracted with will go off as scheduled,” he said.