LAFAYETTE — Since Sun Belt Conference champion Georgia Southern did not win its appeal to be bowl eligible, the SBC will not be represented when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its selection Sunday morning.
That, it turns out, was good news for the Louisiana-Lafayette.
With the Cajuns, who finished as the SBC runners-up, out of the playoff picture, the New Orleans Bowl committee extended the invite as early as possible. They understood that the Dec. 20 kickoff date leaves little wiggle room for bowl preparation, both from the team and bowl’s perspective.
“Obviously not knowing the opponent until Sunday, giving us 13 days to turn it around, creates some logistical issues for the opponent,” said New Orleans Bowl Executive Director Billy Ferrante.
Because the Mountain West Conference has yet to be decided, with the championship game being played Saturday between Boise State and Fresno State, the Cajuns won’t know their bowl opponent until Sunday.
But the fact that the Cajuns opponent will have less than two weeks to prepare for the bowl might provide a hint that the opponent might not come from the MWC at all.
“(Geography) is very important, especially with that quick turnaround that we talked about,” Ferrante said. “Fans of the other team find out 13 days out that they’re playing in our game, if they have the ability to drive to our city rather than fly, it might make a difference in their ability to come.”
That might play a part in ruling a Mountain West team out entirely, since none are within reasonable driving distance of New Orleans.
One possible fill-in? Conference USA’s Rice, which finished 7-5 and second in the CUSA’s Western Division.
The short time to get the bowl in order might prompt a conversation about the CFP’s selection process.
“I think some of the earlier games played would like to see some sort of conversation at least about the process next year and maybe allowing for the release of some schools that may not factor into the CFP’s process,” Ferrante said. “But, we all do understand at the same time the importance of ESPN and CFP’s relationship and their wanting to protect the integrity of the release of that information.”
That’s a lot of bangin’
Cajuns senior right guard Daniel Quave is certainly no stranger to the New Orleans Bowl. Dec. 20 will mark his fourth consecutive start in the game.
In fact, Quave hasn’t missed a single start, period. The New Orleans Bowl will be his 52nd consecutive start for the Cajuns, a school record that’s made even more impressive when considering the high injury rate of offensive and defensive linemen.
While Quave hasn’t been on the field for every down, he has played in the overwhelming majority of the Cajuns’ 3,493 snaps over the past four years, a figure that was very close to coach Mark Hudspeth’s estimation of 3,500. Kudos, coach.
After Hudspeth made his estimation, he paused a second to marvel at it.
“That’s unbelievable that he’s stayed that healthy, that many snaps,” Hudspeth said. “Thirty-five hundred snaps. Holy cow. That’s a lot of bangin.’ ”
Four straight foresight
In 2011, when the Cajuns were getting ready to go to their first bowl in 41 years, then rookie coach Hudspeth had an inkling that bowl games might start to be a regular occurrence.
The mere act of competing in a bowl game set the program on the right track, Hudspeth said.
“After we got there the first year, I knew that going to that first bowl was the stage that we needed to get to as a program,” he said. “If we could get there, we knew that was going to help us in recruiting.
“We felt like we could build off that momentum, then the next year build off that momentum. We had learned the conference, and we felt like at that point we would have a chance to … stay where we could be a consistent winner.”