Louisiana-Lafayette is confident enough of a fourth straight invitation to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl that the Ragin’ Cajuns ticket office began taking orders for bowl tickets Monday, and the New Orleans Bowl was the only one listed on the order form.
The New Orleans Bowl gets the first selection from the Sun Belt Conference, and the Cajuns top the league standings among bowl-eligible teams. According to UL-Lafayette Athletic Director Scott Farmer, New Orleans Bowl representatives have been in touch early and often over the past several weeks.
Bowl officials also have talked with various Cajuns athletic staffers to discuss bowl-trip details.
So why hasn’t an official announcement been made or scheduled? Farmer said it has everything to do with the inaugural College Football Playoff.
“Most people think that’s just four teams and two games, and the two winners go to Dallas and play for the national championship,” Farmer said Monday. “A lot of people don’t realize there are four other bowl games that are involved.”
The Sun Belt is part of the “Group of Five” conferences that includes the Mountain West, the American, Conference USA and the Mid-American. That group is guaranteed one spot in the pool of those four bowl games — the Cotton, Peach, Fiesta and Orange bowls — that are played on New Year’s Eve (three games) or New Year’s Day (one game along with the two national semifinals).
“The five champions of those conferences will get vetted by the selection committee,” Farmer said, “and the best team will go to one of those four games. As long as we are in the running for a conference championship, we cannot accept a bowl invitation since we could get vetted for one of those spots.”
The Cajuns (7-4, 6-1 Sun Belt) still have a chance to share the Sun Belt title if they win at Troy in Saturday’s 11:30 a.m. regular-season finale and if Georgia Southern (8-3, 7-0) loses its 5 p.m. Saturday home game against UL-Monroe. UL-Lafayette and GSU did not play during the season.
If those two things happen Saturday, no announcement on the Cajuns’ postseason destination could be made before Dec. 7, when the CFP announces its four semifinalists and the pairings for the other four bowls.
Farmer said that if UL-Lafayette is eliminated from the Sun Belt title race on Saturday, the school and the Sun Belt would request a waiver from the CFP to allow the acceptance of a bowl bid before Dec. 7. The New Orleans Bowl is the first in this year’s lineup at 10 a.m. on Dec. 20, making for a quick turnaround for ticket sales. If the waiver is granted, an announcement could come as early as Sunday.
“We hear our fans, and we want to service our fans,” Farmer said. “I can’t tell you for sure that’s where we’re going, but if we don’t get selected (for a CFP bowl), I think we’re in a good position to be the first one selected out of the Sun Belt.”
The New Orleans Bowl has the first pick among the three bowls affiliated with the Sun Belt, with the GoDaddy Bowl on Jan. 4 in Mobile, Alabama, getting the second pick and the new Raycom Media Camellia Bowl Dec. 20 in Montgomery, Alabama, getting the third pick. The Sun Belt currently has four bowl-eligible teams in the Cajuns, South Alabama (6-5, 5-3), Arkansas State and Texas State (both 6-5, 4-3), and UL-Lafayette defeated each of those three by a combined 49 points during the season. (Georgia Southern is not eligible to play in a bowl, because the program is in its second year in the conference.)
“It’s a great problem to have, for us to potentially have a chance to go to the Peach, Cotton, Orange or Fiesta, or the three bowl games from the conference,” Farmer said. “Who would have thought that four years ago?”
The Cajuns have won the past three New Orleans Bowls, beating San Diego State 32-30 in 2011, East Carolina 43-34 in 2012 and Tulane 24-21 last December. Only nine teams in NCAA history have won the same bowl three straight years and none have won four straight.
Farmer said there would be no hesitancy about accepting a fourth straight Crescent City trip. The 2011 game broke the bowl’s attendance record by over 12,000, and attendances have gone up by approximately 6,000 in each of the last two years, including last year’s record 54,728 attendance.
“Four years ago, when we announced we were going to our first bowl game, we talked to our fans about helping establish a bowl tradition, and we wanted to go to a game that would help establish that tradition,” he said. “The last three New Orleans Bowls did open the eyes of bowls throughout the country, and it opened New Orleans’ eyes, too.
“They get the first pick and they called us early. … They’re not worried about it being four in a row.”
New Orleans Bowl ticket order forms are available at the Cajundome box office or at www.ragincajuns.com/BowlTickets. Fans with existing accounts may submit orders online or orders may be mailed or brought to the Cajundome box office. Farmer said priority seating would be the same as previous years, with RCAF Annual Fund donors getting first priority followed by season ticket holders, UL-Lafayette students, alumni and the general public. Tickets are $45 per seat with a limited number of premium $65 seats available, plus a $5.70 handling fee per order. Orders must be received by Dec. 5.