LAFAYETTE — After winning seven of their last eight games to end the regular season as the Sun Belt Conference’s top bowl-eligible team, the Ragin’ Cajuns will celebrate the postseason in some familiar territory.
The school announced at halftime of the Cajuns’ men’s basketball game Wednesday that it will make its fourth consecutive trip to the New Orleans Bowl.
“I think it’s a great fit,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “It’s been a great fit.”
Has it ever. The Cajuns have won the last three New Orleans Bowls under Hudspeth’s direction, an accomplishment made more impressive when considering the program’s history before Hudspeth’s arrival.
The Cajuns appearance in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl marked the end of a 41-year bowl drought. The bowl win was the program’s first since the 1943 season, and was just the second bowl win in program history.
But the bowl’s attraction to the Cajuns’ football program goes beyond the on-field product. The Cajuns have also drawn large crowds in each of the last three years, resulting in an average attendance of 48,679.
The New Orleans Bowl has broken its attendance record in each of the last three years, as last year’s crowd of 54,728 to watch the Cajuns play Tulane set a new record.
Hudspeth said the knowledge that Cajuns fans would travel well certainly would play a part in his team being offered a chance to play in the bowl, but he also notes that his team would have to take care of business first.
“Being 8-4 this year, I think we’d have been a lock (to play in a bowl game) regardless,” Hudspeth said. “But if we would’ve been 7-5 with everybody else, I guess it’s all about making money too, for the bowls.
“Winning has gotten us into the bowl, but our fans have made us a very attractive program for other bowls when we get that opportunity.”
The Cajuns don’t know who their opponent is yet, though it’ll likely come from the Mountain West Conference, which exceeded its allotment of six bowl eligible teams. Possibilities include Rice, Utah State, Nevada and San Diego State.
But sustained success has some other perks, too. Rather than trying to get a head start and prepare for an opponent they don’t know yet, Hudspeth is leaning on his experience.
“That first year we were all trying to figure it out, but I’ve learned over the last three years that you can’t figure it out,” Hudspeth said. “All we can worry about right now is that we just want to get out there and practice and work our guys fundamentally.
“Continue to keep our blades sharp, stay in good conditioning and keep our timing down, keep our guys healthy and have a little fun with them too.”
The Cajuns practiced for the first and last time this week on Wednesday afternoon, and Hudspeth made sure his team understood that it was a postseason practice.
Before the practice started, running backs and tight ends were throwing passes to quarterbacks, offensive and defensive linemen were fielding punts and zydeco music blared through the speakers. All by design, Hudspeth said.
“It’s got to be a reward to go to a bowl,” Hudspeth said. “It’s a great opportunity, great bowl, great amenities and they do a great job.”