LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team has to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight year.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are well aware of that, but they also realize that any combination of two wins over New Mexico State at home this Saturday, at Appalachian State on Nov. 28 and at home against Troy on Dec. 5, will likely lock them into the postseason.
“We know we can still get to a bowl,” said senior linebacker Dominique Tovell, who had nine tackles in Thursday’s 32-25 loss at South Alabama. “Everything’s still positive with us. We’re just going to continue getting ready for this next game.”
That next game is Saturday at Cajun Field, when UL-Lafayette (4-5, 3-2 Sun Belt Conference) hosts New Mexico State’s Aggies (2-7, 2-3) in what looks to be much more of a challenge than it did a few weeks ago.
Since mid-October, the Cajuns survived close wins against UL-Monroe and at Georgia State while falling to unbeaten Arkansas State and in Thursday’s game at South Alabama. Meanwhile, New Mexico State bounced back from seven losses to start the season — and four straight games in which the Aggies gave up 48 or more points — to take wins over Idaho and Texas State in its past two outings.
The Aggies have also had two weeks to prepare for the Cajuns, with a free Saturday following their 31-21 road win at Texas State.
“They’re a much improved football team,” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team has beaten NMSU each of the past two seasons. “They got those two wins to get that monkey off their backs. They’ve got that little taste of winning, a little blood in the water, and they’re probably feeling much better about themselves.”
Senior wide receiver Jamal Robinson, who had a breakout game with 10 catches for 188 yards and a score against South Alabama, said the goal for Saturday is to have similar feelings.
“We’re not really thinking about a bowl game,” Robinson said. “We just want to get over losing and to have the feeling of winning again, and New Mexico State is the only thing on our mind right now. We just want to get a ‘W’ again.”
The Sun Belt Conference has four bowl tie-ins for the first time, with automatic spots in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, and the AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday, Dec. 19, and the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
The league currently has three bowl-eligible teams: Appalachian State (8-3), Georgia Southern (7-2) and Arkansas State (7-3). South Alabama (5-4) and Georgia State (3-6) are the only other league teams that can reach bowl eligibility along with the Cajuns (4-5), with South Alabama and Georgia State playing in Atlanta on Saturday. South Alabama’s other remaining games are against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the teams with the league’s two best records.
“From talking to our team, we know what’s in front of us,” Hudspeth said. “We’re saying that we have three-plus games left, and we control the plus-one by controlling the way we play.”
Last week, the Cajuns had only their second short-week preparation time since Hudspeth took over as head coach, playing at USA five days after their 23-21 win at Georgia State.
The only other short week the Cajuns have had recently came in 2013, and that was for two home games against NMSU and Troy. UL-Lafayette won those two games, 49-35 and 41-36.
“As long as you don’t have a lot of them, it’s doable,” Hudspeth said. “It’s a quick turnaround for guys like a middle linebacker (Tovell) that play 70 snaps. It beats his body up.”