A four-time conference champion finally playing in the home of its league’s top bowl.
A Louisiana team making its first appearance in the game.
Two old rivals who haven’t met in two decades.
For the New Orleans Bowl, the Dec. 19 pairing of Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome couldn’t be much better.
“This is a good day for us,” bowl executive director Billy Ferrante said Sunday after the announcement was made. “We’ve got teams with very enthusiastic fan bases within that are an easy drive away. And they’re also two pretty good football programs.”
Arkansas State (9-3) has won four of the last five Sun Belt Conference titles, remarkably under four different coaches. But while the New Orleans Bowl has the first choice among Sun Belt teams, Louisiana-Lafayette’s availability from 2011-14 meant that the Red Hawks wound up in the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, in those years.
ASU did play in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, but that game was moved to Lafayette because of damage to the Superdome. Southern Miss won that game 31-19.
That makes this Arkansas State’s first game in New Orleans under any circumstances.
“We’re thrilled to death about finally getting to New Orleans,” Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said. “We know we’re going be giving up the home field advantage. That’s why we’re challenging our fan base to turn out in great numbers.”
Louisiana Tech (8-4) has never played in the New Orleans Bowl. The Bulldogs’ only previous game in the Superdome was their 63-30 loss to Tulane in 1998 in which the Green Wave wrapped up an undefeated regular season.
“That’s a long time,” Tech coach Skip Holtz said. “But that just gives our fans another reason to travel to the game. We look on this as a terrific opportunity for them and our team.”
Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State were former Southland Conference and Big West Conference rivals, but they have not played since 1995. The Bulldogs own a 27-12 advantage in the series.
“Not many of our players were even born then,” Holtz said. “But we’re going to let them know about the rivalry, and especially how good the team they’re playing is. We’ve got a lot riding on this game.”
That includes, Holtz added, bouncing back from their last game, a 58-24 loss to Southern Miss in which the Conference USA West Division title was at stake. The Bulldogs had seven turnovers in that game.
“That was a very frustrating day,” Holtz said. “We were at home with a lot on the line and just didn’t do a good job protecting the ball or at the line of scrimmage either way.
“The good thing is that bowl practice starts early for us, so we’re going to get out there with a little extra edge and our pride on the line.”
The early date for the New Orleans Bowl — it’s one of five on the first day of bowls — is an advantage, Ferrante said, because it enables fans to make their bowl trip before Christmas.
On the other hand, there are only two weeks to sell tickets.
“Arkansas State impressed us with a very aggressive marketing plan and we’re sure Louisiana Tech will too,” he said. “We’ve got some hustling to do. But we’re used to it.”