Photos: R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD – Louisiana Tech Bulldogs running back Kenneth Dixon (1) gets past Arkansas State Red Wolves linebacker Quanterio Heath (52) during the fourth quarter Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, of the New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Louisiana Tech won 47-28.

Thanks to the Saints being conveniently out of town, the New Orleans Bowl will again be in prime time in December.

“That’s what we are always hoping for,” bowl executive director Billy Ferrante said Wednesday after ESPN released its bowl schedule, which includes the New Orleans Bowl at 8 p.m. Dec. 17,

The game will pit teams from the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA.

Kickoff for the New Orleans Bowl is determined by the Saints’ schedule because of the time the Mercedes-Benz Superdome needs to convert advertising and field markings for a Saints game.

This season, the Saints will be at Arizona on Dec. 18, meaning the bowl game can be the last of five games on either ESPN or ABC that day. Last year, the Saints were at home, but they were playing a Monday night game against Detroit.

When the Saints have been at home, it has meant starts as early as 10 a.m.

“Our fans and bowl partners have told us they like the late kickoffs because there’s still plenty to do in New Orleans after the game is over,” Ferrante said. “But we can’t make any plans until the NFL schedule comes out.”

The NFL schedule also works in favor of the Sugar Bowl, which will be Jan. 2 this year because New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday.

The Saints close the regular season Jan. 1 at Atlanta. The home finale is Dec. 24 against Tampa Bay, leaving ample time for the Superdome to prepare for the Sugar Bowl, even though at least one of the teams will practice there.

Like the New Orleans Bowl, the Sugar Bowl will have a primetime start, 7:30 p.m., following the Rose Bowl. As was the case last year, the game will pit the top teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 who are not in the College Football Playoff.

Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan also said he does not anticipate playing Jan. 2 having any negative effect on either attendance or TV ratings.

“The 2nd is a holiday, so it’s not a work day,” he said. “And we anticipate a lot of fans coming in on Thursday or Friday to make a long weekend out of it.

“We’ve known about this for some time. But we’re very happy with our time slot.”

Hoolahan added that it was too early to address speculation that the Sugar Bowl might be moved off prime time on New Year’s Eve because of low ratings for the CFP semifinals. They were on New Year’s Eve last season and will be again this year.

The Sugar Bowl will be a CFP semifinal in 2017, so it will not be a factor that season.

Ferrante said that the New Orleans Bowl is happy being on the first day of the bowl season because it prevents conflicts with Christmas.

This will be the 16th year of the game’s affiliation with the Sun Belt and the 11th with R+L Carriers, the title sponsor.

Last year’s game between Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State drew an announced crowd of 32,847.

“Those were schools we’d been hoping to have for some time,” Ferrante said. “And we have been in very productive talks with R+L about extending our relationship.

“There’s a lot of instability in the bowl world these days. We feel very fortunate.”