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The chemistry the 2019 UL Ragin' Cajuns football team enjoys is the biggest reason for its success heading into Monday's LendingTree Bowl game against Miami of Ohio in Mobile, Ala., according to coach Billy Napier and team leaders.

A year ago, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were a bit of a surprise to many in coach Billy Napier’s first season.

The 2018 Cajuns started slow at 1-3 with two Southeastern Conference losses and then 3-4 by mid-October, before catching fire down the stretch to win the Sun Belt West and earn a spot in the inaugural Sun Belt championship game.

It was disappointing to lose to Appalachian State and then Tulane to finish 7-7, but no one had expected more, so it was a fine season … a good first step.

Things are a little different this season.

Napier is seemingly on the most-wanted list of every job opening south of the Mason-Dixon line, and this year’s team won 10 games for the first time in school history.

Yes, it was disappointing to lose again to App State, especially the way the defense performed in the first half. But it’s not as if losing in Boone, North Carolina, is an embarrassing setback.

Appalachian State is a legitimate top 25 team with wins over South Carolina and North Carolina this season. The Mountaineers have been winning for three decades.

But somehow losing to Miami of Ohio wouldn't seem the same. If this season is going to be what the athletic department wants and needs it to be historically, the Cajuns need to win Monday night.

If it’s going to be that platform for bigger and better things in the future, UL needs to win.

It doesn’t mean the Cajuns can’t win the Sun Belt next season if they lose to the Redhawks. But it would leave a bit of a black eye on this banner season that the second App State loss didn’t.

That’s not to insult Miami of Ohio.

Although the betting line has the Cajuns about a two-touchdown favorite, perhaps one could argue the Redhawks should be the favorite as the MAC champion while the Cajuns are the Sun Belt runners-up.

The Redhawks resemble last year’s UL squad. Outmatched by superior foes early in the season, they found a way to win close games to get into its conference championship game.

The difference is Miami didn’t have to travel to a powerhouse like App State. It got to play Central Michigan on a neutral field in Detroit, where, to its credit, won 26-21 to get to 8-5 on the season.

There’s nothing wrong with the Redhawks. They’ve had a fine season .. again much like the 2018 Cajuns.

But so far in 2019, UL hasn’t lost to anyone they weren’t supposed to lose to. It almost happened in the regular-season finale against ULM, but the Cajuns got a reprieve with a late field goal miss.

The word “big” can be relative to the situation. The best thing the Cajuns did was take care of business.

But in the “big” games — like the two Appalachian State challenges, UL fell short — the first one mostly of their own doing and the second time clearly by the Mountaineers.

Theoretically, a bowl game is a “big” game. After going 0-2 in the postseason last year, another 0-2 finish this season just doesn’t fit the script for Napier’s second year in Lafayette.

A loss Monday also wouldn’t fit into the Sun Belt’s plan.

Since 2016, the Sun Belt has the best bowl winning percentage of 65% of any of the Division I conferences, and the MAC is dead last in that stretch at 18.2 percent (4-18).

Simply put, the Cajuns need to win Monday for a fitting ending to the 2019 season.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.