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Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- From left, Athletic Director Scott Farmer, Pres. E. Joseph Savoie and UL-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth hoist the trophy after the second half of the New Orleans Bowl. UL-Lafayette won 24-21.

The winner of the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Football Championship Game will represent the conference at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the conference announced Friday.

The Sun Belt champ will be matched against a Conference USA team in the bowl, which will be played at 8 p.m. Dec. 15 on ESPN in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and Sun Belt football have been linked together from the inception of both in 2001 and we are excited to carry on our longstanding relationship with the game in this new and exciting way,” Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said in a news release. 

The Sun Belt’s first title game will be played at 11 a.m. Dec. 1. The host team will be the divisional champion with the best overall conference winning percentage.

Troy (8-2, 6-0 Sun Belt), Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1) and Georgia Southern (7-3, 4-2 lead the East Division. 

The Trojans have a chance at locking up the East Division on Saturday if they can win at home over Texas State (3-7, 1-5), coupled with an Appalachian State home loss to Georgia State (2-8, 1-5). If the Mountaineers (7-2, 5-1) win Saturday, regardless if Troy wins, it sets up a de facto championship game on Nov. 24 in Boone for the East title.

UL-Monroe (6-4, 4-2), Arkansas State (6-4, 3-3) and UL-Lafayette (5-5, 3-3) are in the hunt for the West Division title.

ULM visits Arkansas State on Saturday while UL-Lafayette hosts South Alabama (2-8, 1-5). Should the Warhawks and Ragin' Cajuns both win, they would play in a winner-take-all game on Nov. 24 in Monroe. An Arkansas State win over ULM on Saturday keeps the Red Wolves in the hunt for the West Division title.

Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, ULM and Troy are all bowl eligible. Coastal Carolina and UL-Lafayette are in striking distance of bowl eligibility with five wins apiece.