The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns football program will make its seventh bowl appearance this decade when it officially received the invitation from the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, on Sunday.
The Cajuns will play Mid-American Conference champion Miami of Ohio at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 6, at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium.
It’ll be the second trip to that stadium this year for the Cajuns, who defeated South Alabama 37-27 on Nov. 16.
In coach Billy Napier’s first season as head coach of the UL Ragin’ Cajuns, the program took a big first step toward respectability.
The loser of the Sun Belt championship game seemed headed to the LendingTree Bowl all along, but in recent weeks, speculation began that a 12-win Appalachian State would try to force its way into a bowl closer to its North Carolina home.
Prior to Saturday’s title game in Boone, North Carolina, though, Sun Belt Conference commissioner Keith Gill insisted the league would fulfill all contractual obligations to its five bowl partners.
“It came all the way down to the last minute, before we actually knew what we were going to do,” LendingTree Bowl President Jerry Silverstein said. “It fell this way, and we’re very happy with the teams we have.”
That indeed happened Sunday with Appalachian State going to the New Orleans Bowl, Arkansas State going to the Camellia Bowl, Georgia State to the Arizona Bowl and Georgia Southern to the Cure Bowl.
“We’re getting the champion from the MAC, who ended up having a really good year in winning their championship,” Silverstein said. “Plus, we get Louisiana, which made it to their conference championship game. Both teams have had a really good year and we think it’s going to be a really good matchup.”
The recipe for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns in nine of their 10 wins was pretty much the same.
The Cajuns will enter the game 10-3 after falling 45-38 to Appalachian State on Saturday.
After raising the New Orleans Bowl trophy four straight seasons under coach Mark Hudspeth, however, the Cajuns have lost their past two bowl games. UL lost to Southern Miss 28-21 in 2016 in New Orleans and then to Tulane 41-24 in the Cure Bowl last December in coach Billy Napier’s first season.
“I’m excited because we get another chance to play football, especially being a senior, I get one more chance to go out the right way,” senior receiver Jarrod Jackson said.
“That (winning this bowl) is important. Last year, we didn’t finish the right way. We weren’t where our feet were. We were thinking ahead. We didn’t prepare the right way. That’s something I’m big on … to do the little things right and continue, so we can win another game.”
It will be UL’s first appearance in the Mobile bowl, which was previously known as the Mobile Bowl in 1999, the GMAC Bowl for 10 years, the GoDaddy.com Bowl for six years and the Dollar General Bowl the past three seasons. LendingTree took over as the official sponsor during the season.
BOONE, N.C. — The process of reading in between the lines continues when it comes to the Sun Belt Conference bowl picture.
“We’re extremely excited about the announcement today,” Napier said. “It’s certainly a great matchup. To play a conference champion I think is a tremendous opportunity for this team to continue its legacy. This is a special team.”
For a departing senior like Raymond Calais, the bowl offers one last opportunity to prepare for a game with his teammates.
“It means everything to me, being a senior and having another chance to compete,” Calais said. “We are really excited to play and get wait to get after it.
“Being that it’s my last time to ever strap on the pads and wear ‘Louisiana’ across my chest, there’s going to be a lot of emotions, but I can’t wait to play.”
Miami (Ohio), on the other hand, has played in this bowl twice — beating Louisville 49-28 in 2003 and Middle Tennessee 35-21 in 2010.
The game will mark the third all-time meeting between the two schools. Miami defeated UL 27-14 in Lafayette in 1991 and then again 29-28 in Oxford, Ohio in Jake Delhomme’s first collegiate start.
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Miami (Ohio) won the MAC crown Saturday with a 26-21 win over Central Michigan in Detroit to improve to 8-5 on the season. The Redhawks went 6-2 in winning the East Division during league play.
The two teams have one common opponent in Ohio University, which lost to the RedHawks 24-21 and lost to the Cajuns 45-25 on Sept. 21.
For the record, the largest crowd in the bowl’s history was 40,646 in 2001 when Marshall played Louisville. The bowl has announced crowds of over 40,000 five times in the two decades of existence.
Ticket prices range from $15 to $45.