UL’s football win on Saturday filled half the field for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and also gave the Sun Belt Conference the first of what league leaders hope will be a record-setting five bids into postseason bowls.
The Cajuns’ 52-30 victory over South Alabama brought UL to 7-4 heading into the road finale this Saturday at Florida Atlantic, and that record was enough for the New Orleans Bowl to issue its contracted Sun Belt bid to the Cajuns for the second straight year.
Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee, UL Monroe and possibly Western Kentucky should follow suit with bowl bids, those likely to come after Saturday’s Arkansas State-Middle Tennessee game — a de facto conference title game since both are 6-1.
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said Monday he has spoken to several bowl games and was actively involved in helping position league teams in the best possible bowl situation. But he also expressed concern that circumstances might leave WKU as an odd-man-out for the second straight year.
The league has a tie-in with the Jan. 6 GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, and that bowl will get either ASU or MTSU. Arkansas State is slotted into the Mobile game by ESPN, CBS and Scout.com’s projections, apparently anticipating a Red Wolves win on Saturday, while Middle is all over the map projection-wise — different sources have them in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit and the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
ULM is also assured of a bowl trip somewhere, a first-ever just like the Cajuns last year. An intriguing projection by ESPN has ULM and Louisiana Tech in the Shreveport bowl, a game that would draw great attention in north Louisiana but little anywhere else in the country. ULM is also listed in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham by one projection.
WKU, meanwhile, is watching the numbers game. As of this week, exactly 70 teams nationwide are bowl-eligible for the 70 spots. That number is expected to go to 71 if Pitt (5-6) beats South Florida as expected, but it could go to 72 or 73 if UConn (5-6) upsets Cincinnati and/or Georgia Tech (6-6) upsets Florida State in the ACC championship game.
WKU is locked into a bowl if 70 teams are eligible. If there are 71, they should still be in, and Central Michigan (6-6) would be the likely bowl-eligible team snubbed. That’s the feeling of the ESPN and CBS projections, which have the Hilltoppers in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman in Washington, D.C., and the Little Ceasars Bowl, respectively.
But if the number of bowl-eligible teams gets to 72 or 73, that’s not good news for the Hilltoppers.