Nevada Wolf Pack vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (PK, 60 o/u)
The 2014 bowl season starts with a matchup between the Nevada Wolf Pack and Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday, December 20, at the Superdome (11:00 a.m. Eastern).
Nevada finished the season with a 7-5 record straight up and against the spread, and a 4-4 conference record in the Mountain West. The Wolf Pack enter bowl season on a high-note after beating UNLV (49-27) in their last outing, snapping a two game losing streak.
In reality, Nevada was an average team in an average conference. The team doesn’t do anything particularly well, nor does it have any glaring holes. The running game is solid, averaging 215.2 yards per game (32nd in the nation), but the passing game only puts up 197.8 per game (94th), and, as a whole, the offense scores a pedestrian 31.3 points on average (52nd). The offense is the comparative strength of the team though, as the Wolf Pack allow 28.2 points per game (79th in the country).
If you’d tried to predict who Nevada would lose to at the start of the season, you probably would have circled road games at Arizona and Air Force, and home tilts against the class of the Mountain West, Boise State and Colorado State. Lo and behold, the Wolf Pack dropped those four games (plus a late-season home game to Fresno State) and won the rest. Their best wins were a 42-35 victory at BYU and 30-14 triumph over San Diego State, who won the weaker West division of the Mountain West.
Nevada head coach Brian Polian said he wants his team to be relaxed and enjoy the scene, but he’s also concerned his young team may be a bit overwhelmed by the Big Easy.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I’m not worried about some of the youngsters,” he said. “I’m also worried about some of the places in New Orleans, you take a wrong turn and go two blocks, you go from a tourist area to a rough spot.”
The Wolf Pack will be facing a Louisiana-Lafayette team that is all too familiar with New Orleans. This is the fourth year in a row that the Cajuns will play in the New Orleans bowl, and they are a perfect 3-0 so far, winning 32-30 over San Diego State in 2011, 43-34 over East Carolina in 2012, and 24-21 over Tulane in 2013).
On the season, Louisiana-Lafayette posted an 8-4 record, going 6-5-1 against the spread. They were 7-1 in Sun Belt conference play, but the conference features several of the weakest teams in the FBS and the Cajuns never had to play conference champion Georgia Southern.
Statistically, the Ragin’ Cajuns are almost a mirror image to the Wolf Pack. The Cajuns average slightly more yards on the ground (228.4 per game) but pass for slightly fewer (188.9); points-wise, they score 30.6 per game and allow 27.9.
After opening the season 1-3 (including a 56-15 loss at No. 9 Ole Miss and a 34-9 loss at No. 20 Boise State), Louisiana-Lafayette won six straight, all against conference opponents. They dropped a late season game to Appalachian State, but bounced back with a win over Troy in their last outing.
“We haven’t forgotten what happened that Saturday,” Coach Mark Hudspeth said about the loss to Appalachian State. “But we told our guys we’re not going to allow this to linger on. We did that against Tech [a 48-20 loss in the second game of the year], but one game doesn’t identify who we are. We can still win eight of our last nine, and that would be a big rebound from where the season started.”
This is currently a pick’em game, and the over/under is at 60 points. While Nevada has played better competition this year and likely has the more talented team, the Cajuns have proved a tough out in New Orleans.
Moreover, Nevada has not had much bowl game success, going 4-9 all-time and losing its last two (49-48 to Arizona in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl and 24-17 to Southern Miss in the 2011 Hawai’i Bowl).
With the game in Louisiana, the Cajuns will have de facto home-field advantage. Take the Cajuns on home soil.
(Photo credit: Ken Lund (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)