Could UL really play a bowl game on Christmas, or is a return to New Orleans likely?

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Ragin’ Cajuns probably can forget about the New Orleans Bowl should they make it to this season’s Sun Belt Conference championship game.

But might they play in a Christmas Day bowl?

Anything’s possible in wacky 2020. Even that.

The New Orleans Bowl will be played Dec. 23, on a Wednesday afternoon, at the Superdome; the Camellia Bowl will be played Dec. 25, also in the afternoon, according to a list of bowl dates for the COVID-19 impacted season released Friday by ESPN.

With the Sun Belt title game scheduled Dec. 19, its participants would have a tough four-day turnaround to play in New Orleans.

“That would be pretty challenging, I think,” UL athletic director Bryan Maggard said Saturday night in San Marcos, Texas, before UL’s 44-34 win over Texas State.

Which is why it probably won’t happen.

UL:The Ragin' Cajuns will press pause button on Election Day

Ragin' Cajuns football:UL cornerback Eric Garror 'had a ball' with two interceptions vs. Texas State

“We had a call with the conference office,” Maggard said, “and, at least, it seemed pretty unlikely that the champion or the runner-up would play in the New Orleans Bowl.

“I think just the timing is too tight.”

Possibility to return to New Orleans

What possibilities does that leave the 5-1 Cajuns, who’ve played in five New Orleans Bowls since 2011?

The Sun Belt title game participants may not even be known until after UL visits two-time championship game winner Appalachian State on Dec. 4, a Friday-night game rescheduled due to a COVID outbreak in the Mountaineers’ program.

The SBC frequently has sent its champion to the New Orleans Bowl, which for a long time was the league’s premier postseason game. Other years – 2011-14; 2016 – the Cajuns went as an attractive gate draw for the game, which often had first pick of Sun Belt bowl-eligible teams.

But as part of a new contract that runs through 2026, the Sun Belt’s postseason lineup includes placement in three ESPN Events owned-and-operated bowls, plus participation in the New Orleans Bowl and the Dec. 26 LendingTree Bowl in Mobile.

Top player:UL Ragin' Cajuns running back Trey Ragas makes a difference with 131 yards, 3 touchdowns

UL coach Billy Napier celebrates last January's LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio) in Mobile.

Also new: ESPN Events holds the first, third and fourth picks while the New Orleans Bowl controls the second selection and the LendingTree Bowl has the fifth pick.

ESPN Events will use a flex model to select Sun Belt teams into a pool of games that primarily includes the Camellia Bowl, the Dec. 21 Myrtle Beach Bowl in South Carolina (new) and the Dec. 26 Cure Bowl.

UL beat Miami (Ohio) in last season’s LendingTree Bowl and lost to Tulane in the 2018 Cure Bowl.

But also in the ESPN Events pool as possibilities for SBC teams this year are the Dec. 19 Frisco Bowl in Texas, the Dec. 22 Boca Raton Bowl in Florida, the Dec. 22 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, the Dec. 24 New Mexico Bowl (likely to be relocated to Texas this year due to COVID) and the Dec. 26 First Responder Bowl in Dallas.

That doesn’t leave many realistic options in a year nothing’s guaranteed.

Return:Ragin' Cajuns thrilled to have 6-6 receiver Calif Gossett back from Achilles tendon surgery

But it does seemingly make the Cure Bowl, LendingTree Bowl and Camellia Bowl on Christmas very real potential destinations for Sun Belt title game teams – while perhaps leaving the New Orleans Bowl largely out of luck when it comes to getting one of the top two.

“I knew with that date that there would be the potential that we might be jeopardizing (getting) participants of the championship games,” said New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante, whose game typically pits a Sun Belt team against one from Conference USA.

“But that’s for the coaches and the (athletic directors) to decide … if a quick turnaround like that is preferable, or is doable, or is safe.

“Player recovery and safety is a big issue, you know?” Ferrante said. “So … that is that.”

'We have to be flexible'

UL currently leads the Sun Belt West Division and is on track for a third straight title game appearance.

But if the Cajuns, who play to host Arkansas State on Saturday morning, were to slip and not make the championship game, it could make them available for New Orleans, where this year’s game will be played later than usual.

UL quarterback Levi Lewis:'I've got to take charge and just play ball'

UL coach:Billy Napier likes how quarterback Levi Lewis responded to mistakes in loss

That’s because Ferrante had limited options with Superdome bookings being jam-packed in late December with New Orleans Saints home games scheduled Dec. 20 and 25, high school state championship games starting Dec. 26 and the Sugar Bowl set for Jan. 1 with setup time needed beforehand.

It’s all because COVID-19 has thrown everything of whack.

“One of the things everybody has preached is we have to be flexible and we have to be patient this year,” Ferrante said. “We have done that, and we’re gonna continue to do that.”

If things were normal, the New Orleans Bowl would have been played Dec. 19 and the Sun Belt title game long before that. Instead, dates have been rearranged and bowl officials have had to improvise.

Considering the circumstances, Ferrante is satisfied.

He’d prefer a weekend game. But he’s happy to be playing before Christmas and pleased with an afternoon kickoff.

“There was not much flexibility there in terms of what our options were,” Ferrante said. “But I do like it.

“We were fortunate to find a date that worked for us within the calendar of availability in the stadium.”

UL football:Cajuns safeties Solomon, Pedescleaux took different routes to same place