In a year as wild as 2020 has been it would make sense that things didn’t go as planned when it came to bowl season. After UTSA beat North Texas in the regular season finale there were any number of possibilities for their next game. A Rice win over UAB would have sent UTSA to the Conference USA championship game. Then there was the unknown of what bowl, if any they might make depending on how the C-USA west race shook out.
Eventually things worked themselves out. UAB beat Rice to keep UTSA out of the conference championship game. UTSA accepted an invitation to the Tropical Smoothie Frisco Bowl on December 19 and found out their opponent would be the SMU Mustangs. The Roadrunner fanbase wasn’t too thrilled about going up against Power-5 Conference championship games but at least the bowl was close geographically.
Then 2020 did what 2020 does. SMU backed out of the Frisco Bowl on December 14 because of COVID contact tracing on their team. UTSA wouldn’t be without a dance partner long as the First Responder Bowl offered a football to the Roadrunners. In one of the great ironies of 2020 the Roadrunners would be playing their bowl game in the home stadium of the team who was their original opponent in the canceled bowl.
Then came the speculation over who the Roadrunners would play in the First Responder Bowl. The fanbase didn’t care who the opponent was, they just wanted to see the bowl game. That UTSA got upgraded from back row of coach to heated seats in first class on Boxing Day was quite an Christmas present to the Alamo City. Instead of going against Conference Championship games UTSA will get prime placement on ABC at 2:30 p.m.
Names were thrown out like a three-year old throwing wrapping paper around on Christmas morning. Eventually the opponent became known. The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
Based in Lafayette, the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns will make the 395 mile trek to SMU’s Gerald Ford Stadium to take on the Roadrunners, who had a shorter 281 mile trek to the home of their original bowl opponent. (If they wanted a proper neutral site for UTSA v. Louisiana, the stadium on the University of Houston is 217 miles from UTSA and 219 miles from Lafayette).
Louisiana has a long history as a college and playing football. The college was founded in 1898 when it was known as Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute. In 1901 SLII started a football team. The team became known as the Bulldogs. They would keep that name until 1963 when the football team became known as the Raging Cajuns. In 1974 the rest of the athletic department became known as the Ragin’ Cajuns.
While Louisiana had consistency with it’s football team name, the school underwent a few name changes over the years. In 1921 the name of SLII was changed to the Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Liberal and Technical Learning. In 1960 the name was shortened to University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL). In 1984 the Ragin’ Cajuns made their first attempt at going as the University of Louisiana. It lasted a month before the state legislature said no to the change. In 1999 USL became ULL as the name changed to University of Louisiana-Lafayette. It remains officially known as ULL but for the purpose of their football team they now go as Louisiana.
The Ragin Cajuns football team has a long history. Their first season of football in 1901 consisted of a home-and-home against Opelousas. ULL won both of those games. Louisiana has hovered around a .500 most of their history. Between 2011 and 2014 the Ragin Cajuns had to vacate 22 wins, including two bowl wins, due to NCAA infractions. After the vacated wins, Louisiana has an all-time record of 3-2 in bowls at the FBS level.
The Roadrunners finale to the 2020 season boasts quite an opponent. Louisiana enters the game ranked 19th in the College Football Playoff poll, 17th in the coaches poll and 16th in the AP poll. The Ragin Cajuns are 9-1 on the season with their lone loss being at home to Coastal Carolina. Louisiana and Coastal Carolina were named co-champions in the Sun Belt after the conference championship was called off due to positive COVID tests. Among the Ragin Cajuns big wins this season was an upset of ranked Iowa State in the season opener.
Through their 10 games this season the Ragin Cajuns have outscored opponents 339-218 (33.9 points for per game to 21.8 points against per game. Louisiana has a balanced offense with 2078 yards on the ground (207.8 per game) and 2148 yards passing (214.8 yards per game). The Cajun defense has given up more yards on the ground, 1809, than passing, 1669, this season.
The Roadrunner defense will have their hands full with Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis. In the passing game this season Lewis has completed 165 of 275 passes for 2128 yards and 17 touchdowns. Lewis has also thrown seven interceptions, something that might give hope to a Roadrunner defense that is one of the top in the country for takeaways. On the ground Lewis has 48 carries for 310 yards and five touchdowns.
The Ragin Cajuns leading rusher this season has been Elijah Mitchell with 751 yards and seven touchdowns on 122 carries. Trey Ragas leads the Ragin Cajuns with nine touchdowns on the ground. In the receiving department the Roadrunners will have to deal with three very good receivers in Jalen Williams (345 yards and three touchdowns on 19 catches), Peter LaBlanc (334 yards and one touchdown on 23 catches) and Kyren Lacy (326 yards and three touchdowns on 24 catches).
UTSA’s offense will give Louisiana’s defense a tough test. The Roadrunners seemed to hit another gear in their three games in November. Sincere McCormick will look to test the Ragin Cajuns defense while Frank Harris and the Roadrunner receiving corps will try to make it a long afternoon for the Louisiana secondary.
The Roadrunner defense had some of their best games in the last few weeks of the season. How much of that can be carried into the bowl game after three weeks off will be something to keep an eye on as the game goes along.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN BOWL NUMBER 2
There is a lot on the line for the Roadrunners on the Hilltop in Dallas on Saturday Afternoon. It is the Roadrunners first ever neutral site game and second ever bowl trip but like their first trip four years ago there is a sense that UTSA is not just happy with being in the bowl, they want to win it. Four years ago New Mexico wasn’t ranked but they were an eight-win team and UTSA came close to knocking off the Lobos.
Louisiana will be an entirely different challenge but these Roadrunners have a belief that they can get the first bowl in in bowl trip number two. It could come down to UTSA doing what it’s done all season, establishing the run and being opportunistic with takeaways.
If the Roadrunners can beat Louisiana it would be historic for a number of reasons. It would not only be the Roadrunners first ever bowl win but the first win over a ranked opponent in school history. Can the Roadrunners beat Louisiana? Sure they can. Will the Roadrunners beat Louisiana? I can see it happening. It would be quite a closing chapter in the story of the 2020 Roadrunner season.
PREDICTION: UTSA 31 LOUISIANA 27
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