R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Date: Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome | New Orleans
Best moment: Even after a nine-win season a year ago, it was a big deal to get bowl eligible in the first year under Jay Hopson, the Golden Eagles’ fifth coach in nine years. Southern Miss did it in the regular-season finale against Conference USA West Division champ Louisiana Tech, getting 342 yards through the air from Nick Mullens and 12 receptions from D.J. Thompson.
Lowest moment: Charlotte rolled off 31 straight points and knocked out Mullens with a head injury in a 38-27 win at Southern Miss. The 49ers, a fourth-year program in only their second season at the FBS level, earned perhaps their biggest win ever in the Week 10 debacle for the Golden Eagles, who nearly went off the rails after this defeat.
Key player: Go with Mullens, the veteran QB who threw for 2,926 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games. When he went down against Charlotte, so did the hopes of Southern Miss. It lost to Old Dominion and North Texas without him before Mullens returned for senior day. His 86 career TD passes are a school record.
Motivation level: The Golden Eagles were highly motivated to win their finale and get back to the postseason. Expect a similar mindset in the bowl game. While never a given for a 6-6 team, Southern Miss wanted to extend its season. One more game serves as a reward for their resiliency. -- Mitch Sherman
Best moment: The Ragin’ Cajuns barely kept their bowl hopes alive on Nov. 26 when they held on for a 24-19 win over Arkansas State. Arkansas State appeared to score the winning touchdown when Joseph Bacchus scooped up quarterback Justice Hansen's last-gasp pitch and ran it in for a touchdown. However, replay officials ruled that Hansen’s knee was down before the pitch, sealing the Cajuns’ wild win.
Lowest moment: The midseason skid where the Cajuns lost four of five games, culminating with a homecoming defeat against Idaho, was the low period of the season. Included in that stretch were a quadruple-overtime loss at Tulane and a double-overtime loss at New Mexico State before getting shut out at home by Appalachian State. At that point, the Cajuns were 3-5 and had little hope of reaching bowl eligibility.
Key player: Running back Elijah McGuire still gets the nod here. He leads the team with 918 rushing yards and also has 231 receiving yards and a total of eight touchdowns. The senior has not matched his impressive production from the previous two seasons, but he’s still a dangerous runner and the Cajuns’ top offensive threat.
Motivation level: Moderate. There were all kinds of reasons to doubt whether the Cajuns would even make it to a bowl game, so getting to this point is quite an achievement. But this has not been the most memorable year for the ULL football program and this season’s ups and downs mirrored that disappointment. -- David Ching