Who: San Diego State Aztecs vs Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Where: Mercedes-Benz Supedome (New Orleans)
When: Saturday, Dec 17th at 9:00 PM EST
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4, 6-2 in Sun Belt)
Most impressive victory: 36-31 at Florida International (Sept. 24)
Worst loss: 37-45 at Arizona (Nov. 26)
Notable alumni: Jake Delhomme, Brandon Stokley, Ike Taylor and Charles Tillman
Few teams have a nickname as fun as “Ragin’ Cajuns,” and the players and fans should enjoy the fact that they won’t have far to travel to the Big Easy for Louisiana’s first bowl appearance since 1970. Coming off a 3-9 record a year ago, the team rebounded to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference. Their two conference losses were to the top finishers, Arkansas State (10-2, 8-0) and Western Kentucky (7-5, 7-1). They also dropped the opening game to Oklahoma State and final game to Arizona. Out of conference the Cajuns defeated Kent State and Nicholls State.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are led by first-year head coach Mark Hudspeth, who coached under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. On the field, QB Blaine Gautier (Junior) has thrown for 20 TDs and nearly 2,500 yards. His primary targets are Junior WRs Javone Lawson (899, 6 TDs) and Harry Peoples (647, 1 TD). Senior TE Ladarius Green is a real Red Zone threat (485, 7 TDs). Freshman RD Alonzo Harris led all scorers with 9 TDs and added 638 rushing yards. The offense was ranked 39 in passing with an average of 250 yards per game through the air and 62 overall. The defense contributed to the Cajuns’ success, but has been much better against the ground game (54) than the passing game (91). They ended the year ranked 72nd overall in total defense.
San Diego State Aztecs (8-4, 4-3 in Mountain West)
Most impressive victory: 41-27 at Air Force (Oct. 13)
Worst losses: 30-27 vs Wyoming (Oct. 29); 35-52 vs. Boise St (Nov. 19)
Notable alumni: Willie Buchanon, Isaac Curtis, Brian Sipe and Marshall Faulk
The Aztecs are 2-4 in bowl history. They defeated Navy in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl, which had been their first postseason game in 12 years. The team lost head coach Brady Hoke to Michigan last year and replaced him with defensive coordinator Rocky Long, a veteran coach who previously headed the program at New Mexico. San Diego State had out-of-conference wins against Cal Poly (49-21), Army (23-20) and Washington State (42-24). In the Mountain West they defeated Air Force (41-27), New Mexico (35-7), Colorado State (18-15), UNLV (31-14) and Fresno State (35-28). They dropped games to the three teams that finished higher in the MWC – TCU (27-14), Wyoming (30-27) and Boise State (52-35). They also fell to their former coach in Michigan (28-7).
The Aztecs are powered by Sophomore RD Ronnie Hillman who racked up 20 TDs and more than 1,600 yards rushing. Senior QB Ryan Lindley has been at the helm of the offense for four years. He’s thrown for 20 TDs and 2,740 yards this season (career: 87/12,277). Senior LB Miles Burris was the Aztec’s most outstanding defender with 80 tackles and 9.5 sacks. He also earned the team’s top academic honor. San Diego State finished the season ranked 34 overall in offense and 55 in total defense.
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|Optimum Scouting’s Players To Watch:
Louisiana Lafayette vs. San Diego State Even though it’s a match-up of two non-BCS programs, two players in particular in this game (both on offense) were at one point pegged as fringe 1st round prospects. For Louisiana Lafayette, tight end Ladarius Green had that type of potential, but hasn’t been consistent enough all year long in production, and seems a bit more stiff in his cuts down the field than initially thought. Still, he’s an Antonio Gates type tight end with great athleticism. Also, San Diego State’s quarterback Ryan Lindley has a live arm, one of the best in college football down the field, and has that gunslinger mentality. However, he’s made poor decisions with the ball consistently, doesn’t show great poise in the pocket under pressure, and at this point, looks more like a day three quarterback pick.
On the defensive side of the ball for these teams, there are four likely undrafted free agents. For ULL, cornerbacks Dwight Bentley and Melvin White both could land someplace in the NFL, with Bentley having an outside shot at being selected come April. As for San Diego State, linebacker Miles Burris and defensive tackle Jerome Long have the size to get NFL looks as well.
Pete: The Aztecs enjoy a decided advantage in talent, strength of schedule and postgame experience having played in a bowl game last year. They’ve averaged 30 ppg on offense with 24 ppg against, compared with Louisiana’s 32/30 ppg. The Aztecs have been a 4.5-point favorite since the matchup was announced. The over/under stands at 59.
Hillman is a Top-10 RB, and could be the X-factor if he can break through the Cajun’s defensive front. Noise and crowd will be decidedly in favor of the Cajun’s. Coaching may favor San Diego State in sideline years, but Louisiana’s rebound with five more wins than last year cannot be discounted.
I expect a close contest early, with the teams potentially trading scores throughout the first half. As the game moves to a close though, the Aztecs depth should be a factor.
San Diego State 45, Louisiana 35
Ross: When in doubt, side with the home team.
Louisiana 38, San Diego State 31.
Kevin: On paper this one screams San Diego State. They’ve got a Senior QB in Ryan Lindley, a franchise RB in Ronnie Hillman (he’s third in the Nation in rushing yards) and they also have three of the top 10 receivers in the MWC in terms of receptions. On the other hand, Louisiana is playing this game in their backyard. Louisiana has sold out their allotment of 18,000 tickets and the bowl has already sold a record (for this bowl) 42,000 tickets. Sounds like this is going to be a bit more than a home game for Louisiana, who plays their games at Cajun Field (which has a capacity of 31,000).
College Football By The Numbers is projecting San Diego State 33-24 and that’s what my head tells me as well. But wonky stuff happens in bowl games. I’m riding shotgun with Ross in the Cajun mobile. Give me the hometeam in a tight one.
Louisiana 31 San Diego State 28