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New Orleans Bowl preview: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. East Carolina

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4)
Dec. 22, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Ragin' Cajuns: Under coach Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette is becoming accustomed to going to the postseason. That's notable considering the program had two bowl berths before last season - the 1944 Oil Bowl and the 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl. This is the second straight bowl berth for the Cajuns, and last year's bowl appearance was a last-second win over San Diego State, also in the New Orleans Bowl. Last year, the bowl set a record for attendance of 42,841 and this year there will probably be another pro-Cajuns crowd.

About the Pirates: East Carolina is led by a trio of stars at the skill positions.

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ECU WR Justin Hardy (USA Today Sports Images)

Quarterback Shane Carden began the season as the backup, but emerged to throw for 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the regular season. A huge majority of his passes go to Justin Hardy, who has 83 catches for 1,046 yards this season, including a school record 16 catches in ECU's last game. Nobody else on East Carolina has more than 354 yards or 31 catches this season. The Ragin' Cajuns will know exactly where East Carolina wants to go with the ball, but it has been impossible for anyone to stop it so far this season. And ECU can also use running back Vintavious Cooper, who had just 28 carries through four games to start the season but ended the year as the workhorse with 1,030 yards.

Key number: 1-5
In East Carolina's last six bowl appearances, the Pirates have just one win. That streak dates back to 2001, when they lost 64-61 to Marshall in the highest scoring bowl game in history. The only bowl win since then came in 2007 against Boise State.

The breakdown: This game has the look of a high-scoring affair, because both teams have capable playmakers. East Carolina scored at least 40 points in four of its last six games. Louisiana-Lafayette has scored less than 23 points in a game just once this season, and that was a 20-point outing against a Florida team that has one of the best defenses in college football.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Louisiana-Lafayette 40, East Carolina 31
This is a Cajuns team that outplayed Florida for most of a game at Gainesville and lost on a last-minute blocked punt. That's the same Florida team which finished third in the BCS standings and will play in the Sugar Bowl in a couple weeks. The Cajuns are a good team and will have a pseudo home-field advantage.

Graham Watson: Louisiana-Lafayette 33, ECU 21
I think we’ve learned this season that you should never sleep on the Sun Belt. It's a good conference and the Ragin’ Cajuns are one of the best teams no one’s talking about. They won four of their last five (and should have beaten Florida) and should be able to handle East Carolina, which has been streaky most of the season.

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