New Orleans Bowl Preview: Jacksonville State vs. Louisiana
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks had a tremendous first season as a FBS member and they have the chance to cap it off in style because there weren’t enough teams with six wins to keep them from a bowl game. The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns are bowling for the fifth straight season and will play close to home in the New Orleans Bowl, so it does seem like there could be a big motivation edge for the favored Gamecocks in this one.
Saturday December 16, 2:15 p.m. ET
Odds as of 12/11, 5:00 p.m. PT
Jacksonville State’s first year in Conference USA went well, as the Gamecocks finished third behind undefeated Liberty, who is the Group of Five representative for the New Year’s Six bowl games, and a New Mexico State team that had 10 wins. The Gamecocks’ losses came to Coastal Carolina, Liberty, South Carolina, and New Mexico State, so they more or less won every game that they were supposed to in their first season of Division I-A play.
Based on the betting markets, they are supposed to win this one, as Jacksonville State has been bet into as high as a 3.5-point favorite, with DraftKings showing -3 and a little extra vig. Head coach Rich Rodriguez and his team will be tested here, as Louisiana racked up just shy of 6.3 yards per play as a member of a Sun Belt Conference that saw 12 of its 14 teams reach bowl eligibility with six wins.
Jacksonville State’s offense had a much less exciting mark of about 5.4 yards per play, but nearly 400 yards per game in total. The Gamecocks were 131st in average time of possession, but ran 888 plays. They had the fourth-most rushing attempts in the nation, trailing Air Force, Liberty, and Army, so expect a lot of rushing attempts in this one. It will be the final game for senior QB Zion Webb, who got approved for a seventh year of eligibility this season and wound up passing for 1,281 yards and rushing for 638 more.
Louisiana had a revolving door at QB, as Zeon Chriss, Chandler Fields, and Ben Wooldridge all saw playing time. Chriss wound up the leading passer with 1,222 yards and 11 TDs, but Fields started the last three games and posted a 7/1 TD/INT ratio. The offensive numbers told the story for the Ragin’ Cajuns over the course of the season. They had 7.02 yards per play in their six wins and 5.53 YPP in their six losses.
Maybe that’s why this line has swung in the favor of the Gamecocks, as their defense ranked 15th in yards per play allowed with 4.88. Louisiana’s defense was 41st in the nation, so they played well, but this Gamecocks crew really excelled without the football and finished among the nation’s best with a +9 turnover margin, including 16 interceptions.
These two teams played nearly identical strengths of schedule, with Louisiana at 127th and Jacksonville State at 129th per Jeff Sagarin. I think this line may have swung a little far with the expectation that Jacksonville State would be more motivated. Also, their defensive numbers are propped up a touch by their schedule. Liberty was third in the nation in yards per play and New Mexico State was ninth. The next highest Conference USA team was 53rd (Western Kentucky). The Sun Belt was full of good offensive teams.
Pick: Louisiana +3
Game Trends from Steve Makinen
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl- Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
(203) JACKSONVILLE ST vs. (204) LA LAFAYETTE
* LA LAFAYETTE is 10-0 UNDER in L10 games after playing LA MONROE
System Match: PLAY UNDER the total
* JACKSONVILLE ST is 4-1 ATS this season as a favorite
* LA LAFAYETTE is 0-7 ATS in follow-up game after winning SU by 20 points or more
Systems Match: PLAY JACKSONVILLE ST, FADE LA LAFAYETTE