After the announcements of bowl matchups late Saturday night, only two Sun Belt Conference teams were placed in bowls, co-champions Louisiana (8-4) and Arkansas State (7-5).
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns will play Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl on Sat., Dec. 21 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, while the Arkansas State Red Wolves will face Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl at Mobile's Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Sun., Jan 5.
Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson expressed his disappointment in a released statement through the league office Sunday night addressing the issue of bowl invitations. Here are a few pertinent paragraphs of his statement to this article.
“The 2013 regular season was the most competitive in the 13-year history of the Sun Belt - we had seven teams with records strong enough to qualify for bowls, the best ever non-conference win record, and a 6-1 record against our peer conferences - Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West Conference.
When it was all over, Louisiana and Arkansas State emerged as the league's co-champions with the Cajuns accepting a bid to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and Arkansas State being selected by the Sun Belt's second primary bowl, the GoDaddy Bowl.
I am extremely disappointed, that while our efforts were very aggressive, we ended up not being able to place more than two of our bowl eligible teams - especially Western Kentucky University with an 8-4 record. While the current bowl system is beneficial, the system is flawed when in the last two years three teams with eight or more wins - WKU, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech - are denied post season opportunities when 12 teams last season with 6-6 records and seven teams this season are allowed to play in bowl games. This comes in addition to 6-7 teams being allowed to play in bowl games in 2012 and 2011.
With all of this being said, it is important to reiterate several important facts.
First, the champion of the Sun Belt Conference does not automatically go to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Second, while the Sun Belt has suggested guidelines on how we would like teams to be selected for bowls, both the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and GoDaddy Bowl ultimately have the freedom to choose the team that they feel is best for their game.
The most obvious omission from a bowl is Western Kentucky (8-4) with a prominent name at head coach in Bobby Petrino at the helm. While Western Kentucky is scheduled to leave the Sun Belt Conference for the 2014 season, they have paid their dues in the conference over the past five years and should have found a place in a bowl game.
The Cajun Redzone takes a closer look at each bowl eligible Sun Belt team and how they could have helped their own cause in playing in a bowl game this holiday season.
While the Ragin’ Cajuns failed to win the outright Sun Belt championship with back to back losses the last two weekends of the season to ULM and USA, they are the obvious choice for the R & L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. No other program has sold more tickets and delivered the attendance numbers Louisiana has the past two years. The Ragin’ Cajuns bowl resume is solid gold in New Orleans.
Arkansas State (7-5)
The Red Wolves had to depend upon conference mates to help win a share of the conference championship this season after losing to the Ragin’ Cajuns 23-7 in Jonesboro earlier in the season. Much like Louisiana, Arkansas States’ bowl resume has been gold in the Go Daddy Bowl over the past two years. They have delivered very good ticket sales and attended the game in good numbers. It came down to Arkansas State and Western Kentucky this year and the Go Daddy Bowl went with the save bet.
Western Kentucky (8-4)
Sadly Western Kentucky is left out in the cold because the Sun Belt has no primary third bowl tie-in this year. But Western Kentucky also shares some responsibility for the lack of interest in their program, even with a name coach like Bobby Petrino. One needs to look no further than their average home attendance of 19,000 to understand the reluctance to invite their program to a bowl. And while their fans will claim those attendance numbers aren’t bad for a young FBS program, they are indeed not good for any FBS program.
South Alabama (6-6)
Coach Jones has done a remarkable job of improving the Jaguar program in a few short years in Mobile, but a young FBS program was not going to garner much interest from any bowl with a 6-6 record this season. For now, USA fans will just have to settle for a 30-8 win over Louisiana as their bowl game this season.
Troy has had a solid bowl resume in the past and still holds the record of attending five bowl games amongst current Sun Belt members. Had Troy found another win or two this season, there was a good chance the Go Daddy Bowl would have sent them the invitation instead of Arkansas State.
Louisiana-Monroe looked to be a solid choice to become a bowl team this season with the return of All-Conference QB Kolton Browning and after a solid road win over Wake Forrest it looked as though the Warhawks were well on their way. But an injury to Browning would sidetrack their bowl ambitions and end their season with a 6-6 record. With no bowl invitation , Warhawk fans are perfectly happy to celebrate their win over the Ragin’ Cajuns at Cajun Field as their bowl this season, finally breaking Louisiana’s five game winning streak in the series.
Texas State (6-6)
Texas State was well on its way to making a statement for a bowl after an early November win over Idaho, pushing their record to 6-3 at the time. But losses to Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Troy in consecutive games all but ended their bowl hopes for the 2013 season. The Bobcats are another young FBS program on the rise and are sure to play a major role in the battle for the 2014 Sun Belt Championship.