Who: Tulane (6-6) vs. Louisiana (7-6)
What: Cure Bowl
When: 1:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, December 15
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Spread: Tulane -3.5
How to watch: CBS Sports Network
For just the 12th time in program history, Tulane earned a bid to a bowl game and it’s the first time since the 1980s that the Green Wave have made two bowls in the same decade. Its last trip to a bowl game was the 2013 New Orleans Bowl, which ended an 11-year bowl drought.
Tulane coach Willie Fritz has improved the Green Wave’s record by one win in each of his three seasons, taking over a program in 2016 that went 3-9 the previous fall, before going 4-8, 5-7 and now 6-6. A win on Saturday would mark Tulane’s first winning season in five years and its first bowl win since the 2002 Hawaii Bowl.
Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings place Tulane at No. 90 in the country with the nation’s No. 59 defense and No. 107 offense. After starting the season 2-5 with narrow losses to Wake Forest (23-17), UAB (31-24) and SMU (27-23), the Green Wave won four of its final five games, including road wins at Tulsa and South Florida.
Its 29-28 win over Navy in its regular season finale sealed its bowl destiny.
Tulane can be an offensively challenged group that averages just over 25 points per game. However, it’s a fairly strong rushing team that converts at a high level in the red zone. The Green Wave actually average more rushing yards (208) than passing yards (186). It’s even worse at defending the pass, allowing an average of 266 yards per game through the air, which ranks 115th out of 130 FBS teams. It’s rushing attack versus Louisiana’s rush defense could be a favorable matchup given that the Ragin’ Cajuns allow 210 rushing yards per game.
Tulane struggles extending drives with a 34 percent third-down conversion percentage and it’s even worse on fourth down — 8 of 25 (32 percent), which ranks 127th nationally. However, Louisiana also struggles at preventing third and fourth-down conversions, ranking 115th and 128th in those categories, respectively.
In his first season at Louisiana, coach Billy Napier has led the Ragin’ Cajuns to their best record since 2014. They played in the Sun Belt Championship, where they lost to Appalachian State 30-19 — their second road loss to the Mountaineers this season. Louisiana also lost at Mississippi State and Alabama as part of its non-conference schedule, so it went 7-2 this season against teams that weren’t the Sun Belt champs or in the SEC.
The Ragin’ Cajuns average roughly a touchdown more than the Green Wave and they have a top-20 rushing offense (229.1 rushing yards/game), which means this matchup could be decided by which team can dominate the time of possession through long drives. That’s where Louisiana could have a clear advantage as it converts on third down at a top-10 rate in the sport (48 percent), behind schools like Alabama, UCF and Oklahoma.
Louisiana has three quality running backs in Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais, each of whom averages more yards per carry than the last. Ragas has eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards this season, Mitchell is less than 50 away from a 1,000-yard season and Calais — the third-string back — has rushed for more than 700 yards this season.
Louisiana has as stark of a contrast as you’ll find between the strength of its offense and defense. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ offense ranks No. 36 nationally, according to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ rankings, while its defense is 111th.
Here are some statistical strengths of each team, as well as players to watch.
Rushing yards per game: 208 (30th)
Red zone conversion percentage: 88.9 percent (25th)
Red zone touchdown percentage: 66.7 percent (35th)
Opponent third down conversion percentage: 33.9 percent (24th)
Opponent red zone conversion percentage: 76.7 percent (20th)
Players to watch
RB Darius Bradwell — 166 carries, 984 rushing yards, 9 TD
WR Darnell Mooney — 47 receptions, 987 receiving yards, 8 TD
DE Patrick Johnson — 46 total tackles, 15.5 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 4 FF
CB Donnie Lewis Jr. — 54 total tackles, 3 INT, 16 PD
Rushing yards per game: 229 (19th)
Third down conversion percentage: 48 percent (10th)
Red zone conversions: 89 percent (23rd)
Touchdown percentage in the red zone: 71 percent (19th)
Players to watch
RB Trey Ragas — 197 carries, 1,141 rushing yards, 8 TD
RB Elijah Mitchell — 139 carries, 951 rushing yards, 12 TD
RB Raymond Calais — 78 carries, 713 rushing yards, 6 TD
WR Ja’Marcus Bradley — 38 receptions, 557 receiving yards, 10 TD
LB Jacques Boudreaux — 87 total tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks