The 2018 bowl season officially kicks off with a meeting between in-state foes as the Tulane Green Wave face the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Kickoff is set for 1:30 EST on Saturday, December 15, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
Oddsmakers currently list the Green Wave as 3.5-point favorites. The over/under is set at 59 points. Click here to check out the betting odds for all of this year’s college football bowl games.
For Tulane, just getting to a bowl game was a big deal. The Green Wave’s last bowl game came in 2013, and it was also played against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Under Willie Fritz, Tulane won four of their final five games to become bowl eligible. For what it’s worth, they were also part of a three-way tie for first place in the AAC South division. The school gave Fritz a contract extension after last year’s 5-7 campaign, believing that he had the program moving in the right direction. Fritz has confirmed that faith by reaching a bowl game in his third season with the Green Wave. With a win in the Cure Bowl, Fritz can also give Tulane their first winning season since 2013.
As for the Ragin’ Cajuns, bowl games have been a more common occurrence. Under Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana went bowling five times between 2011 and 2016, always going to the New Orleans Bowl. The Cajuns won four of those five games, even if two of them have since been vacated, including the win over Tulane in 2013. More importantly, Billy Napier has taken the Ragin’ Cajuns to a bowl game in his first season as head coach. Like Tulane, Louisiana won four of their last five regular season games. However, they lost to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Championship Game, making them 7-6 heading into bowl season.
Despite both of these schools sharing a state, there’s not much of a rivalry between them. That being said, they’ve met three previous times this decade. The Green Wave won a 41-39 thriller in 2016. However, the Ragin’ Cajuns won the New Orleans Bowl against Tulane in 2013 and also had a convincing 41-13 win the previous year.
While these two aren’t rivals, the in-state factors should ensure that both teams play with maximum effort. With that in mind, I think Tulane is the better team. They come from a better conference and played a far more challenging schedule. Just being in a bowl game also means more to the Green Wave, so I’ll swallow a few points and lean toward Tulane to cover.
Tulane’s turnaround late in the season coincided with Justin McMillan taking over at quarterback. McMillan didn’t exactly post outlandish numbers, as he’s only completed 50% of his passes on the season. However, he’s more of a threat to throw the ball down the field than his predecessor Jonathan Banks. McMillan also gave the Green Wave much more of a running threat at the quarterback position. Tulane already had a solid backfield duo in Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, but adding McMillan’s legs to the equation made them that much more potent offensively.
Meanwhile, the Louisiana defense has plenty of holes in it, giving up over 33 points per game this season. Even if you take out blowout losses to Alabama and Mississippi State, the Ragin’ Cajuns still gave up over 30 points per game while playing in the weaker of the two Sun Belt divisions. Even in wins against weak teams like Georgia State and South Alabama late in the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns were shredded on the ground, which makes me think the Tulane rushing attack will have a big day even with McMillan’s inconsistency as a passer.
To be fair, the Louisiana offense is not lacking for talent. The Cajuns also have a potent rushing attack, as the running back Tandem of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell combined for over 2,000 yards this season. Senior quarterback Andre Nunez also provided more than enough of a passing threat to give Lafayette plenty of balance on offense.
Of course, Louisiana’s weak schedule has to be taken into account. After all, the Ragin’ Cajuns beat just one team that’s playing in a bowl. Nunez also saw a huge dip in his numbers against quality teams like Appalachian State and Troy. He also threw 12 interceptions on the season, most of them coming when the competition stepped up a notch.
Against Tulane, the Ragin’ Cajuns will once again be facing a tough defense. Against a schedule that included eight bowl teams, the Green Wave gave up less than 28 points per game. They also stepped up late in the season, giving up less than 20 points in three of their final five games. Given Louisiana’s balance, the Tulane defense may bend a little, but I don’t think they’ll break.
Ultimately, I have a lot more trust in the Tulane defense than I do Louisiana’s defense. Both teams will have success on offense, but the Green Wave has a better chance to slow down the run and force turnovers. That’s enough to make me think Tulane will create enough separation to cover the 3.5-point spread.