The very last bowl game of the college football season before the national championship, the LendingTree Bowl features the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns of the Sun Belt versus the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks of the MAC. The Sun Belt has won the last four times in contests against MAC teams.
The Ragin' Cajuns (10-3, 7-1) come into this contest on somewhat of a hot streak, winning six of their last seven games. Louisiana won the Sun Belt West division before falling to Appalachian State 45-38 in the conference championship game. The 10 wins are already a school record.
The RedHawks (8-5, 6-2) were able to withstand a difficult non-conference schedule that featured Iowa, Cincinnati, and Ohio State. Even with those three losses, Miami was able to put together a strong season within the MAC, going 6-2 in their conference slate to win the East division. The RedHawks then defeated Central Michigan 26-21 to claim their first MAC championship since 2010.
Miami and Louisiana have played before, with the RedHawks winning the two previous games. This will be the first time the teams have met since 1991, a 27-14 victory for Miami.
LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana at Miami (Ohio)
Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Ala.)
Spread: Louisiana -14
When Louisiana Has the Ball
The Ragin' Cajuns are led by junior quarterback Levi Lewis. Listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Lewis has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns to four interceptions during the 2019 season. Lewis is complemented by junior running back Elijah Mitchell, who has rushed for 1,092 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground this season. Louisiana is averaging more than 500 yards of offense per game, and it will be challenging for the Miami defense to slow down this prolific attack.
The RedHawks rank in the top four of the MAC in all four major defensive categories but outside of Ohio State haven't faced an offense as explosive as the Ragin' Cajuns' this season. Louisiana enters this game eighth nationally in total offense. The highest MAC team on the FBS leaderboard is Ball State at No. 16. Miami defeated Ball State 41-27 when these teams met on Nov. 29.
When Miami (Ohio) Has the Ball
True freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert passed for 2,163 yards and 11 touchdowns. A capable game manager, Gabbert is primarily aided by running back Jaylon Bester and wide receiver Jack Sorenson. Bester enters this game with 689 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season, while Sorenson leads the RedHawks in receiving with 34 catches and four scores. Louisiana's defense has been involved in a number of shootouts against Sun Belt opponents, but Miami may prefer to play this at a tempo better suited for their personnel.
The Ragin' Cajuns are giving up 20 points per game while the RedHawks are averaging 25. But with Louisiana putting up nearly 40 a contest, it will likely take either lights-out defense or some unexpected offense from Miami to keep up with the Cajuns. The RedHawks may be wise to stay grounded when they do have the ball, as Louisiana boasts the Sun Belt's stingiest pass defense, which has collected nearly as many interceptions (10) as touchdown passes allowed (11).
Louisiana comes from a more wide-open style of play in the Sun Belt and should be able to score points when needed against a solid, if not spectacular, Miami defense. The RedHawks played well down the stretch to win the MAC, but when looking at these two teams, both had a common opponent, and that was Ohio. Louisiana was able to dispatch the Bobcats 45-25 back on Sept. 21, while Miami was able to get by its MAC East rivals 24-21 on Nov. 6. Look for the Ragin' Cajuns to earn their first victory against the RedHawks in this bowl game.
Prediction: Louisiana 35, Miami (Ohio) 24
(Top photo courtesy of @RaginCajunsFB)