East Carolina (8-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-5)
Dec. 22, Noon ET (ESPN)
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? Reason to watch: Fans of high-flying offense should make their way to the Superdome for this pre-Christmas shootout on Dec. 22. East Carolina navigated its Conference USA slate to finish 35th in the country with 272.8 passing yards per game. Louisiana-Lafayette's passing attack, meanwhile, ranks 49th in the nation with 256.3. Adding to the offensive potential: Neither team found success defending the pass this season, finishing in the bottom 20. And potent or not, the Ragin' Cajuns are hardly veterans of the postseason: Last year's 32-30 New Orleans Bowl win over San Diego State was Louisiana-Lafayette's first bowl appearance since 1970, so two straight bowl victories would be unprecedented for the new Sun Belt power. Meanwhile, the Pirates had reached the postseason in five straight years before last season's 5-7 finish, so earning a ninth win would cap a nice comeback campaign for ECU.
? Keep an eye on: The quarterback battle. ULL's Terrance Broadway took over for last season's New Orleans' Bowl MVP, Blaine Gautier, in September and helped guide the Cajuns to their second straight appearance in the Superdome. A transfer from Houston, Broadway passed for 2,526 yards with 16 touchdowns, including 300 yards or more in three of his final six regular-season games. East Carolina's Shane Carden reeled off 21 touchdowns and 2,838 passing yards for the Pirates, and he set a school record with 439 yards in an overtime win against Marshall in ECU's regular-season finale. Both passers should have no trouble putting up big numbers against these defenses, but the man with the better stat line will likely go home with the win.
? Did you know: The Cajuns led then-No. 7 Florida, 20-13, on Nov. 10 with less than two minutes to play in Gainesville before the Gators tied it, then ran back a blocked punt for the winning touchdown with two ticks left.
? Final analysis: Louisiana-Lafayette will be playing in a de-facto home game in New Orleans, where the Cajuns have a good history after last season's win in the same bowl. East Carolina, on the other hand, has lost five of its last six postseason appearances. Both teams will have trouble stopping the other's passing attack, but the x-factor might be the rushing game. The Pirates have a 1,000-yard rusher in junior Vintavious Cooper, but ULL's duo of Broadway and tailback Alonzo Harris, who combined for 16 rushing scores this season, will give the Cajuns an edge on the ground.
? The pick: Louisiana-Lafayette 35, East Carolina 31