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Bowl Breakdown: New Orleans

Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. San Diego St. (8-4)Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch: Ronnie Hillman. If you haven't heard of the Aztecs' sophomore sensation, it's time to get acquainted. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder led San Diego State to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in program history and finished with 1,656 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns this season, third and sixth in the FBS, respectively. He's already come through in a postseason setting: During last year's San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Hillman accounted for 244 yards (228 rushing, 16 receiving) and four total touchdowns in a 35-14 rout of Navy.

Keep an eye on: Which quarterback steps up, San Diego State's Ryan Lindley or Louisiana-Lafayette's Blake Gauthier. Lindley is more experienced, throwing for more than 12,000 yards in his career as a four-year starter. But Gauthier has been terrific, compiling a 150.33 passer rating, 19th in the nation, and 20 touchdown passes to tie a school record set by Jake Delhomme. And don't overlook the coaches. Both the Aztecs' Rocky Long and the Ragin' Cajuns' Mark Hudspeth went 8-4 in their inaugural campaigns, the latter reversing a program that has gone just 18-30 since 2007. The perennial Sun Belt bottomfeeder's last bowl appearance came in 1970 against Tennessee State in the Grantland Rice Bowl.

Did you know: Louisiana-Lafayette boasts one of the most opportunistic defenses in D-I history. Really. The Ragin' Cajuns' seven interception returns for touchdowns match Tennessee's 1971 total as an NCAA record. San Diego State fields a potent turnover machine of its own: Cornerback Larry Parker collected seven picks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his standout senior season.

Final analysis: Louisiana-Lafayette's defense has been extremely porous of late, allowing an average of 453 yards and 34.4 points over its last five games. Hillman has only gotten stronger, amassing 370 rushing yards and six scores in his last two contests. That combination -- coupled with a strong performance from linebacker Miles Burris (eight sacks, 19 tackles for loss) -- will be enough to overcome Louisiana-Lafayette's in-state advantage and spark a convincing Aztec victory.

The pick: San Diego State 38, Louisiana-Lafayette 24

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