The 2021 New Orleans Bowl will be a high-caliber Group of Five showdown featuring No. 23 Louisiana and Marshall as the programs square off for the first time. It will be Marshall's first appearance in the game, while Louisiana will be making its sixth appearance in the contest after playing in it during five of six seasons between 2011 and 2016.
The Ragin' Cajuns have recently ascended to power in the Group of Five ranks and are coming off a Sun Belt Championship, while the Thundering Herd are a storied program coming off a 7-5 regular season under first-year coach Charles Huff. A win for Marshall would give it a jolt of momentum to cap Huff's debut campaign after a series of closes losses this season. A victory for Louisiana would jumpstart Michael Desormeaux's tenure as head coach.
Desormeaux is replacing Billy Napier, who left after the Sun Belt title game to take over at Florida after guiding the Ragin' Cajuns to three consecutive double-digit win seasons to cap a successful four-year run. While it's the first meeting between the programs, it won't be the last as Marshall will join the Sun Belt for the 2023 season, at the latest.
Louisiana vs. Marshall: Need to know
Turnover trouble: Louisiana led the Sun Belt and tied for third nationally in turnover margin with a +13 mark this season, while Marshall ranked near the bottom nationally in that category with a -5 mark. But if the Thundering Herd can limit catastrophic miscues, they are plenty capable of putting up points, as they rank 10th nationally in total offense.
Red zone woes: Another key trend to watch in this game is red zone performance. The Ragin' Cajuns rank 99th nationally in red zone offense, which plays into the hands of a Marshall team that ranks ninth in red zone defense. Marshall ranks just 73rd nationally in total defense, but the Thundering Herd have held opponents scoreless on 10 red zone trip this season. Marshall's red zone offense hasn't been great, but the Thundering Herd have converted red zone trips into touchdowns more frequently than Louisiana.
Freshness factor: Marshall running back Rasheen Ali is tied for the national lead in rushing touhdowns with 20 and has scored half of them in the second quarter of games. The redshirt freshman has been a stud for the Thundering Herd. However, the fourth quarter is when he's received the fewest carries and scored the fewest touchdowns this season. Some of that is likely based on the circumstances of games and situational play-calling. But the point is that while Marshall relies heavily on Ali, Louisiana is more balanced in its distribution of carries. The Ragin' Cajuns have three backs who have amassed more than 500 yards on the ground. If it's a close game into the fourth quarter, the freshness factor could play a role.
How to watch New Orleans Bowl live
Game: New Orleans Bowl
Date: Saturday, Dec. 18 | Time: 9:15 p.m. ET
Location: Caesars Superdome -- New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
New Orleans Bowl prediction, picks
Don't let the records of these teams fool you into thinking that Louisiana is a lock to win outright. Seven of its 12 victories are by eight points or fewer, while four of Marshall five losses came by seven points or fewer. The Thundering Herd have a great offense led by Ali, and they can win this game if they limit their turnovers. Don't underestimate impact of Louisiana playing without Napier on the sidelines, too. Prediction: Marshall (+5)
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