There will be some unfamiliarity in the Independence Bowl this season.
Unfamiliarity between programs and unfamiliarity with the environment, as well.
For starters, Friday afternoon will be just the 10th time Louisiana and Houston meet on the gridiron and the first time since 2006. ULL holds the advantage 6-3. Besides matching up for the first time in 16 years, the Ragin Cajuns and the Cougars will be playing in likely the coldest game they’ve played in this season. A local Shreveport radio station says it will be the coldest Independence Bowl on record.
Those expected sub-freezing temps probably aren’t what these players were expecting when they became eligible for a bowl game. Still, they’re not the only ones dealing with it as the storm whips through the country.
Will this have a lot of impact on the game? Who knows. I can’t imagine it slows down Houston’s high-powered offense, though. College football betting odds currently have the total at 57.
The Cougars are led by a couple of NFL Draft prospects in quarterback Clayton Tune and wideout Tank Dell. It’ll be the duo’s last collegiate game together. They led The American in most of their respective offensive categories. Tune paced the league with 320.4 passing YPG and 37 touchdowns. Dell’s 103 receptions led the AAC while his 15 receiving touchdowns were the most by five. The Houston offense averaged 37.2 PPG and 463.8 YPG.
I won’t be surprised if these guys continue to put on a show, despite the frigid air.
Dell has the opportunity to raise his draft stock. While Tune is in the top 10 of the most current 2023 Draft rankings, Dell ranks a little further down the list of receivers. He still remains unbothered:
Houston ended the regular season with a 37-30 loss to Tulsa, and I’m sure they’re eager to put a cap on the season with a victory.
Louisiana enters this one as seven-point underdogs. The main reason behind this line is the quality of players the Ragin’ Cajuns won’t have available. Former QB1 Ben Wooldridge missed the final two regular-season games with an ACL injury. Backup quarterback Chandler Fields started the final two games, where he passed for 246 total yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. ULL went 1-1 in those games.
The Cajuns will also be without their top WR in Michael Jefferson, who opted out of the game and will enter the Draft. Jefferson led the team with 51 receptions, 810 yards, and seven touchdowns.
This isn’t a lot of good news for a team that needs to try and match the points Houston can put up. One positive, though, is that Louisiana can lean on running back Chris Smith. Smith also declared for the Draft but will be suiting up one final time for the Cajuns. His 58 rushing YPG and three TDs were both team highs. We can probably expect the Cajuns to ask more out of him in an attempt to keep Tune and the Cougars’ offense off the field.
ULL ranks in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt, allowing 361 yards and 22.8 PPG. It hasn’t faced many prolific offenses this season, though, and probably not one as dynamic as Houston’s.
That doesn’t mean we can write off the Cajuns.
Outside of a loss to Florida State, they’ve played their quality opponents tough this season. This includes a three-point loss to South Alabama and a six-point loss to Troy.
It’ll be a stretch for them to cover in this one, but anything can happen on a chilly Louisiana afternoon.