By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports
Today’s 46th Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl at 2 p.m. in Independence Stadium matches teams whose records would be a lot better this fall had they been playing horseshoes or hand grenades.
Instead, 6-6 Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference and 7-5 Houston of the American Athletic Conference played football, where close doesn’t count.
The Ragin’ Cajuns lost games to the 1-2 finishers in the Sun Belt, Troy and South Alabama, on last-second field goals. Houston played three overtime games and lost two.
The math says that a bounce this way or that and each team could have 9 wins each.
Instead, besides playing for each other and for their friends and families and for the simple joy of the game, one team is playing to end the season a game over .500, the other team is playing to avoid the same thing.
“It’s the last opportunity for this team to put it on display,” said ULL first-year head coach Michael Desormeaux. “So, we’ll be ready to go and see what we can do on Friday.”
“We drove five hours in pouring rain to come to Shreveport,” said Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, “and we’re ready to roll.”
Speaking of weather, while the chance of any precipitation is practically zero Friday, the chance of chilly is a stone-cold certainty. The most generous forecast calls for 24 degrees, winds at 16 miles per hour gusting to 25, and a wind chill of 13. (A representative of one of the schools’ bands marched into Bass Pro in Bossier City Thursday and asked for 600 hand warmer packets, one local photographer witnessed.)
Bowl officials advise fans to dress warm and warmer — and bring blankets.
During Thursday’s media interviews, players and coaches from both teams described their coldest games.
ULL lineman and sack star Zi’Yon Hill-Green: “We played Appalachian State in 2020, and I would say it was 20-something degrees and the wind was 30 miles per hour and the rain was sideways.”
ULL running back and leading rusher Chris Smith: “(App State) would definitely be the worst. Where I’m from (Louisville, Miss.), we hunt. Once your feet get wet, and your hands and ears get cold, you are done. There is nothing you can do. … (But App State) was a great experience and we learned from playing in those conditions.”
Houston quarterback Clayton Tune: “We played in Connecticut late (last) season, and luckily, we had a noon kickoff. (But) once the sun dropped below the stadium it was pretty cold.”
A native of Iowa, Holgorsen said in a college game he played in for Iowa Wesleyan in Moorhead, Minn., “the temperature was like minus five with a wind chill of like minus 50,” so Friday’s matchup “ain’t close.”
“It’s the sleeting rain (and wind) is where it kinda gets you,” he said. “So it’s not going to be that; it’s going to be tolerable.”
Note that all this was said in a room-temp media interview room beneath the stadium, not outside where the temperature dropped 20 degrees, from 51 to 31, in two mid-afternoon hours Thursday.
Temperature has been a problem for both teams all season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging 27 points a game but give up an average of 23. If they outscore the Cougars, they’ll have to do it without leading receiver Michael Jefferson, who opted out of the bowl and whose 51 catches and 16 yards-per-catch averages are far and away the best on the team.
Defensively, the Cougars have been particularly cold. Houston averages 37 points a game — 13th best in the nation — but surrenders an average of 34. Their season in a nutshell: they scored 63 at SMU — and lost by two touchdowns.
On a warm note, each team comes into the game at least semi-hot. ULL won two of its final three games, including the regular-season finale, to become bowl eligible. Houston was 5-2 down the stretch, but stumbled in a jarring home defeat to a struggling Tulsa team to cap the regular season.
The Cougars are a 7-point favorite.
Contact Teddy at email@example.com or Twitter @MamaLuvsManning