Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl? It could happen

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Tulane coach Curtis Johnson celebrates a wining field goal against East Carolina last month at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Tulane coach Curtis Johnson celebrates a wining field goal against East Carolina last month at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Tulane became bowl-eligible in October after a 10-year string of losing records.

The Green Wave could make more history later this season by participating in the first all-Louisiana bowl game and the first to match teams from the same state since 2007.

With the Liberty Bowl spot that usually goes to the Conference USA champion becoming a long shot for Tulane after back-to-back losses to FAU and UTSA, the national projections of a New Orleans Bowl featuring the Green Wave (6-4) and Louisiana-Lafayette (7-2) have become more credible.

New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante voiced no objections. Tulane has never played in the game, which started in 2001. UL-Lafayette has been in it two years in a row, setting attendance both times.

“The advantages speak for themselves,” Ferrante said. “You want to create economic impact. We have found the last couple of years with (UL-Lafayette’s) crowds, you’re creating it by them coming to town and staying in hotels. We’ve heard a lot of feedback from their fans that they enjoy coming to this destination. We don’t think we’re in overkill yet.

“If Tulane was in the game, we suspect there’s a number of alumni who might choose to make a pre-Christmas visit back to the city where they went to college.”

The last bowl to match teams from the same state was the Texas Bowl, which invited hometown Houston to face TCU in 2007.

In 2008, the Independence Bowl received flak from state legislators when it elected not to invite UL-Lafayette to play Louisiana Tech, leaving the Ragin’ Cajuns home in favor of 6-6 Northern Illinois.

C-USA has six bowl tie-ins, and the Liberty Bowl gets the first choice. After that, there is no set order for the other five games: the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 21; the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Dec. 23; the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24; the Military Bowl in Washington on Dec. 26; and the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1.

C-USA assistant commissioner Russ Anderson said the bowls and the conference office work together to place the rest of the teams in spots that are the “best for all of the parties involved.” The conference and the bowls began conducting weekly conference calls two weeks ago about the lineup.

Tulane is not guaranteed to go to any bowl at this point. C-USA already has six bowl-eligible teams, and that number will swell to eight if Louisiana Tech wins at least two of its final three games and FAU wins its final three against opponents with a combined record of 3-26.

A seventh win would be huge for the Green Wave, which next hosts 1-8 UTEP on Nov. 23.

“There isn’t necessarily a rule in place,” Anderson said. “But a team that has a winning record is going to go ahead of a 6-6 team.”

Tulane coach Curtis Johnson hasn’t given up on the conference race yet and refused to speculate this week about a potential bowl. The Green Wave needs help to win C-USA West, but only in one game. The scenario is simple: Tulane has to beat UTEP while keeping a close eye the same day on the UTSA-North Texas contest. The Wave then needs to win at Rice on Nov. 30 while the winner of UTSA-North Texas loses its finale.

Under those circumstances — North Texas closes at Tulsa and UTSA finishes at home against Louisiana Tech — Tulane would win any tiebreaker for the division title. With any other scenario, the Wave would fall short.

“Bowl eligibility was never the goal,” Johnson said Tuesday. “The goal is to play better each week and to win as many games as we possibly can.

“We never talk about bowl-eligible or anything like that. It’s a two-game series, and we have to win these two games and see what happens.”