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Jacksonville State debuts, Louisiana locked in for seventh New Orleans Bowl

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Jacksonville State is playing in a bowl game for the first time.

Louisiana is playing in a bowl game for a school-record sixth consecutive season.

The bowl rookies and bowl veterans will meet in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday afternoon in the Superdome.

“It’s going to be a wonderful experience for everybody,” Gamecocks coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I think our players are really excited and I would think most teams are excited to play in any bowl game, but in the many bowl games I’ve been to, when you’re really excited to be in a bowl game, usually you play better.”

Rodriguez has a 5-6 bowl record as head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona. JSU hired him two years as the school was preparing for its final season as an FCS program. His first team went 9-2 and the Gamecocks made their FBS debut this season by finishing 8-4 and 6-2 in Conference USA.

The bowl invitation boosted the psyche of a team that had just lost 20-17 at New Mexico State in the regular-season finale on Nov. 25.

“It was all kind of down after the game and we got the news on the plane,” senior safety Jeremiah Harris said. “It was a great feeling, especially for us seniors.”

Senior offensive lineman Treylen Brown reminded the masses that JSU was not expected to be here. In the preseason, they were picked to finish seventh in CUSA.

“Obviously, no one really thought we were going be that good,” Brown said. “We ended up shocking the world, putting Jacksonville on the map.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns (6-6) failed three times to get their sixth victory before routing rival Louisiana-Monroe 52-21 in the regular-season finale.

Louisiana is down to its third quarterback.

Starter Ben Wooldridge suffered a season-ending injury in the third game of the season and was replaced by freshman Zeon Chriss, who suffered a season-ending injury during a 37-17 loss to Arkansas State on Nov. 4 that started the three-game losing streak.

Fifth-year quarterback Chandler Fields stepped in and started narrow losses to Southern Miss (in overtime) and Troy before leading the victory over ULM, completing his last 15 passes and accounting for 284 total yards and three touchdowns.

“I can tell you we didn’t lose any (games) because of him,” coach Michael Desormeaux said of Fields. “Chandler has played his tail off for our team. Our kids have played around him in spots and there were times we could’ve done some things better around him and didn’t. He gave us a chance every game he started.”

The Cajuns are playing in the New Orleans Bowl for the seventh time, having been there most recently two years ago. Despite the familiarity of bowl appearances and with this particular bowl, Desormeaux said he doesn’t expect his players to be any less enthused than the newcomers from JSU.

“When you sign to play college football somewhere you dream about having a chance to win championships,” Desormeaux said, “and a bowl championship is still a big deal. It always will be to us.”

–Field Level Media

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