- Adam Rittenberg, College Football
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East Carolina (8-4, 7-1 Conference USA) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt)
WHO TO WATCH: Quarterbacks Terrance Broadway (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Shane Carden (East Carolina). Broadway stepped in for the injured Blaine Gautier in early October and delivered five performances of 250 passing yards or more in Sun Belt play. He can be very accurate, and also boasts good mobility, having eclipsed 100 rushing yards in two of the team's final three regular-season contests. Broadway ranks 22nd nationally in pass efficiency (153.5) and 42nd in total offense (266 ypg). Carden also stepped into the starting job during the season and led his team to the postseason after passing for 2,838 yards and 21 touchdowns, and adding eight rushing touchdowns. He ranks 33rd nationally in pass efficiency (144.9).
WHAT TO WATCH: The passing offenses. Both teams can chuck it around a bit, and neither squad does much to stop the pass. East Carolina checks in at 105th nationally in pass defense (271.7 ypg), while Louisiana-Lafayette is even worse at 111th (283.9 ypg). The Pirates have an elite receiver in sophomore Justin Hardy, who ranks 18th nationally in receptions (6.92 rpg) and 28th in receiving yards (87.2 ypg). Hardy comes off a 16-catch, 171-yard performance in a shootout victory against Marshall. ULL counters with Harry Peoples, who caught 10 passes in a very competitive game against Florida, and had three games of more than 140 receiving yards.
WHY TO WATCH: If today's matchup is anything like the 2011 New Orleans Bowl, which Louisiana-Lafayette won 32-30 on a last-second field goal, everyone's in for a treat. The Ragin' Cajuns are playing in consecutive bowl games after appearing in none before 2011. They gave Florida all it could handle at The Swamp on Nov. 10 and finished the season with three straight wins. East Carolina, meanwhile, has dropped three straight bowl games since beating Boise State in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl. Both teams can put up points and both have somewhat shaky defenses, so this one could turn into an entertaining shootout. It'll be interesting to see how Carden, dynamic running back Vintavious Cooper and the Pirates handle what will feel like a road game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
PREDICTION: Louisiana-Lafayette 38, East Carolina 34. Louisiana-Lafayette had the more impressive season and will be playing in front of a partisan crowd at the dome. Broadway improved with experience as the season went along and should take another step with the added bowl prep time. Carden and Cooper will help East Carolina's offense keep pace for most of the way, but the Pirates have struggled against decent to good competition all season, and today's game is no exception. East Carolina takes the early lead, but Broadway rallies ULL with his arm in the fourth quarter for the win.
East Carolina (8-4, 7-1 Conference USA) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt)WHO TO WATCH: Quarterbacks Terrance Broadway (Louisiana-Lafayette) and Shane Carden (East Carolina).