Nevada calls New Orleans Bowl vs. ULL a road game
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Since Mark Hudspeth took over as coach at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2011, the Ragin' Cajuns have finished each season the same way.
Back in the Big Easy again, the Cajuns (8-4) will try to extend their run of consecutive New Orleans Bowl victories to four Saturday morning when they kick off against Nevada (7-5).
The Wolf Pack, playing two time zones east of their Reno campus, is under no illusions about which team will have the crowd on its side.
''We just got to kind of treat it as an away game,'' said Nevada defensive end Brock Hekking, who is easily recognizable by his Brian Bosworth-inspired look featuring short spiked hair on top and long blond locks in back.
''Obviously, we're going to be clearly outnumbered in the stands, but I feed off the energy of football, so it doesn't matter who's cheering,'' Hekking said. ''I love it. I get excited for it, whether it's our fans or theirs.''
The game matches up coaches with seemingly promising futures.
Brian Polian, whose father, Bill, was a longtime NFL executive, is among the nation's youngest coaches at age 39 and has his program in a bowl game in only his second season.
Hekking, a senior, said Polian has a youthful, energetic coaching style and is ''personable with the players.''
''That was something that stood out to me,'' he said.
Hudspeth, 46, is still in his first head coaching job at the Division I FBS level and has yet to finish a season with fewer than nine victories.
Hudspeth's resume becomes even more impressive when considering that he took over a team that had gone 3-9 in 2010 and had never before been to a bowl affiliated with the top tier of college football.
''He promised change and that's what we got,'' senior offensive lineman Daniel Quave said. ''It's been definitely more than an honor to play under coach Hudspeth and see the growth that the program has had in the past four years. It's incredible.''
Some things to know about the 14th New Orleans Bowl:
DUAL THREATS: Both teams have quarterbacks capable of making big plays throwing or running. Nevada's Cody Fajardo, operating out of the pistol offense, has 2,374 yards and 18 TDs passing, along with 997 yards and 13 TDs rushing. ULL's Terrance Broadway 2,068 yards and 12 TDs passing to go with 646 yards and three TDs rushing.
GROUND GAMES: In addition to QBs who can run, both teams lean heavily on running back tandems. For Nevada, it's Don Jackson (932 yards, seven TDs) and James Butler (620 yards, five TDs). For the Cajuns, it's Elijah McGuire (1,165 yards, 14 TDs) and Alonzo Harris (737 yards, 12 TDs).
POLIAN's PEDIGREE: While Polian grew up around pro football and essentially went into the family business, he has also sought to forge his own path, spending more than a decade as a college assistant at Buffalo, UCF, Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M before getting his first head coaching in 2013. ''I love my father dearly. I am very proud of the fact that I've never worked for him,'' Polian said. ''Anybody who says I shot up the ladder because of my last name has never read my bio.''
EARLY START: Nevada played nine night games this season and now is not only two time zones to the east, but will take the field when it is 8 a.m. back in Reno. ''We've been like vampires. We've played nothing but night games, so it's going to be interesting,'' Fajardo said. ''Wake-up call on Saturday is about 5:30. We're prepared for it.''
BIG RED: Ragin' Cajuns fans, who generally wear red, have provided a huge attendance boost to the New Orleans Bowl. The past three have been by far the three best-attended since the game was founded in 2001, with each crowd exceeding 42,000.