NEW ORLEANS (PRESS RELEASE) – The winner of the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Football Championship Game will be headed to New Orleans as the conference announced Friday that the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl will host the winning team for its upcoming bowl game.
“The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and Sun Belt football have been linked together from the inception of both in 2001 and we are excited to carry on our longstanding relationship with the game in this new and exciting way,” said Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Karl Benson. “Our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans have always enjoyed their visits to New Orleans and have always had a first-class bowl experience. The Sun Belt Champion will be greeted with the city’s renowned hospitality and will play in the iconic Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It is an exciting time for both the Sun Belt and the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.”
The Sun Belt’s first ever Football Championship Game will be played on Dec. 1 and kickoff for the game will come straight out of College GameDay on ESPN at 12 p.m. ET/11 a.m. CT. With a new divisional structure in place for the 2018 season, the Sun Belt Championship Game will feature the winners of the Sun Belt East and West Division. The game will take place at the home site of the Divisional Champion with the best overall conference winning percentage.
“Over the last 18 years, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and the Sun Belt Conference have shared a tremendous partnership,” said R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Chairman Paul Valteau. “This December, we are excited to host the Sun Belt Conference Champion in what will be a fantastic kickoff to the 2018 bowl season.”
The 2018 edition of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl will kick off on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPN and broadcast on ESPN Radio. The Sun Belt Champion will face a team from Conference USA at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. On the eve of kick-off, the bowl will host a concert featuring headline acts Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch and Lauren Alaina.
While much could till happen in the final two weeks of the season, if ULM (6-4, 4-2) can take a win over West rival Arkansas State (6-4, 3-3) on the road, and Louisiana (5-5, 3-3) falls in an upset to South Alabama (2-8, 1-5) in its home finale, the Warhawks will punch a ticket to the Sun Belt’s Championship Game. A win by both the Warhawks and Ragin’ Cajuns will setup a winner take all game in Monroe between the two teams in the final Saturday of the regular season. An Arkansas State win over ULM on Saturday keeps the Red Wolves in the hunt for the West Division title.
Troy remains the league’s only unbeaten team in Sun Belt play and is in control of its destiny. The Trojans (8-2, 6-0) have a chance at locking up the East Division this weekend if they can win at home over Texas State (3-7, 1-5), coupled with an Appalachian State home loss to Georgia State (2-8, 1-5). If the Mountaineers (7-2, 5-1) win Saturday, regardless if Troy wins, it sets up a de facto championship game on Nov. 24 in Boone for the East title.
It’s already been a record-breaking football year for the Sun Belt Conference. The conference’s total for non-conference wins this season sits at 21. That total is good for the most regular season non-conference wins in league history, breaking the record of 19 that was set in 2013. Including the postseason, the Sun Belt’s record for non-conference wins in a season is 22, which was set in 2016. The conference has a minimum total of five remaining non-conference games this season when factoring in postseason bowl opportunities. Also of note, the Sun Belt Conference has the second highest non-conference win percentage amongst all Group of Five Conferences with a .538 mark (1. American – .543, 2. Sun Belt – .538, 3. Mountain West – .531, 4. Conference USA – .412, 5. Mid-American – .383).
So far this season, Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, ULM and Troy are all bowl eligible. Coastal Carolina and Louisiana are both in striking distance of bowl eligibility with five wins apiece.