San Diego St. Aztecs vs. UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

San Diego Aztecs (8-4 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Saturday, December 17, 2011, Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana, TV: ESPN
by Scotty L, College Football Handicapper,

Point Spread: SD St. -5/UL Lafayette +5
Over/Under Total: 59.5

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The San Diego Aztecs travel to New Orleans to take on the UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl on December 17. Each team had a good year at 8-4 and a good matchup should be expected at the Superdome. The Ragin Cajuns, despite playing in the Sun Belt conference, will enjoy a home-field advantage against the visiting Aztecs, who represent the more powerful Mountain West Conference.

The Aztecs 4 losses are slightly more forgivable than the Ragin Cajuns 4 defeats this season. San Diego State fell to Michigan and their head coach from last year, Brady Hoke, in Week 4 and followed that to a loss to conference champions TCU. A 3-point home loss to Wyoming was disappointing, but the Cowboys had a good year at 8-4. Their 4th loss was a 17-point loss to Boise State.

One very interesting tidbit about the Aztecs is the fact that despite the quality of their opposition, they never gave up more than one second-half touchdown all season. Thats an amazing statistic, leading one to believe that if LA-Lafayette is to stand a chance in this game, they will be forced to get some good work done early. The Aztecs have shown a penchant for starting games slowly, but if you dont get them in trouble early, youre probably not going to win. If Michigan, TCU, and Boise State couldnt manage much 2nd-half success against SDSU, where does that leave the Ragin Cajuns?

In addition, LA-Lafayette will be forced to cope with Aztecs RB Ronnie Hillman, a talent unlike anything they have regularly seen in the Sun Belt Conference. With 1656 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground, he will surely test the Ragin Cajuns defense, as will Aztecs QB Ryan Lindley. Expect Hillman, in particular, to be going all-out, with possible NFL Draft implications abound.

The Ragin Cajuns will be pumped. This is their first bowl game and they will be playing very close to home in front of a spirited group of fans. Nothing against Aztecs fans, but how many can be expected to make the trip for this game? Perhaps the newness of a bowl game and home cooking will stir something within the Ragin Cajuns and buoy them to play over their heads for 60 minutes. Its not as if San Diego State is so scary-good that it would take a David vs. Goliath-type of result for LA-Lafayette to prevail. This is doable.

One would have liked to see the Ragin Cajuns finish a little stronger, however. Losing their final 2 games makes it so that by the time they play the Aztecs, they will not have tasted victory for 6 weeks. The first of those two games was a 9-point loss to Sun Belt Conference Champions Arkansas State. No shame there, but perhaps more indicative of where they truly stand was a season-ending 8-point loss to 3-8 Arizona. Sun Belt Conference teams look good against each other, but sometimes are out of their element when stepping up to play teams from more prestigious conferences–even bottom-rung squads.

UL Lafayette junior quarterback and first-year starter Blaine Gautier (192-304-2488-20-5) is a nice player, with the ability to run the ball (464 yards). RB Alonzo Harris provides some balance to a pass attack, which features 4 pass-catchers with at least 425 yards receiving. WR Javone Lawson stepped up big this year (54-899-6). This is a team with weapons.

Scotty Ls Pick to Cover the Point Spread: With the Aztecs being such a slow-starting team, they will need to be extra careful to not allow an inspired Ragin Cajuns squad jump out to a lead in front of a home crowd. With some winds in their sails and some positive Creole mojo, the Aztecs could find themselves in an uphill battle.

But look for Lindley to connect with a pass crew that has 3 receivers with at least 44 catches. Ronnie Hillman will be doing damage. His 178 yard/4 TD performance against Fresno State to end the season is a bad omen for the Ragin Cajuns, as Hillman will be difficult to stop. Anything can happen with the Aztecs. They dont travel very well and there is a reason why this is their first back-to-back bowl appearance since 1966-1967. At the same time, they are simply better than the Ragin Cajuns and that difference in class will tell in the second half. Take the San Diego Aztecs minus 5 points.

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