When it comes to talent, however, the Ragin’ Cajuns have it at all three levels. Zi’Yon Hill-Green earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors after recording seven sacks. With seven tackles in the bowl game, linebacker Jourdan Quibodeaux will reach 100 for the season. Fellow backer Andre Jones leads the team with 7. 5 sacks, good for fifth in the conference entering this game. In the secondary, safety Bralen Trahan must be accounted for at all times.
Tune also is the team's leading rusher as head coach Dana Holgorsen has gone with a running back-by-committee approach this season. Stacy Sneed, Brandon Campbell and Ta’Zhawn Henry have combined for more than 1, 200 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Sneed and Tune are tied for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns.
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Tune's top playmaker is wide receiver Nathaniel Dell, who leads the nation with 15 touchdown catches and is third in both receptions (103) and yards (1, 354). He has announced he will enter the NFL draft but has said he will play in the bowl game. Tune doesn't lack options to throw to out wide with Matthew Golden, KeSean Carter, and Sam Brown combining for 15 touchdown grabs and more than 1, 500 receiving yards. Louisiana was a middle-of-the-pack team defensively in the Sun Belt during the regular season.
The next leading receiver is tight end Neal Johnson, who has 277 receiving yards. After ranking as one of the best defenses in the AAC in 2021, Houston took a monumental step back on that side of the ball in 2022. Out of 11 AAC teams, the Cougars ranked just ninth in total and scoring defense during the regular season. It was first in the conference in total defense last year and second in scoring defense. One thing Houston has done well this season is rush the passer.
Points prevention has been a problem for Houston. The Cougars have given up more than 44 points per game in their five losses. When Houston Has the BallHouston took a step back from its 12-2 finish in 2021, but little of that can be blamed on the offense. Quarterback Clayton Tune might be the best at the position in the country that no one is talking about. With Tune behind center, the Cougars averaged nearly 464 yards per game and were tied for the AAC scoring lead during the regular season. With 37 touchdown passes for the season, Tune is tied with Ohio State's C. J. Stroud and USC’s Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams (who has played one more game) for the national lead. He also is in the top 10 nationally with 3, 845 passing yards.
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The Cajuns aren't exactly loaded at the skill positions, but they are deep at tailback. Chris Smith leads that unit with 579 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Smith has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft but will be available on Friday in Shreveport. Wide receiver Michael Jefferson, however, has opted out of the contest to focus on the draft. Jefferson led the Ragin' Cajuns with 51 catches for 810 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season.
The Cougars finished the regular season fourth in the AAC with 29 sacks. D'Anthony Jones and Nelson Ceaser have combined for 10 sacks. Jones also leads the team with three forced fumbles. Linebacker Donavan Mutin is the top tackler for this unit with 78 stops. In the secondary, cornerback Art Green and safety Gervarrius Owens each had All-AAC seasons. Jones is tied for the team lead with two interceptions while Owens is second on the team in tackles.
Independence Bowl Prediction: Louisiana and Houston Look to Close on High Notes in ShreveportLast December, Louisiana and Houston were playing in their conference championship games. This December, the two are looking for bowl wins to salvage a somewhat lackluster season. Related: College Football Predictions for Every 2022-23 Bowl GameWith head coach Billy Napier off to Gainesville, reigning Sun Belt champion Louisiana limped to a 6-6 finish to the regular season and the Ragin' Cajuns will need a win in the Independence Bowl to avoid its first losing season since 2017.
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Trahan is second on the team in tackles (72) and leads the way with four interceptions. As the defense has gone this season, so have the Cajuns. Opponents have been held to 21 points or fewer in each of their six wins compared to giving up nearly 31 per contest in the six losses. Final AnalysisAs is the case with most bowl games, both teams will be missing some key pieces, but this should be a good one as both schools are relatively close to full strength.
Independence Bowl: Louisiana vs. Houston odds, picks
On the other sideline will be a Houston team that many picked to win the American Athletic Conference in the preseason. Instead, the Cougars enter with a 7-5 record and off an embarrassing home loss to Tulsa. Houston holds a 6-3 lead in head-to-head meetings with Louisiana, but the Independence Bowl showdown will be the first meeting between the teams since 2006. The head coaches at the time? Ricky Bustle for Louisiana and Art Briles for Houston.
Houston vs Louisiana Odds, Prediction: 1 Independence
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