As the surprising ULM football team chases bowl eligibility, the three bowl games with Sun Belt Conference ties are sizing up teams to fill their slots.
The Warhawks (5-6, 4-3) can achieve the required sixth win on Saturday by defeating Louisiana-Lafayette at Malone Stadium. ULM has won six games twice since moving to what is now the FBS in 1994 but has not reached the postseason since a berth in the 1993 I-AA playoffs.
"We certainly addressed the bowl possibility with our players," ULM coach Todd Berry said. "That would be very naïve of us to not talk about that. But we've also tried to express to our players that there are an awful lot of motivations this week to play well."
With bowl talk in the air around the conference, officials from the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the GoDaddy.com Bowl and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl fielded questions on the Sun Belt media call on Monday.
The New Orleans Bowl isn't required to take the Sun Belt champ but does have first pick and the first-place team must be accommodated. ULM would be an interesting choice for the game because of its proximity to New Orleans and eagerness to participate in a bowl game for the first time.
"The appeal to us with Monroe is that they're a state school," R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Executive Director Billy Ferrante said. "They're not but about a five-hour drive to New Orleans. We know that the fan followings of Monroe and ULM near here, it doesn't take much to have a reason to come to New Orleans."
Ferrante said the New Orleans Bowl has played host to teams ending a long bowl dry spells like Rice and Memphis.
"You feel that in the fan base and you feel that in your dealings with the administration," Ferrante said. "You feel that with student-athletes, which this is all about. That part of the equation, yeah, we've had a lot of success with that actually."
This year the game is on Saturday, Dec. 18 with a Conference USA opponent for the Sun Belt.
GoDaddy.com Bowl President Jerry Silverstein said the Sun Belt, which had only one bowl tie-in for seven years, provides teams like the Warhawks who are thrilled to continue their season.
"The way that Commissioner (Wright) Waters has brought the conference along and the schools themselves and the programs have come along, all the bowl games are going to be exciting no matter where they go to and what school attends them," Silverstein said. "That's exciting to us because we want people to be excited to come to our game in Mobile."
The GoDaddy.com bowl is Jan. 6, 2011 and features a MAC team as the Sun Belt opponent. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Executive Director Ken Hoffman said his game has a tradition of welcoming teams that are "bowl hungry" like ULM. Previous first-timers include Akron and Connecticut.
"We've had experience with schools that are making their first bowl trip ever or certainly in many, many years," Hoffman said.
The Little Caesars Bowl gets the Big Ten's No. 8 selection as its first option. There are eight bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten, but two of those teams could go to BCS bowls. In that scenario, the Sun Belt will supply a team to face the MAC's No. 1 or No. 2. The game in Detroit is played on Dec. 26.
Hoffman said the Little Caesars Bowl has featured several outstanding performances by teams who are eager to show off their programs.
"The key there is that those schools, the players, the teams, the students, fans and alumni are hungry," Hoffman said. "They're bowl hungry. That's particularly important for a bowl at this level."