NEW ORLEANS –
The winner of the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Football Championship Game will be headed to New Orleans, as the league announced Friday that the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl will host the winning team for its game on Dec. 15.
"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," Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said. "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 Football Championship Game will be played Dec. 1, and kickoff for the game will come straight out of College GameDay on ESPN at noon. With a new divisional structure in place for the 2018 season, the Sun Belt Championship Game will feature the winners of the East and West Divisions. The game will take place at the home site of the Divisional Champion with the best overall conference winning percentage.
Currently, Troy (8-2, 6-0) leads the East Division by one game over Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1) and two games over Georgia Southern (7-3, 4-2). App State has home games remaining against Georgia State and Troy, while the Trojans play host to Texas State before they visit Boone, so a 2-0 finish from App State would put the Mountaineers in position to host the Sun Belt Championship Game. Troy could lose Saturday and still reach the championship game with a win in Boone.
ULM (6-4, 4-2) currently leads the West Division by one game over both Arkansas State (6-4, 3-3) and Louisiana (5-5, 3-3). If ULM beats Arkansas State on the road Saturday and Louisiana falls in an upset to South Alabama in its home finale, the Warhawks would punch a ticket to the Sun Belt Championship Game. A win by both the Warhawks and Ragin' Cajuns would set up a winner-take-all game in Monroe between the two teams on 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.
"Over the last 18 years, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and the Sun Belt Conference have shared a tremendous partnership," R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Chairman Paul Valteau said. "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 at 9 p.m. ET on Dec. 15 and be televised by ESPN. It will also be broadcast on ESPN Radio.
The Sun Belt Champion will face a team from Conference USA at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. On the eve of kickoff, the bowl will host a concert featuring headlining acts Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch and Lauren Alaina.
It's already been a record-breaking football year for the Sun Belt Conference. The conference's total for nonconference wins this season sits at 21. That total is good for the most regular season nonconference wins in league history, breaking the record of 19 that was set in 2013.
Including the postseason, the Sun Belt's record for nonconference wins in a season is 22, which was set in 2016. The conference has a minimum total of five remaining nonconference games this season when factoring in postseason bowl opportunities. Also of note, the Sun Belt Conference has the second highest nonconference 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.