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Sun Belt Championship Game a Showcase

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Beyond any Group of Five distinction, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana have been two of the most impressive teams in the country. Period.

Saturday's Sun Belt Championship Game will feature two of the best teams in the game in Coastal Carolina and Louisiana. The undefeated Chanticleers and one-loss Ragin' Cajuns, both significantly underrated in the latest College Football Playoff poll at 12th and 19th, respectively, have profiles that compare favorably to almost any. A combined 20-1, with the lone loss coming from Louisiana to Coastal Carolina on a last second field goal, these proven powers will meet for a second time at 3:30pm on ESPN.

It's a national stage they have earned. 

Neither team has gotten the respect it deserves. Coastal Carolina has the most wins of any team in the country at 11-0, has two victories over top 20 teams and three triumphs over opponents with at least eight wins. The Chanticleers recently created a matchup out of thin air when their meeting with Liberty was cancelled, winning arguably the best game of the season against a BYU side then ranked 8th in the AP poll. Only four teams nationally have more victories than Louisiana, winners of six in a row. The Ragin Cajuns' `17-point rout at Iowa State, now sixth nationally, stands as one of the most impressive performances of the year.

To say college football should be getting ready for a signature showdown between two national contenders in Coastal Carolina and Louisiana simply wouldn't be correct; it's getting ready for a second. These two have already gone head-to-head and the result was an instant classic. 

The original meeting between the Chanticleers and Ragin' Cajuns was an absolute blockbuster down on the bayou, a testament to both how good these two teams are and how close they have been. Massimo Biscardi kicked a game-winning 40-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to give Coastal Carolina a dramatic win. It was the finish to a back-and-forth contest where no team held more than a seven-point advantage. Remarkably, the Chanticleers outgained Louisiana 414 yards to 413.

This has been a showcase season for the Sun Belt, with history-making Coastal Carolina, up to 9th in the AP poll, leading the way. The Ragin' Cajuns have been right there, too, though, giving the league a pair of teams tanked in the top 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings; that is the same number as the Big XII and more than the Pac-12. Both programs have proven themselves in-conference and nationally alike, as BYU and Iowa State can attest. 

Beyond any Group of Five or mid-major distinctions, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana have been two of the most impressive teams in the country. Period. 

Should the Chanticleers win this weekend, moving to 12-0 with then three victories over ranked competition, they will have obviously earned a New Year's Six bowl bid and, yes, legitimate consideration for the final four. Should the Ragin' Cajuns pull off the upset in Conway, moving them into the New Year's Six and giving them two triumphs over foes currently in the national top ten, both teams would still be deserving of leading postseason placement. Perhaps even two of the 12 NY6 slots.

Great football will be played on Saturday in the Carolinas and not just in Charlotte with Clemson and Notre Dame. Coastal Carolina vs Louisiana is worthy of a spotlight all its own. These are two teams that belong on the national conversation, with the wins, resumes and consistency to prove it. While only one team can win a championship on Saturday, the Chanticleers and Ragin' Cajuns are both fitting contenders in a season where college football has had to continue to make room near the top.

This Sun Belt Championship Game isn't just a national showcase, but a national statement as well.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports