LOUISIANA La - There's a certain irony in Troy University coming to play at today's University of Louisiana Homecoming game, since UL almost became home for Trojan coach Larry Blakeney seven years ago.

When Nelson Stokley stepped down as Ragin' Cajun head coach after the 1998 season, Blakeney was one of the prime candidates interviewed after taking Troy to five Division I-AA playoff appearances in six years. Some reports had him as the leading candidate, especially after two other prospects reportedly turned down the position.

But allegations of NCAA irregularities during his 14 years as an assistant at Auburn turned off some involved in the selection process, and UL hired LSU assistant Jerry Baldwin, who went 6-27 and had a losing record against I-AA schools before his departure in 2001.

Blakeney went 11-2 and 10-2 in 1999 and 2000 and Troy won back-to-back Southland Conference titles.

Troy's numbers haven't been as gaudy since its move to I-A in 2001, but the Trojans knocked off nationally ranked Missouri and went to its first-ever bowl game, the Silicon Valley Classic, last year. A late-season 13-10 win over the Cajuns in Cajun Field helped cement that bowl trip.

This year, the only bowl either team has a realistic chance of reaching is the New Orleans Bowl as the Sun Belt champion, and both teams are fighting for their league lives in today's 4 p.m. contest.

"We know how important this one is," said Cajun coach Rickey Bustle. "I know it, and our guys know it."

The Cajuns (2-5, 1-2) have to win their last four games to have any chance at a share of the conference title. Troy (3-4, 2-1) are in better shape but has already lost to league unbeaten UL Monroe 27-3, while UL can still stick Monroe with a loss in the Nov. 26 season finale.

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Dan McDonald