LAFAYETTE, La. — Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson talked around the subject while Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth avoided it completely.

LAFAYETTE, La. — Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson talked around the subject while Louisiana coach Mark Hudspeth avoided it completely.

Both know what’s at stake. Both know the importance of the outcome. Neither wants to fire the first shot.

No bother.

The road to a Sun Belt Conference championship winds through the swamplands of southern Louisiana to Cajun Field this evening for one of the most important games of the season when three-time defending league champion Arkansas State meets preseason favorite UL.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

Despite the obvious situation, Anderson downplayed tonight’s matchup as just another week in the Belt.

"It’s the next of one of the 12 (on the schedule) and it’s a team that handed us our tail pretty good last year from what I can tell," the first-year ASU coach said. "It’s a team that everybody picked to be the conference champs, but that’s all it is. It’s just one of the games that’s left."

Oh well. So much for the big buildup of a showdown between Sun Belt contenders.

Hudspeth isn’t putting all of his eggs in the basket, either.

"Our season goal going in was to be 2-0 in conference, and now we have a new goal, to be 3-0 in the conference," Hudspeth said of the matchup. "It’s a one-game season. Whatever we find to do to be effective, that’s what we intend to do."

So the coaches aren’t diving into the hype. But the numbers suggest it should be as important, if not more so, as any game this season in determining the conference race.

Arkansas State (4-2 overall, 2-0 Sun Belt) has won three straight, including league wins over Louisiana-Monroe and Georgia State.

The Red Wolves lead the Sun Belt in total defense and rank third in total offense. They’re also coming in confident after throttling Georgia State 52-10.

Even Anderson won’t deny that.

"All in all, it was our most complete game," Anderson said.

Louisiana (3-3, 2-0) stumbled at the start of the season, losing three of its first four games while giving up 36 points a game. But the Cajuns have recovered nicely, winning their last two games, including a 34-10 blowout at Texas State one week ago.

UL ranks in the bottom half of most key categories in the Sun Belt overall, including ninth in total offense and eighth in total defense. The Cajuns are producing 461 yards offense and 34 points a game, but are giving up 425 yards and 31 points a game.

Anderson says the statistics are only good for clouding one’s judgment. He’s sure the Cajuns are better than the numbers suggest.

"They were picked to win the conference for a reason," Anderson said. "They’re athletic. It will be a huge challenge to travel down there and play at their place. We are going to have to eliminate the mistakes we made last week, and take a better energy level to their place."

While Anderson is keeping his thoughts to himself about the implications of tonight’s matchup, the Red Wolves are thinking quite a bit differently.

ASU quarterback Fredi Knighten, who is coming off the two best performances of his career, said it’s a championship game in his mind.

"I can’t speak for the other players on the team, but for me personally, I’m treating it like it’s a championship game," Knighten said. "It’s one of those games that can make or break a season."

Last year’s meeting had the very same early-season hype. But as it turned out, the outcome didn’t have the impact that was expected.

Louisiana bullied ASU in a midweek game that was also broadcast on national television, winning 23-7. But the two teams ended up tied for the Sun Belt title at the end of the season with 6-2 league records.

That loss still sticks with the Red Wolves.

"We all remember what happened last year on ESPN, on national television," said ASU sophomore Xavier Woodson, who made his first career start that night. "We basically want to get revenge. We don’t want have the same thing happen again."

Asked about the implications of tonight’s game, ASU linebacker Qushaun Lee didn’t seem nearly as interested about the Sun Belt Conference race angle as he is paying the Ragin’ Cajuns back.

"This game has importance to it just because we lost to them last year," Lee said.

Arkansas State running back Michael Gordon figures to be a key piece of the Red Wolves’ attack this evening.

Since coming back from injury, Gordon has been nearly unstoppable. He ran for 168 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, then piled up 188 yards and two touchdowns at Georgia State.

Gordon didn’t get to play in last year’s contest, but he’s just as motivated as ever. As far as the winner getting the upper hand in the Sun Belt race, Gordon isn’t concerned.

"Really, we are the masters of our own fate," Gordon said. "If we go out and play football like we should, everything will take care of itself."