CUSA is sending seven teams to the bowl season. Advanced numbers suggest CUSA is only above the Sun Belt among the FBS conferences, which sent six teams to the post-season. Given there are 80 bowl slots, a post season berth does not mean what it did back in 1980.
That is OK.
Updated conference averages for S&P+, FEI, and F/+. The more things change, the more they stay the same. pic.twitter.com/SHKHpZ3XH9
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) December 5, 2016
A bowl berth does not need to be a huge accomplishment in this era, but it is a marker of program progress. And if it is easy to get in, what does missing a bowl say about the teams that are sitting at home this Dec/Jan?
Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas State, etc?
Sending seven teams — even if one was an APR entry — is a good thing, but it does not mean much outside of a nice cap to the year for these squads unless everyone makes the most of the opportunity. CUSA needs to win every single one of the bowls and and next season fair better in non-con play to move up the G5 rankings,
Here is how the top of the conference faired in non-conference play:
- Our reigning back-to-back conference champion WKU went 2-2, winning against foes from the MAC and FCS, while losing against Alabama (reasonable) and Vandy by 1 (less reasonable).
- CUSA runner-up La Tech similarly lost to Arkansas by one point, and was blown out (relatively speaking) by defenseless TTU. This is less reasonable, but understandable.
- Southern Miss managed the big Kentucky upset, but dropped a game to Sun Belt contender Troy. They held close with LSU, but were blown out late.
- MTSU was blown out by Vandy (what?) and then upset a struggling Missouri.
While losing is not necessarily bad, not getting blown out is better. For example: Temple won the AAC, widely regarded as the sixth best conference and lost to Army, and Penn State — but only by seven.
Next season, CUSA needs the top of the league to pull off “upsets” against the lower tiers of the P5, and for the rest of the league to do better against the rest of the G5.
Bad non-conference losses by CUSA teams: UTSA being handled by Colorado State, North Texas losing to Southern Methodist, UTEP obliterated by Army, MTSU blown out by Vandy, Southern Miss to Troy.
These are not bad because the opposition was not good, but because they were winnable and / or were not even close. Building a reputation as a conference involves every program pulling in the same winning direction, not just the top four squads.
The good news is that this bowl season offers another chance to impress. Winning these games will not magically change CUSA, but it will help build the case for the league. Perception of quality is what brings in money and prestige, after all.
Here is CUSA’s Bowl Season:
New Mexico Bowl: UTSA vs New Mexico Saturday Dec 17th 1pm CST
New Mexico finished third in the Mountain Division but actually lost on tie-breakers to Wyoming and Boise St. New Mexico is favored by 7 as of this writing. UTSA did not play well on the road — 14-13 at Rice? — and this one will essentially be a Lobos home game. A UTSA win would continue the growing Frank Wilson legend and kick off CUSA season right
New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss vs Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday Dec 17th, 8pm CST
Southern Miss needs to play like the squad that handled Louisiana Tech and not the one that North Texas beat. The Rajin’ Cajuns tallied six wins by beating bad teams — 2-10 Texas State, Georgia Southern, McNeese, ULM — with the exception of USA and Arky State. A fully healthy Nick Mullens and company can win this easily, but Southern Miss has not played consistenly well. Golden Eagles favored by 3.
Boca Raton Bowl: WKU vs Memphis Tuesday Dec 20th 6pm CST
Back-to-back conference champion WKU takes on the AAC’s Tigers. Memphis beat Houston, and conference champ Temple this season. They are good, but WKU should be winning this kind of game. The big, glaring problem: Jeff Brohm took the Purdue job this morning.
Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion vs Eastern Michigan Friday Dec 23rd 12pm CST
The best bowl destination not named Hawai’i? Perhaps. The Monarchs surprised people by beating teams that were playing worse than them all year. They lost to Appalachian State on the road, which does not bode well for their chances this game. That was back in September, however, and five straight wins gives a team confidence. EMU had a solid season, but is not obviously better than ODU here.
Armed Forces Bowl: La Tech vs Navy Friday December 23rd 3:30pm CST
The best bowl matchup of the league slate, pairing the CUSA and AAC runner-ups. La Tech looked like potential conference champs until they lost two straight to USM and WKU. avy had an incredible November run before losing to Temple at home in the AAC title game. They play Army this weekend. Navy famously upset Houston this season, and was ranked in the top 25 for a while. This is a clear opportunity to display some kind of conference supremacy.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas vs Army Tuesday Dec 27th 11am CST
North Texas vs Army was already contested once in October with the Mean Green victorious 38-18. These two will battle again again next November in what could be the spark of a non-conference rivalry.
Hey, it could happen.
NT vs Army is scheduled through 2021, so at the very least there will be plenty of history. Various outlets have ranked this the worst of the bowl games on the slate, and I cannot argue with them. Army had a nice start, but fizzled. NT has beaten bad teams, and done so with an offense seriously hindered by depth and injuries. Still, this is a game NT can win, and one a CUSA team should expect to win going forward. That is, if we want to improve our rankings.