We're seven weeks into the college football season so now is a good time to take a look ahead at the bowl picture for Conference USA.
There's no clear favorite to win C-USA but Marshall (4-1, 1-0) and North Texas (3-2, 2-0) deserve to be considered favorites in the East and the West, putting those two teams in position to choose the most attractive bowl bids.
C-USA has seven bowl tie-ins if you count a conditional bid with the Independence Bowl, which can fill either of its two slots with a C-USA squad if either the ACC and SEC can't fulfill their tie-ins. With Alabama and Georgia both CFP contenders, I'm betting the SEC doesn't fill its spot in Shreveport.
I see Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee both reaching bowl eligibility at 6-6, but it will take a while to figure out where they may land. At least one of those teams would probably receive a bowl bid at 6-6.
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Here are my predictions for bowl games featuring C-USA tie-ins:
▪ Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 16) – UAB (3-2) vs. Fresno State (3-2) – The Blazers have a good chance to get to the 7-win mark with Charlotte, Rice and UTEP still on the schedule. Also, I'm picking UAB over MTSU in Birmingham this Saturday. Bill Clark is doing a great job at UAB.
▪ R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 16) – Southern Miss (3-2) vs. Troy (4-1) – If USM can pass up North Texas in the C-USA West, the Independence Bowl could be a potential destination. UNT has the head-to-head so the Mean Green have a significant edge.
▪ Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 19) – FAU (3-3) vs. Memphis (4-1) – The Owls finally have a chance to make the Boca Raton Bowl a home game and should draw a decent AAC squad. Lane Kiffin’s Owls are very much in the hunt in the C-USA East.
▪ Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 21) – Marshall (4-1) vs. Navy (5-0) – As the projected C-USA champion, Marshall would get its choice of bowl destinations. The state of Florida is important recruiting territory for Marshall and the chance to play a quality AAC opponent like Navy in St. Petersburg would be attractive. This match-up could also take place in Boca Raton, but it makes sense to keep FAU on its home field. Doc Holliday’s Marshall squad has already cleared the win total from last year’s dreadful 3-9 campaign.
▪ Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 22) – Western Kentucky (3-2) vs. Ohio (4-2) – I'm sure the Hilltoppers would like stay closer to home for the bowl season, but they'll have to scratch and claw to get to seven wins.
▪ Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23) – UTSA (3-1) vs. Army (4-2) – Army is already locked into this game if it reaches bowl eligibility, which seems likely. UTSA makes a lot of sense here if North Texas wants to avoid playing Army for the third time over the last two seasons and the second consecutive season in a bowl game. The Heart of Dallas Bowl and Armed Forces Bowl recently switched tie-ins with C-USA going to Fort Worth and the Big 12 moving to Dallas.
▪ Independence Bowl (Dec. 27) – North Texas (3-2) vs. Wake Forest (4-2) – If this spot is available, it's hard to see North Texas passing on the opportunity to play an ACC squad just 225 miles away from Denton campus.