It seemed unlikely the last couple of weeks that Conference USA would fulfill its seven bowl tie-ins, but it looks probable at this point with UTEP and Old Dominion back in the hunt.
Both teams have a record of 4-5 and meet this Saturday in a game that could amount to an elimination contest for a bowl bid. The game is in Norfolk, Va., but I have a feeling the Miners will pick up a win on the road and reach bowl eligibility with a win over North Texas in the season finale. ODU's most likely path to a bowl is a win Saturday over UTEP and a win over FAU in the season finale.
After a 24-21 win over Rice, UTEP is picking up steam in the final stages of the season.
Here are my Week 11 bowl projections for Conference USA:
Gildan New Mexico Bowl – UTEP vs. New Mexico – 1 p.m., Dec. 19 (ESPN)
This matchup would provide the biggest crowd possible for this event. It would be a home game for the Lobos and not a bad trip for UTEP fans.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Southern Miss vs. Arkansas State – 8 p.m., Dec. 19 (ESPN)
Arkansas State is in the driver's seat to win the Sun Belt at 6-3 overall and 5-0 in league play. If the Red Wolves collide with USM (6-3, 4-1), it should set up to be a nice game.
Miami Beach Bowl – Western Kentucky vs. Temple – 1:30 p.m., Dec. 21 (ESPN)
I see more projections sending WKU (8-2, 6-0) to Dallas, but I don't seen how the Hilltoppers can turn down a chance to play in Miami against a very good AAC team. The Hilltoppers' odds of winning C-USA improved over the weekend with Marshall stumbling in a 27-24 overtime loss at Middle Tennessee.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – Middle Tennessee vs. Ohio – 11 a.m., Dec. 24 (ESPN)
The Blue Raiders (4-5, 3-2) appear ready to roll to four straight wins to close out the regular season. A nice trip to the Bahamas seems like a nice reward for a good season.
St. Petersburg Bowl - Marshall vs. Memphis - 10 a.m., Dec. 26th (ESPN)
Memphis (8-1) seems like a good fit for the Miami Beach Bowl, but that trip turned embarrassing when a 55-48 win turned into a huge brawl after the game ended. Marshall (8-2, 5-1) needs to rebound against FIU Saturday to regain momentum.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl - Louisiana Tech vs. Washington - 1:20 p.m., Dec. 26 (ESPN)
This game seems likely to feature the C-USA West champ and La. Tech has the advantage there since it hosts USM in the regular season finale.
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl - Colorado State vs. Rice - Dec. 29 (ASN)
Rice (4-5, 2-3) isn't looking so hot late in the season and is likely to take a loss at home to Southern Miss on Saturday. Fortunately for the Owls, UTSA and Charlotte are their final two games.