Conference USA

C-USA Bowl Projections: As many as 10 teams could reach bowl eligibility

Southern Miss receiver Marquez Watkins (16) celebrates a touchdown with running back Ito Smith (25) against UTEp on Oct. 14 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss receiver Marquez Watkins (16) celebrates a touchdown with running back Ito Smith (25) against UTEp on Oct. 14 in Hattiesburg. Special to the Sun Herald

If you don’t hit the the seven-win mark in Conference USA this year, there’s a chance your team will be sitting at home for the bowl season.

There could be as many as 10 bowl-eligible squads in the 14-team league at the end of the regular season. The 2016 season served as a high water mark for C-USA with seven bowl teams.

The latest to join the bowl hunt is FIU, which improved to 4-2 overall with a 23-10 win over Tulane last week. Home games against ODU on Nov. 11 and UMass on Dec. 2 seem like very winnable games and WKU can’t take things for granted when it travels to Miami on Nov. 24.

At the moment, I see five teams that seem safe to reach at least seven wins – Marshall, WKU, North Texas, Southern Miss and UAB.

There are five more teams that have a path to six wins, but may have a tougher time getting to seven – FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and UTSA.

This weekend’s USM-La. Tech, North Texas-FAU and Marshall-MTSU games are very important for the postseason picture in C-USA.

Here are my predictions for bowl games featuring C-USA tie-ins:

▪  Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 16) — UAB (4-2) vs. Wyoming (4-2) UAB should easily hit the seven-win mark with Charlotte, Rice and UTEP remaining on the schedule.

▪  R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 16) — Southern Miss (4-2) vs. Appalachian State (4-2) — App State fans were a little annoyed they didn’t get the New Orleans Bowl bid last year. The Mountaineers appear set to close out the regular season with an eight-game winning streak. The winner of UAB-USM on Oct. 28 may get this bid.

▪  Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 19) — FAU (3-3) vs. Houston (4-2) — FAU may get to only six wins this season, but I still like the Owls’ chances of going bowling.

▪  Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 21) — Marshall (5-1) vs. Navy (5-1) — The schedule gets tougher for the Thundering Herd starting with Friday’s game at Middle Tennessee.

▪  Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 22) — Western Kentucky (4-2) vs. Ohio (5-2) — WKU should get to seven wins, but it faces a tough stretch after traveling to Old Dominion on Friday.

▪  Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 23) — UTSA (3-2) vs. Army (4-2) — The regular season finale between Louisiana Tech and UTSA may decide the C-USA representative in this game.

▪  Independence Bowl (Dec. 27) — North Texas (4-2) vs. Wake Forest (4-2) — A win at FAU this Saturday puts UNT in great shape in the C-USA West.

C-USA Power Rankings

1. North Texas (4-2, 3-0)

2. Marshall (5-1, 2-0)

3. Southern Miss (4-2, 2-1)

4. UAB (4-2, 2-1)

5. FAU (3-3, 2-0)

6. La. Tech (3-3, 1-1)

7. WKU (4-2, 2-1)

8. UTSA (3-2, 0-2)

9. FIU (4-2, 2-1)

10. Middle Tennessee (3-4, 1-2)

11. ODU (2-4, 0-2)

12. Rice (1-5, 1-1)

13. UTEP (0-7, 0-3)

14. Charlotte (0-7, 0-3)