Conference USA

C-USA Bowl Projections: Strong finish puts Southern Miss in the mix

Conference USA’s chances of landing bowl bids for all eligible teams looks to be a simpler task than it appeared a week ago.

Entering last week’s games, C-USA already had six bowl-eligible squads with Southern Miss and FAU as heavy favorites to join that group.

USM (6-5) delivered with a 39-7 thumping of UTEP for its third win in the last four games.

As for Lane Kiffin’s FAU squad, not so much.

Charlotte beat FAU 27-24 on a 56-yard field goal by Jonathan Cruz with 25 seconds remaining, ending the Owls’ season at 5-7 and lifting the Golden Eagles’ chances landing in the postseason.

FIU (8-4) was the first C-USA squad to accept a bowl invitation on Sunday and the Panthers will play Toledo (7-5) in the Dec. 21 Bahamas Bowl.

With 82 teams likely to be bowl-eligible after this Saturday’s slate, a bowl bid is not a guarantee for USM. There are 78 bowl spots to fill this year.

Even with C-USA featuring only six primary bowl tie-ins, it does appear a good possibility that the Golden Eagles will land somewhere when postseason match-ups are revealed this Sunday.

C-USA officials likely won’t know where teams are headed until after Middle Tennessee (8-4) and UAB (9-3) play for the C-USA title game at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday on CBS Sports Network.

USM can get some help from UCF on Saturday if it beats Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game. If the Knights win, they’re almost guaranteed to land a spot in a major bowl game.

At the moment, the AAC has seven bowl-eligible teams for seven tie-ins. If UCF moves up to play in the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, that could open up a spot in the Independence Bowl or Frisco Bowl. C-USA has secondary tie-ins for both the Independence and Frisco, giving the conference a clear path to step up and fill those spots.

There’s also a good chance that Southern Miss could land in a game that does not feature a tie-in with Conference USA. The Cure Bowl in Orlando, the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile and the Birmingham Bowl all seem like viable options.

ESPN has shown that it is willing to swap tie-ins between some of the bowls it owns, including sending Middle Tennessee instead of a MAC team to the Camellia Bowl last year.

As USM athletic director Jon Gilbert said Monday, “I wouldn’t take any bowl out of the realm of possibility.”

Here are this week’s C-USA bowl projections:

New Mexico Bowl — Nevada (7-5) vs. Southern Miss (6-5) — 1 p.m., Dec. 15

New Orleans Bowl — Appalachian State (9-2) vs. UAB (9-3) — 8 p.m., Dec. 15

Boca Raton Bowl — South Florida (7-5) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-4) — 6 p.m., Dec. 18

Bahamas Bowl — Toledo (7-5) vs. FIU (8-4) — 11:30 a.m., Dec. 21

Hawaii Bowl — Hawaii (8-5) vs. Louisiana Tech (7-5) — 9:30 p.m., Dec. 22

First Responder Bowl (Dallas) — BYU (6-6) vs. North Texas (9-3) — 12:30 p.m., Dec. 26

Independence Bowl (Shreveport) — Wake Forest (6-6) vs. Marshall (8-3) — 12:30 p.m., Dec. 27

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee.