With a 58-24 win at Louisiana Tech Saturday, the Southern Miss football team is deserving of an upgrade this week in the Conference USA bowl projections.
The Conference USA West champion Golden Eagles (9-3) will travel to Western Kentucky (10-2) at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the conference title game.
For several weeks, USM has been matched up with Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl. While that may be the game that can draw the most Golden Eagle fans, USM administration would likely prefer to take on an opponent from a Power 5 conference.
Conference USA dropped to five bowl eligible teams with Old Dominion's 33-31 season-ending loss to FAU, but there's still a good chance that C-USA can get six teams into the postseason thanks to there not being enough eligible teams to fill a record 40 bowl games.
The NCAA is using APR rating, which can help take into account a program's academic standing, as a backup plan to decide which five-win teams can fill the rest of the bids, putting Rice in the discussion.
The Owls are 5-7, but have an APR of 973 to tie for 11th in the nation with Middle Tennessee and Illinois, which is also a five win team. The three five-win teams that rank ahead of Rice and Illinois are Missouri, Kansas State and Nebraska. Kansas State can still get to six wins with a victory over West Virginia in the regular season finale.
It's no certainty that five-win teams like Nebraska or Kansas State would even accept a bowl bid if invited. At the moment, I have Rice on the outside looking in, but that could change.
It's all just becoming really messy and complicated.
Anyways, let's get to it:
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Louisiana Tech vs. Arkansas State – 8 p.m., Dec. 19 (ESPN)
Louisiana Tech (8-4) took it on the chin Saturday, but the Bulldogs are a talented squad. Tech should bring a decent crowd to New Orleans and this match-up with Arkansas State could set up to be one of the more entertaining bowl games.
Miami Beach Bowl – Western Kentucky vs. Temple – 1:30 p.m., Dec. 21 (ESPN)
While USM's performance drew raves Saturday, you can't ignore the fact that the Hilltoppers (10-2, 8-0) looked impressive in a 49-28 win over Marshall Saturday. WKU will be the favorite to win the C-USA title when it hosts USM in the championship game. A trip to Miami would be a nice consolation prize for Temple (10-2) if it falls to Houston in the AAC title game.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – Middle Tennessee vs. Ohio – 11 a.m., Dec. 24 (ESPN)
Middle Tennessee (7-5), which was one of the hottest teams in C-USA to close out the regular season, has already accepted a bid to the Bahamas. Ohio is 8-4 and seems like a prime candidate to be the opponent.
St. Petersburg Bowl - Marshall vs. South Florida - 10 a.m., Dec. 26th (ESPN)
With two losses in its last three games, Marshall (9-3) isn't exactly rolling into the postseason. The Herd seems like a good fit in St. Petersburg against a red hot South Florida squad (8-4). The Bulls will have the home field advantage.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl – Southern Miss vs. Washington - 1:20 p.m., Dec. 26 (ESPN)
Washington is one of the more attractive 6-6 teams with wins over USC and Washington State. The Huskies will likely have a few options, but Dallas seems like a good possibility. Southern Miss would get its chance to play a Power 5 program in Washington.