Fans occasionally embark on never-ending spiels about which conference trumps all, using every which algorithm available to legitimize their thoughts. From wins versus Top 25 teams ,to calculating bowl records to some sort of power ranking etched deep into the heart of statistics—the cases seem to stretch eons.
The Conference USA is right in the thick of things via Group of Five representatives, specifically observing the prime contenders. Anyone arguing for the Conference USA as the mid-major’s finest may be double-crossed by year’s end, though.
The match ups don’t seem to be in its favor.
Five teams heading to unique destinations will represent the southeast in the upcoming bowl slate. Three are listed as projected victors according to the sportsbook, yet each program will find itself battle tested versus an array of qualified competition.
It all begins on opening Saturday when the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs meet the Red Wolves of Arkansas State.
The obvious factor for Louisiana Tech’s potential atrophy is level of motivation. A team with hopes fixated on drumming up a Conference USA Championship reverts to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl versus a Sun Belt squad in Arkansas State. Head coach Skip Holtz delved into the evident obstacle for his team heading into the weekend.
“You got two teams in this bowl game that are really excited about it,” Holtz told The News Star. “Sometimes when you see a team maybe get snubbed from a certain bowl and they get disappointed they had to go to the second bowl or the third bowl, I said this when we didn’t know what the bowl was. Our team just wants to play.”
Whether Louisiana Tech is wallowing in the doldrums or not, the Red Wolves have relied on a streaky offense that’s compiled seven consecutive wins, hanging up 37 points or more in each of those victories.
Arkansas State will be a test.
Speaking of streaks, one streak that will look to be subdued is the groove that the South Florida Bulls have put together as one of the nation’s hottest ball clubs, with an eye-popping 43.8 points per contest to close out the final four games of 2015. There’s no question that the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers can seemingly match scores with the Bulls in the Miami Bowl. Still, the Hilltoppers ambled through the latter half of the ledger without a sole ounce of competition, unless you want to tag the Marshall Thundering Herd as a viable antagonist.
The 2014 Conference USA Champions, like Western Kentucky, will square off against a member of the American Athletic Conference in the Connecticut Huskies. Offense may be hard to come by in the St. Petersburg Bowl, which should serve as an advantageous edge for the Huskies, who rank 21st in the nation via the pass. Uconn has been listed as a single-digit favorite four times this season and has allowed just 18.3 points per contest in this situation. Marshall has put up 32.6 points per game, so something has to give.
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders may be just the opponent that the Western Michigan Broncos are looking for come New Year’s Eve in the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl, given the 7-5 record for the Mid-American program doesn’t exactly tell the tale of the Bronco’s identity.
Western Michigan was dealt a bizarre hand for the 2015 schedule and perhaps the most rugged of any team spanning the nation. With non-conference opponents in Ohio State and Michigan State, the five losses don’t detriment the Broncos whatsoever: those five opponent’s records finished a combined 49-14. With a senior quarterback in Zac Terrell knuckling up versus a freshman quarterback in Middle Tennessee’s Brett Stockstill, the Broncos could be a clear-cut winner from opening kick.
Lastly, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles serve as the lone Conference USA team encountering a program stemming from the Power Five in Washington.
It’ll be a test of strength versus strength, as Southern Mississippi’s aerial attack will grapple with a Huskies’ secondary that allows a sliver over 18 points per game. Washington’s currently listed as an 8.5-point favorite.
In all, bowl season could end up being a tough season for Conference USA, but we’ll have to wait and see how it really plays out. After all, that’s why they play the games.