[Check out our updated projections here: Updated C-USA bowl projections heading into championship weekend]
Conference USA has six bowl tie-ins for the 2016 season, along with a secondary agreement with the Independence Bowl that could bring that number up to seven.
The Conference Champion will choose the bowl game they want to attend, with all other slots being filled through deliberation between the conference, bowls, and schools. This is in contrast to many other conferences which have a selection order for each bowl to select its preferred team.
The league currently has just four bowl-eligible teams, with four more on the bubble and two weeks remaining.
Bowl-eligible: Louisiana Tech (8-3), Western Kentucky (8-3), Old Dominion (7-3), Middle Tennessee (6-4)
On the bubble: UTSA (5-5), Southern Miss (5-5), North Texas (4-6), Charlotte (4-6)
Eliminated: FIU (3-7), FAU (3-7), Marshall (3-7), UTEP (3-7), Rice (2-8)
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Tuesday, December 27, 11:00 a.m.
Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, Texas
C-USA vs. Big Ten #8-9
2015 Payout: $1.1 million
The Heart of Dallas Bowl is the highest-paying bowl for C-USA by a wide margin and the only potential matchup against a Power 5 school. As such, it will likely be selected by the Conference Champion.
Excluding the College Football Playoff and potential at-large Cotton Bowl selection, the HoD Bowl will share the eight and ninth selections from the Big Ten with the Quick Lane Bowl, as selected by the conference. There are currently just seven bowl-eligible Big Ten teams, but they should be able to hit ten by then end of the year.
At this point, it seems likely that we will see two schools from the Big Ten in the CFP Semifinals and/or Cotton Bowl, which could leave the Heart of Dallas to choose an at-large team to fill the spot opposite C-USA. If no six-win teams are available, then bowls must fill any open slots with 5-7 teams based on their APR (Academic Progress Rate) scores.
The Conference USA Championship should be a fight, but I’ll give the edge Louisiana Tech, and the only way they pass on the Heart of Dallas is if the Independence Bowl calls upon their secondary agreement with C-USA. It seems more likely than not that the Big Ten won’t be able to provide a team for this one, so we may be stuck with a 6-6 MAC team that gets passed over by their five bowl tie-ins.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (OH)
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Saturday, December 17, 8:00 p.m.
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
C-USA vs. Sun Belt #1
2015 Payout: $500,000
The conference will likely award the New Orleans Bowl to the league’s runner-up as it’s the best remaining destination without the added cost of traveling to Hawaii or the Bahamas.
Tonight’s game between Arkansas State and Troy could determine the Sun Belt champion and the likely selection for the spot opposite C-USA.
Prediction: Western Kentucky vs. Troy
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Saturday, December 17, 1:00 p.m.
University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
C-USA vs. Mountain West #2-6
2015 Payout: $456,250
The New Mexico Bowl has historically matched up two teams from the west, with only one team in 10 years from anywhere east of El Paso. With the Miners no longer in the running for bowl eligibility, it seems likely that the league will send the western-most team that’s available.
The Mountain West selection became pretty straightforward once the home team Lobos hit six wins. New Mexico could finish the season on a 7-game winning streak and would look forward to a rematch of the 2013 “we’ll go 99” game.
Charlotte could still throw a wrench into the Roadrunners bowl hopes and push North Texas or Southern Miss into this slot, but I think UTSA will be able to get it done at home in the regular season finale.
Prediction: UTSA vs. New Mexico
Boca Raton Bowl
Tuesday, December 20, 6:00 p.m.
FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
C-USA vs. American #7
2015 Payout: $400,000
I have a feeling that the powers that be would like to see Old Dominion in a stateside game for their first ever bowl appearance, and they should feel at home in a stadium that they’ll be visiting this weekend for what should be an easy win.
The American already has seven bowl-eligible teams, so they shouldn’t have any problem providing a team, and there just might be an in-state team available.
Prediction: Old Dominion vs. UCF
Saturday, December 24, 7:00 p.m.
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
C-USA vs. Mountain West #2-6
2015 Payout: $650,000
The bigger payout for the Hawai’i Bowl is nice until you consider how much it costs to get the team and staff nearly halfway around the globe, so the conference will likely avoid teams who have had to make the trip in the past.
The Mountain West shouldn’t have any trouble filling this bowl, and I think will go for a team that’s never been before as well.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee vs. Wyoming
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
Friday, December 23, 12:00 p.m.
Thomas Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
C-USA vs. MAC #2-5 or American #6
2015 Payout: $450,000
I’ll be honest, I have no idea which conferences are actually slated to play in this game. All three claim to have an agreement in place, and the Bahamas Bowl official website doesn’t provide any clarity either.
However, it was my understanding that the C-USA would have a guaranteed spot as long as there were enough eligible teams, and I think this weekend’s matchup between Southern Miss and North Texas will provide number six for the league.
Prediction: Southern Miss vs. Memphis
Camping World Independence Bowl
Monday, December 26, 5:00 p.m.
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
SEC #10 vs. ACC #8-9
2015 Payout: $1.2 million
C-USA has a secondary agreement in place with the Independence Bowl in case either the ACC or SEC cannot fulfill its obligation.
Assuming the SEC places a team in the College Football Playoff, the Independence Bowl would get the 11th selection among bowl-eligible SEC teams.
There are currently eight bowl-eligible SEC teams, with three teams at 5-5 (two of which have FCS matchups this week) and two more at 4-6. Only Missouri has currently been eliminated from bowl contention. Vanderbilt would have to beat 10-point favorite Ole Miss at home this week to put any real doubt in the SEC’s ability to fill all eleven bowl slots.
Including a potential CFP selection, the Independence Bowl will have either the 9th or 10th selection from the ACC, depending on whether or not the Big Ten takes an Orange Bowl spot thereby giving an additional spot to the ACC in the Citrus Bowl.
There are currently nine bowl-eligible ACC teams, with NC State one win away and three other schools at 4-6. Virginia is the only program out of contention.
If either conference can’t fill their slot, then the Independence Bowl would surpass the Heart of Dallas Bowl as the highest-paying option for the league. Given the fact that Shreveport is just an hour away from Ruston, Louisiana Tech seems like the obvious choice unless they lose in the conference championship and the East winner chooses this one instead of Dallas.
Prediction: ACC and SEC fill their slots. C-USA misses out.