Welcome to Part Two of Bowl or No Bowl. Last week I looked at the odds of the teams in Bowl limbo in the AAC and MAC, which you can read here. (Special shoutout to Bowling Green for validating my confidence in the most bonkers way possible Tuesday night.) This week I look at the C-USA, MY and Sun Belt teams at the crossroads of their season. With two games left, this is not the time for the following teams to have a two-game losing streak.
Bowl Eligible: UTSA, North Texas, Western Kentucky
Ineligible for a bowl: Charlotte, Louisiana Tech
Florida Atlantic (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: at Middle Tennessee St., Western Kentucky
I try to leave my personal biases aside when I write. I do admit to there being teams that I like (despite not being alums of those schools, but that is a Twitter argument for another column). But one of the teams I find it hard to root for is Florida Atlantic.
Let me explain.
I am a Florida St fan. (I didn’t go there, I didn’t choose my school of higher education based on how much I like their sports teams. Sue me.) But as an FSU fan, I have strong feeling about head coach Willie Taggart and, to a lesser extent, quarterback N’Kosi Perry. Imagine my surprise to see they are generally an inconsistent team. They certainly have pieces, but nothing about them overly impresses me (especially on the defensive side). They are a mediocre team who beats who they are supposed to not good enough to crack the top half of the division, and that’s without playing UTSA. Neither of the last two games will be easy. I don’t think they can outscore Western Kentucky and don’t think they are definitively better than MTSU. This is almost certainly a guess based on my feelings rather than data, but No Bowl.
Remaining Schedule: UTSA, at North Texas
This team is essentially the poster child for where this column idea came from.
The Owls are sitting at 5-5 overall, 3-3 in the conference. The very definition of mediocrity. Not that there is anything wrong with that, for this team that probably exceeds preseason expectations.
But there is a fine line between 7-5 and 5-7. And Rice is straddling that line.
Their closing stretch is against arguable the top 2 teams in the conference, at home against UTSA and at North Texas. And both opponents are playing for something still. UTSA is looking for a perfect conference record, while North Texas needs to win to clinch their spot in the conference title game. Very “wrong place, wrong time” situation we have here for the Rice Owls. I predict a 5-7 record, but they tried hard. No Bowl.
Remaining Schedule: at LSU (Jesus), at Louisiana Tech
Real talk, this clearly comes down to the season finale at Louisiana Tech, because needing a win in Death Valley is literal death. Louisiana Tech is in a year of transition, but they are frisky. UAB is a better team than their record suggests. The injury to quarterback Dylan Hopkins has caused opposing teams to load up on stopping one of the nation’s top backs, DeWayne McBride. However, Hopkins is back, and they looked much better in their win against the Mean Green last week.
They aren’t beating arguably the hottest team in all of college football in arguably the most daunting night venue in all of college football. But if they can’t beat Louisiana Tech, the probably don’t deserve to make a bowl anyway. Bowl.
Middle Tennessee St. (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: Florida Atlantic, at Florida International
This has been one of the most curious teams to figure out. Six weeks ago, after beating Miami in a game that doesn’t look nearly as impressive, they felt like a legit threat in the conference. Then the following week, they got thumped by UTSA and lost two subsequent games. (To be fair, against Western Kentucky and UAB. No shame there.) MTSU has pieces. I like their defense, and tons of speed at the WR position. When they are right, they are very formidable. And I have little doubt they can get one of these last two wins. Bowl.
Florida International (4-6)
Remaining Schedule: at UTEP, Middle Tennessee St.
The fact that FIU is even eligible at this point is a testament to Mike McIntyre and the job he has done at FIU. But make no mistake, this team is not very good. Grayson James is pretty good and will likely make a good quarterback for a higher profile team someday, but when they lose, it’s a rough watch. They travel to UTEP in a Bowl Elimination Game this week. I think it will be the Panthers who are eliminated. No Bowl.
Remaining Schedule: FIU, at UTSA
Way, way back in Week Zero, I saw this team in person. They got beat by North Texas in a game that has meant quite a bit in the grand scheme of Conference USA in hindsight. The Sun Bowl is great, I wrote a whole thing about it. And UTEP has a lot of really fun pieces. But it just hasn’t come together.
UTEP beat Boise St. a week after losing to New Mexico (both by 27-10 scores oddly enough) and for a while Gavin Hardison and the UTEP rushing attack seemed to have figured things out. Use the talented running backs and let Hardison air it out to keep defenses honest. But things just haven’t worked out. And it’s been sad.
The Miners need to win both games to make a bowl game. This week’s home finale against FIU feels like a victory, but the season finale at UTSA is a different story. A Senior Night game for Frank Harris and the rest of a very special senior class is almost as unwinnable as the UAB game at LSU. I just don’t see it.
Go to the Sun Bowl to watch a game though. Seriously. No Bowl.
Bowl Eligible: Boise St., Wyoming, Air Force, Fresno St., San Diego St., San Jose St.
Ineligible for a Bowl: Colorado St., New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada
Utah St. (5-5)
Remaining Games: San Jose St., at Boise St.
Despite a revolving door at quarterback, Utah St. has been playing good ball lately.
Winners of 4 of their last 5 games, the Aggies have rebounded nicely from a slow start by beating up on the bottom teams in the conference (namely Hawaii, Colorado St. and New Mexico). They also have an impressive win over Air Force on their resume. They are playing well enough that they can certainly go beat a good San Jose St. team at home. They better though, because their finale is at Boise St. It would require an upset, but I think the Aggies can get to six victories. Bowl.
Remaining Games: at Hawaii, Nevada
When Doug Brumfield got hurt, everything changed.
This team looked really good heading into October. They were sitting at 4-1 and considered by some people as a darkhorse to win the conference. But Brumfield got injured during a Friday night game at San Jose St. and everything spiraled. (To be fair, the schedule was really tough in October.)
Brumfield is back. Whether he is 100%, only he knows. But these last two games are certainly winnable, and give him an opportunity to remind people of the version of this team that existed in September. This is one of those teams that, if they make a bowl, can really take advantage of the extra practice team and springboard themselves into a special season next year. Bowl.
Bowl Eligible: Coastal Carolina, Troy, South Alabama
Ineligible for a Bowl: James Madison (due to FCS eligibility rules), Old Dominion, Arkansas St., Texas St.
Remaining Schedule: at Georgia Southern, Georgia St.
The Thundering Herd are on here due to a scheduling quirk that left them with two FCS teams on their schedule. FBS bowl rules say that only one win over an FCS school counts toward bowl eligibility. As a result, Marshall needs to get to 7 wins to make the postseason.
Now having said all that, Marshall should get to seven.
This season may feel like a bit of a disappointment. They were a darkhorse pick to win the division. But then Rasheen Ali chose to sit out the season, and Henry Columbi didn’t exactly pan out like many people hoped. Despite that, they went to Notre Dame and spoiled Marcus Freeman’s home opener as coach. There was a lot going on early. They seem to have righted the ship a bit though.
Khalen Laborn may be the best running back in the conference (and he was supposed to be the back-up remember?) and Cam Fancher has been solid if unspectacular at quarterback. Defensively, the Herd has been terrific, giving up more than 24 points only once all season. They will be put to the test these last two games, against a potent passing attack in Georgia Southern and an outstanding rushing attack in Georgia St. The Herd just need to get one, could on them to do it. Bowl.
Georgia Southern (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: Marshall, Appalachian St.
Coming into the season, there were several teams in the Sun Belt East I anticipated Fanboy-ing over. But Georgia Southern may have swooped in (because Eagles) and stolen my heart.
I really liked the hire of Clay Helton, but anticipated it taking some time to convert from essentially a Wishbone offense to something more traditional. I guess I forgot the transfer portal exists and teams can change their general identity on a whim. GSU has been downright entertaining in wins over Nebraska and James Madison, and even in a loss to Coastal Carolina, thanks to quarterback Kyle Vantrease and a stable of wide receivers finally given a chance to showcase their abilities.
They’ve stumbled a bit the last two weeks in games against West foes South Alabama and Louisiana, but needing only one win in their final two at home against East foes, I think they can get the job done. I just hope Helton stays around, because this team has a chance to be a force in the East Division for quite some time. Bowl.
Appalachian St. (5-5)
Remaining Games: Old Dominion, at Georgia Southern
Remember that week where three Sun Belt teams beat Power 5 opponents? Then the corresponding week where Gameday actually cared about the Group of 5 and went to Boone, N.C. for a game that ultimately ended on a Hail Mary? What a time to be alive. Well what if I told you that the team at the center of all that currently sits at 5-5? I know, I’m shocked too.
Despite how crazy their season has felt, the core of the Mountaineers’ season has played out like it felt like it would. They were a team missing a lot of weapons on offense and expecting Chase Brice to be The Guy. But he’s been what he has been his entire career. Fine, but nothing special. And the weapons are developing, but not there just yet. Defensively, they have fallen a bit flat as well. Touchdown losses the last two weeks at Marshall and Coastal Carolina are understandable. A loss at Texas St. is not so much.
Luckily, App St. should be able to get to a bowl. Their home finale is against an Old Dominion team that has kinda crashed and burned offensively the past few weeks. So that should keep the game at Georgia Southern from being a winner-take-all situation. Bowl.
Southern Miss (5-5)
Remaining Games: South Alabama, at Louisiana-Monroe
I’ll be honest, I have no idea if Southern Miss is good. But their entertainment level is Top 10 in the country.
Offensively, they have the “Super Back” offense, which generally consists of Frank Gore Jr. rushing the ball or throwing to all-conference candidate Jason Brownlee. Gore has been playing the position in part because he is dynamic, but also because four other quarterbacks have started to varying degrees of success. Defensively, they have “The Nasty Bunch”, an aggressive, ball-hawking group that on good days can be terrific and on bad days can get exposed.
This is not even a conversation if Southern Miss wins their season opener against Liberty in overtime. As it is, they are looking at two very tricky conference games to finish their season. South Alabama is one of the top teams in the conference, and if UL Monroe could play all their games at home, they may be the best team in the division. My gut tells me Southern Miss settles for a 5-7 record which, for people who bet the Over on their win total, is good enough. No Bowl.
Remaining Games: at Florida St., at Texas St.
This team has been nothing short of maddingly inconsistent this season.
They have looked like the Ragin Cajun teams of old in wins over Marshall, Arkansas St. and Georgia Southern. But in games against the likes of Rice, Southern Miss and UL Monroe have looked listless, especially on offense. I doubt they can beat a Florida St. team that is playing really good ball, even at their best. So bowl eligibility comes down to the season finale against a Texas St. team that is probably already looking for Jake Spavidal’s replacement. Bowl.
Georgia St. (4-6)
Remaining Games: at James Madison, at Marshall
They got off to an 0-4 start that was so disheartening that I wrote an entire column about it. After that, they won 4 of their next 5, because if last year and this year has taught us anything, Georgia St. needs as much adversity in their lives as possible. Their margin for error was taken away last week when they lost to UL Monroe on their Senior Day. Now they have back-to-back road games at James Madison and at Marshall, needing to win both to make a bowl. I would be shocked if it happens, but stranger things have happened, especially when to comes to this season. No Bowl.
This team has been playing with fire all season.
UL Monroe (4-6)
Remaining Games: at Troy, Southern Miss
This team never really has anything definitive to hang their hat on and they’ve looked pretty bad in losses to Alabama, Texas, Army and *checks notes* Arkansas St! Also, they beat GSU thanks in part to two interceptions returned for a touchdown, but that’s not sustainable. They spotted Texas St. 21 first quarter points, but came back to win 31-30. Yet here they are, still eligible for a bowl.
All that points to an intangible belief in what Terry Bowden is preaching. A road game at Troy may take all that belief away for this season, but if the talent matches the message UL Monroe can become something in the future. No Bowl.