Heading into week nine of the college football season, we are finally starting to see things fall into place in regards to the postseason.
In Conference USA, only Marshall (7-1) and Western Kentucky (6-2) have officially reached bowl eligibility status with six wins. Barring some sort of epic collapse, Louisiana Tech (5-3) and Southern Miss (5-3) will get their sixth wins of the season. Both programs have four chances to get to that milestone.
At this point in the season, only two CUSA teams have been officially eliminated from postseason competition, Charlotte (2-5) and North Texas (0-7). At 0-7 North Texas has no chance at a .500 record, so their season will end following their season finale versus UTEP. Charlotte, being a FBS transitional program, is not eligible for any postseason in 2015. We will not run into this issue with the 49ers, but even if they have a .500 or better record, the transitional rule supersedes a .500 or better record and will keep Charlotte at home.
So, with four teams set to go bowling for Conference USA heading into week nine and two officially eliminated, that leaves the middle seven.
Let's get two out of the way quickly. Florida Atlantic (1-6) and UTSA (1-6) are both on the verge of being eliminated from postseason contention. For either of these teams to get to the magic six-win plateau, they would have to go on a five game winning streak to end the season. If one of the two were able to pull out the miracle finish, it would be UTSA. The Roadrunners have a much easier final five games than FAU. Even so, they would have to navigate Rice and MTSU in back to back weeks to end the season.
UTEP (3-4) is an interesting team. Despite looking terrible for significant portions of the season, they are still alive for a bowl berth following a surprising win over FAU. They have to go 3-2 down the stretch. If they can beat either Southern Miss, Rice, or Louisiana Tech, they could sneak in with six wins, an accomplishment considering how this season started.
The next two weeks are the most important of the year for Florida International (4-4). The Panthers have a road trip to FAU and a home game versus Charlotte coming up. If they win those two games, they are at six wins on the season with games versus Marshall and WKU to end the season. I do not see FIU winning either of those final two games, so weeks nine and ten determine FIU's postseason aspirations.
MTSU (3-5) has quite a bit of work to do this season, needing three wins in their final four games of the season. Hosting Marshall will be quite the task for the Blue Raiders, but FAU, UNT, and UTSA are a combined 2-19 on the season. Anyone watching MTSU would have to think they should win the final three games of the season to get to 6-6.
The Monarchs of Old Dominion (3-4) are another strange team as they are objectively not very good of a football team. Even so, they face two different one win teams and a three win UTEP team down the stretch. WKU and Southern Miss should be losses, but it is not a stretch for Old Dominion to win the other three games and get to six wins.
Rice (4-3) should be set to get to six or more wins with Louisiana Tech, UTEP, Southern Miss, UTSA, and Charlotte left on the schedule. Surely they can get 2-3 wins out of that stretch and get to six or seven wins.
According to the conference website, Conference USA now has seven bowl tie-ins. That puts any CUSA team with six or more wins in a great spot to earn a postseason destination.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl (CUSA-Big 12) is the only chance for a CUSA team to face a power five conference bowl team. The St. Petersburg Bowl (CUSA-AAC), Arizona Bowl (CUSA-MWC), New Mexico Bowl (CUSA-MWC), Miami Beach Bowl (CUSA-AAC), Bahamas Bowl (CUSA-MAC), and New Orleans Bowl (CUSA-Sun Belt) all match up group of five conferences. The Independence Bowl (CUSA-ACC/SEC) has CUSA designated as a secondary choice, only to be used if the ACC or SEC doesn't qualify.
Best Case Scenario: WKU, Marshall, FIU, MTSU, Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, UTEP, and Rice are all bowl eligible. The would make a whopping nine CUSA teams bowl eligible. Most likely, two teams would end up staying home despite being eligible for the postseason.
Worst Case Scenario: WKU, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, MTSU, Southern Miss, and Rice are the only bowl eligible teams. That would leave one CUSA bowl tie-in not filled.
Most Likely Scenario: WKU, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, MTSU, Rice, and FIU are bowl eligible. That would give Conference USA seven bowl eligible teams for seven bowl tie-ins.