Conference USA was able to steal some headlines after the regular thanks to the coaching carousel featuring Lane Kiffin making his was to Florida Atlantic. With Butch Davis getting back into the fold at FIU and Western Kentucky bringing in a up-and-comer in Mike Sanford, the college football world is anxious to see what C-USA will become in 2017.
The new spotlight on the conference came just in time as the conference sent a record seven teams to play in bowl games. What was a downtrodden G5 conference two years ago, C-USA proved that the league is well on its way to becoming a good conference with an exciting brand of football yet again.
Conference USA Bowl Record: 4-3
Best Win: Western Kentucky over Memphis
Most exciting game: Louisiana Tech over Navy
Biggest Disappointment: Middle Tennessee
Stock Market: Rising
C-USA shined on the biggest stage this bowl season as the conference was able to post their sixth straight winning record during bowl season, the longest streak among G5 conferences. Since 2011 C-USA is 22-11 during bowl season.
Western Kentucky’s win over Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl made it three years in a row that the C-USA Champ won their bowl game. Having the best team in your conference do well in bowl season is always a good look for the league and WKU did their part yet again in showing that C-USA’s best can play with anyone.
The Tops looked like their usual point-a-minute selves with interim head coach Nick Holt and displayed that even amidst the top billing hires in south Florida, WKU isn’t going anywhere in their statement win over Memphis.
Although the Boca Bowl had a ton of highlights the best bowl game belongs to Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl as the Bulldogs beat Navy 45-42 thanks to a game-winning field goal by Jonathan Barnes.
Ryan Higgins, Trent Taylor, and Carlos Henderson were fantastic on the big stage as the players donned the blue and red for the final times in their careers and cemented their La Tech legacy with their third straight bowl win and third straight nine-win season.
Southern Miss’ win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl put a nice bow on the career of one of the best quarterbacks in C-USA history in Nick Mullens. Mullens finished the game with 346 passing yards and two touchdowns in front of a Southern Miss crowd that surprisingly outnumbered ULL fans in the Cajuns backyard.
Old Dominion’s first ever bowl game finished with a win over Eastern Michigan. The win gave the Monarchs their first ever 10-win season and solidified that Bobby Wilder will no doubt bring up how he was right about ODU and that the media was wrong during C-USA Media Days next year.
UTSA and North Texas both had a great shot at winning their bowl games but eventually ended up losing their game in Frank Wilson’s and Seth Littrell’s first years, respectively. Although UTSA didn’t end the season the way they wanted, a first ever trip to a bowl game was exactly what the fan base desired entering the year making Wilson’s first year a success.
North Texas going 5-8 in Littrell’s first year still leaves a bit desired but considering the Mean Green only won a game last year it’s obvious gains were made under Littrell.
The fan base who came away the most disappointed after bowl season were fans of Middle Tennessee. MTSU was picked to win C-USA East this year and finished the season with no hardware to show for it as they finished with a beatdown in the Hawaii Bowl at the hands of Hawaii.
The Blue Raiders were big favorites against Hawaii in large part due to Brent Stockstill returning back from a broken collarbone. Stockstill threw two interceptions but the offense clicked for the most part as they scored 35 points and gained over 500 yards. It was the defense that faltered yet again this year as MTSU allowed 52 points in the loss.
Finishing 5-2 would have been a great look for the conference but 4-3 isn’t too bad either. C-USA went 2-0 against the self-proclaimed “Power 6” America Athletic Conference which is a nice feather in the cap for the league against what was the best G5 conference in 2016.
C-USA looks as healthy as they’ve ever been entering 2017 and with UAB slated to make their return, the conference will be operating with all of their full-fledged members next year.
The conference has made big steps towards respectability since the last round of conference re-alignment and this bowl season coupled with some big time coaches entering the conference was another step forward in what will be an exciting 2017 season.