It took the Sun belt Conference its first five years (2001-2005) to actually place six members into bowl games and until 2008 before it claimed its fourth win in one. In 2016 the league would smash through that pace with six members going to postseason appearances and winning 4 of those games. What is impressive is that 2 of those wins came from underdogs and both of those were against perceived more prestigious conferences. More importantly the conference is on track to finish third in the group of 5 bowl standings with a 4-2 record. That would mean a substantial jump in payouts to the league through the college football playoff system. After the 2015 season, the league received $2.3 million in payouts with a fourth place finish among the G5 schools. This year with four wins and a third place finish, the league stands to add an additional $4 million or so, placing its total take in the $6 to $7 million range. As the Virginia Slims tagline used to say, “You've come a long way baby!”
Lets take a stroll down memory lane and remember the 2016 Sun Belt Bowl season in all its glory. I’ve ranked them from worst to first.
#6 Arizona Bowl South Alabama 21 Air Force 45
The Jaguars sprinted out to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter and looked well on their way to the programs first bowl victory until the Falcons reeled off 25 points in a matter of 7 minutes to take control permanently and secure the Arizona Bowl Championship. The Falcons limited South Alabama to 37 yards in the second half.
#5 New Orleans Bowl ULL 21 Southern Miss 28
This game featured a pair of 6-6 teams with Louisiana-Lafayette who had won four consecutive New Orleans Bowl games and the Golden Eagles who were making their 23rd postseason appearance. The big difference in the game came from the QB play, with ULL’s Anthony Jennings going just 8-20 for 95 yards and 0 touchdowns while Southern Miss’ Nick Mullens threw for 346 yards while going 25-40 with 2 touchdowns.
#4 Camellia Bowl App St 31 Toledo 28
Toledo and Appalachian St both came into Montgomery looking for their 10th win of the season but it was meant to be for the Mountaineers as they rode the strong rushing games of both QB Taylor Lamb (126 yards) and running back Marcus Cox (143 yards.) The game would eventually come down to who could make the clutch special teams play as Mountaineer kicker Michael Rubino connected on a 39 yard field goal while Rocket kicker Jameson Vest would miss a 30 yard field goal with under two minutes left in the game.
#3 Dollar General Bowl Troy 28 Ohio 23
The Troy Trojans were trying to win their first bowl game since 2010 and looking for their first ever 10 win season in FBS play as the Bobcats were trying to snap a 2 game bowl losing streak. This was a game to be won through the air as Ohio was held to just 78 yards rushing and Troy’s feature back Jordan Chunn scored 3 touchdowns but only rushed for 56 yards.
#2 Cure Bowl Arkansas St 31 UCF 13
On a day where the winners only had 8 first downs and the two teams combined for more penalties than first downs (26 to 25), it was the Red Wolves defense and secondary once again coming to the rescue. ASU finished with 6 sacks, 9 hurries, and limited the Knights’ rushing attack to 12 yards while also blocking a punt that was recovered for a touchdown that set the tone for the game. Arkansas State came in a 6.5 point underdog against the AAC Knights but showed to be faster and more physical.
#1 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Idaho 61 Colorado State 50
So what do you do if you are the Idaho Vandals and you are playing in your next to last year of FBS competition before moving down to the FCS level? How about win 8 regular season games, finish 3rd in the Sun Belt and go to your first bowl game since 2009? That would be enough, right? Not so fast my funbelt friends. The Vandals shattered the Sun Belt bowl scoring record and rolled up 606 yards on Mountain West Conference opponent Colorado State, who came into the game as a 13.5 point favorite. Only 36 fourth quarter points by the Rams kept this one from being more embarrassing than it was.