After going through the most competitive Conference USA regular season since realignment, a record high nine teams played in bowl games this year. The conference earned a lot of goodwill during the 2017 season.
But with an opportunity to improve the conference’s reputation on the big stage C-USA didn’t keep the positive momentum going. After starting the bowl season 4-2 C-USA would lose three straight to close the 2017 season as the conference experienced their first losing record during bowl season since 2010.
Conference USA Bowl Record: 4-5
Best Win: Middle Tennessee over Arkansas State
Most Exciting Game: Marshall over Colorado State
Biggest Disappointment: WKU
Best Individual Performances: Teddy Veal, Louisiana Tech (Offense) Channing Hames, Marshall (Defense)
Stock Market: Rising
You can certainly make the case that Marshall had the biggest win for C-USA this bowl season. The Herd certainly played in the most exciting game as they were able to stave off Colorado State in the game’s final minutes.
But I’m going to go with Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were a surprise selection for the Camellia Bowl and made the most of their opportunity with their upset over a Arkansas State team that was a win away from winning the Sun Belt.
Also the Blue Raiders needed some positive vibes entering the offseason after failing to meet expectations (largely due to injuries, but still). The Camellia Bowl victory gave MTSU their first bowl win since 2009.
The Sun Belt and C-USA have established a nice rivalry and after Troy took down North Texas, and Georgia State defeated WKU, C-USA desperately needed MTSU to come through.
Speaking of WKU, the Tops were an easy choice for being the biggest disappointment. The Hilltoppers were a touchdown favorite over Georgia State and looked lethargic. The Panthers played more inspired football and put a fitting bow on a disappointing debut season for Mike Sanford Jr.
The Blazers are another team who I expected more from. UAB looked overmatched against Ohio from the start of the game and never looked capable of making a comeback.
Marshall’s performance in the New Mexico Bowl was fantastic as they moved to 5-0 in bowl games under Doc Holliday. Tyre Brady had a monster game with a national audience. So did sophomore Channing Hames. During bowl season you usually see a few younger players make a leap and Hames was one of those guys. Hames had eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
The longest bowl win streak in the country?— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 17, 2017
That belongs to Marshall, which won its 6th straight tonight. pic.twitter.com/N1s6ZxVQrw
Another player who stood out for me was Teddy Veal. J’Mar Smith’s inconsistent play during the season kept Veal under the radar. In the Frisco Bowl Smith had his best game of the season and allowed Veal to showcase how talented the receiver is in Tech’s blowout win. Veal had five catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including a sweet juke move to evade a tackler to reach the end zone.
Put em on skates, Teddy!! 21-3, us! pic.twitter.com/9ve2LwPLVo— LA Tech Football (@LATechFB) December 21, 2017
Tech’s victory over SMU gave C-USA an early edge over the AAC but unfortunately FIU couldn’t sustain the momentum. With Alex McGough sidelined, the Panthers were terrible on offense as Temple eventually wore them down. Similar to UAB, though the season didn’t end how they wanted it to it’s obvious that the Panthers are trending up.
C-USA had the longest streak among G5 conferences with six straight winning records during bowl season entering this year. To see it come to an end is disappointing as the matchups could have been more favorable. FAU won the conference and dismantled Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl but was mainly an afterthought this bowl season as they were rightfully a 20+ point favorite over a 7-6 Akron team.
When the best team in your conference has to settle for a sub-500 team from the MAC that’s a problem. While I understand why Southern Miss got the matchup versus Florida State, it did C-USA no favors. You always want the best team in your conference getting the best matchup possible and that didn’t happen. FAU-Florida State would have not only provided a better game, it would have also given C-USA the best opportunity to earn a win over the Power Five.
Going 1-2 against the Sun Belt is a major disappointment but seeing as how North Texas was shorthanded I think we can call that a wash thanks to MTSU. 1-1 against the AAC and MAC, and 1-0 against the MWC keeps C-USA competitive among their G5 peers so let’s call that a wash too.
In our latest Conference USA Roundtable I was in the camp that C-USA must exit bowl season with a winning record for it to be considered a success. However, Vegas pegged a C-USA team as an underdog in six of the nine matchups. One could make the case that being a game away from reaching .500 is a success for C-USA this year. If a majority of the loses this bowl season were competitive then I’d agree with that assessment but unfortunately that just wasn’t the case. I can’t help but feel like C-USA could have done more.
Fact❗️RT @underdogdynasty: Jay Hopson on the state of C-USA: 10 bowl eligible teams mean every week you face a lot of stiff competition.— Marshall Football (@HerdFB) December 27, 2017
With that said it’s clear that the conference is getting better. This bowl season didn’t turn out the way I thought it could, but gains were made nonetheless as the 2017 season has set the foundation for C-USA to continue to rise in the college football landscape.