Several teams fighting for their bowl lives this week
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- All those nonconference losses by Conference USA teams are coming home to roost this weekend, as multiple teams likely will be eliminated from the bowl picture.
One was kicked to the curb last week when Marshall (3-4, 2-1) steamrolled Southern Mississippi (0-7, 0-3). Nobody in America would have guessed the Golden Eagles would go in such a free fall, but they led the charge to the bottom.
On Saturday, up to four of their brethren will suffer their seventh loss and therefore clinch a losing season. Five teams have six defeats overall, but one will survive for certain - Alabama-Birmingham (1-6, 0-3) plays at Tulane (1-6, 1-2) before friends and family at the Superdome.
Also on bowl death row: Rice (2-6, 0-4), which hosts Southern Miss; Memphis (1-6, 1-2), which visits Southern Methodist (3-4, 2-1); and Texas-El Paso (2-6, 1-3), which visits Houston (3-4, 2-1).
At the other end, only Tulsa (7-1, 5-0) has clinched a bowl berth. Central Florida (5-2, 3-0) and East Carolina (5-3, 4-1) can join the party with wins over Marshall and Navy, respectively.
C-USA has five guaranteed bowl spots (St. Petersburg, New Orleans, Hawaii, Armed Forces in Fort Worth, Liberty in Memphis), with two secondary arrangements (Military in Washington, Heart of Dallas). With three teams at 3-4, the guaranteed spots have a fair shot at getting filled, with SMU appearing to have the weaker schedule.
Marshall and Houston play each other Nov. 17 in Huntington, thus assuring a win and a loss for either side. Houston also faces ECU, Tulsa and two bottom-dwellers, while Marshall faces UCF, ECU and two from the bottom. SMU faces UCF, Tulsa and three lower-crust schools.
The league's nonconference record (12-34) is at the root of the carnage. Seven of those setbacks have been by eight points or less (vs. no close wins) and two have come to FCS foes (Houston to Texas State, Memphis to Tennessee-Martin).
Last year was the first C-USA failed to fill all of its bowl agreements, and it was the first season the league finished the regular season with seven teams below .500.
The Mustangs scored a whopping 44 points off those giveaways, including three non-offensive TDs. That included a fumble return by Kevin Pope on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Now the Owls must find a way to break a 28-year, 316-game streak without a kickoff-return TD.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.