CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The last time a .500 or better Conference USA team failed to land in a bowl was Southern Methodist in 2006. In 2001, the GMAC bowl passed over Southern Mississippi and Alabama-Birmingham for East Carolina. (Most Marshall fans know how that 125-point game went.)
That's it for the last 11 seasons. Today, there are more than enough bowls to go around, but Conference USA likely will not fill its five guaranteed spots.
Three are in (Central Florida, ECU, Tulsa) and Southern Methodist is a win away at 5-5. Today, the Mustangs play Rice, one of three 4-6 teams hanging by a football's laces.
The other two are Houston and Marshall, with one getting knocked out today when they meet at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a noon kickoff.
Houston, Marshall and Rice are trying to put together a multi-win rally to get to 6-6, and it won't be easy for any of them. But it isn't unprecedented.
In fact, Rice has the best such comeback in 2006, with the Todd Graham-coached Owls winning their last six to turn a 1-5 start into 7-5 before losing to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl. Most were white-knucklers - a TD pass with 3.5 seconds over UAB, a double-overtime win over Tulsa, a field goal with 3 seconds left to beat ECU and a TD pass with 4 minutes remaining to beat SMU.
Southern Miss (2008) has the second-most impressive rally, storming from 2-6 to skate into the New Orleans Bowl. But those Golden Eagles steamrolled four foes by a combined 136-35.
There have been a few two-game rallies to bowl eligibility, with Marshall the latest to perform the feat in 2011. Those games were close - after a 59-17 pasting at Tulsa, the Herd rallied to squeak by Memphis 23-22, then beat ECU 34-27 in double overtime.
Using the standings as a guide, Houston has the easiest route over the last two weeks (at Marshall, home vs. Tulane). SMU needs to beat Rice before facing Tulsa, Marshall needs to beat Houston and ECU and Rice needs to beat SMU and Texas-El Paso.
C-USA's history dictates that everything is possible - especially heartbreak. Since 2001, 13 teams have been knocked out of the bowl picture with a final-game loss.
Groan and Bear It Dept.: The combined record of opponents that have lost to Marshall "improved" to 7-33. Hey, Rice and Memphis won last week.
Take heart in this, Herd fans: Should your team win the last two games and qualify for a bowl, it will have beaten one bowl team - ECU. Should Houston or Rice climb to 6-6, neither team will have beaten a bowl participant.
ECU and SMU could join that "illustrious" club, based on other results. That's just another piece of evidence of Conference USA's down season.
There's nothing down about the marquee match of the year, UCF at Tulsa - both are a perfect 6-0 in the league, 8-2 overall, and the winner will clinch its division. UCF would clinch home field in the C-USA championship game Dec. 1, while Tulsa would clinch home field if ECU loses to Tulane.
The UCF-Tulsa collision takes place at noon today on Fox Sports Net.
"You look at what we do well," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship. "Both of us tend to run the ball. Really good defense. Very effective in the passing game. Both have really good return guys. The special-teams units are 1-2 throughout the league. I just think we're playing against a team very similar to ourselves.
"This is the kind of football you should be playing for championships."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.