It's a tough pill to swallow. The UTEP Miners came into this afternoon looking to close the door on any uncertainties of reaching a bowl. That door is still open. Trevor Vittatoe, who was working on a bad ankle, courageously led his team, but in the end they fell short with a 31-28 loss. The Miners jumped out to leads of 7-0, 14-7, 21-14, and 28-24, but could never widen the gap. A tough break at the end of the first half led to a Tulsa TD that tied the game at 21 going into the break. A UTEP TD with 5:20 to go in the 3rd quarter gave the Miners a 28-24 lead, but a great return on the kickoff set the Golden Hurricane up with the go ahead TD 1:20 later. A late 4th quarter drive into Tulsa territory ended with a Vittatoe interception on 4th on 10, and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane escaped with the 31-28 victory.
The loss sets UTEP back to 6-6, 3-5 in conference, and puts us in a real tough position for a bowl bid. SMU picked up a win today to keep pace with Tulsa in the conference standings and keep their edge over the Hurricane with the head2head win. Tulane and Marshall both dropped their contests, and thus have been eliminated from bowl contention. Houston plays at Southern Miss tonight in a game that has big implications on UTEP's bowl status.
As it stands the Miners are still 7th in conference. The good news: it can't get any worse. The losses by Marshall and Tulane assure that no team can bump UTEP down. The better news: it can still get better. A loss by Houston would keep the Miners alive to slide into 6th place should the Cougars lose at Texas Tech also. The bad news: there are only six bowl tie ins for Conference-USA. The bowls that could potentially be looking for teams to fill spots don't have to take UTEP.
A lot of doors have been shut after this loss, shrinking the amount of possibilities that remained only hours ago. The bowl possibilities that remain for UTEP are as follows:
1. Finish 7th in conference and hope for a bowl such as the Humanitarian or New Mexico, among others, to come calling,*
2. Finish 6th and earn an invitation to play in what I believe will be the R + L carriers New Orleans bowl vs. a Sun Belt team.**
Today we had the opportunity to solidify our position to earn a bowl berth, but unfortunately we came up short. I can't say enough about the effort that our Miners have put up, especially Trevor Vittatoe. In as bad a shape as his ankle is, he was out there doing his part to give us a shot. Yes there were mistakes, but no game is ever perfect. In the end, we gave ourselves a chance and that's all you can ask for. Unfortunately, our future is no longer in our hands. It'll be another couple weeks before we know if we'll get to play in a bowl game, but keep an eye on Houston whose play still could affect our ability to reach one. A Houston win tonight or next week would shut a door on one of our only possibilities.
*The C-USA website also lists the Ticket City Bowl as a bowl partner, but says TBD for the conferences that will be matched up. That game will be played on January 1, 2011 in the Cotton Bowl.
**I'm not exactly sure which bowl has the 6th tie in for C-USA. I've seen numerous sites either contradict each other, or only give conference tie ins without seedings. From what I've gathered I believe the New Orleans bowl with have the 6th choice at a C-USA team.