It was only a little more than three weeks ago that UTEP was 5-1 with three very winnable games ahead of them. Well, as we all know, we dropped all three of those game to fall to 5-4 and put our dreams of returning to a bowl game on life support. Saturday though, those dreams were revived just a bit as the miners came up with a huge win on senior night over the SMU Mustangs. Now its time to take a look at the road ahead of us and how this bowl picture may shake out.
At 6-4, with two to go, the Miners control their own destiny. Immediately ahead is a trip Fayetteville, AR to take on an extremely tough Arkansas team that's coming off a win over South Carolina. Arkansas is 7-2 with its only losses coming to then no. 1 Alabama 24-20, and new no. 1 Auburn 65-43. I'm sure a lot of you saw that Arkansas should have beaten Bama, and that Auburn game was a lot closer than the score implies. If the Razorbacks pull off those two wins we'd be traveling to play the no. 1 team in the nation right now. Needless to say, its going to be a tough week. If UTEP can't find a way to pull off an amazing upset we'll drop to 6-5 and have a trip to Tulsa left to end the season. Now Tulsa is no SEC power but they are riding high after their win at Notre Dame followed by a demolition of Rice 64-27. That game is going to be a really tough one also. Here's where the destiny controlling comes into play.
If UTEP can go to Tulsa and pick up a win, that will get them to 7-5, 4-4 in conference. Believe it or not 4-4 could still get us into a tie for 1st in the west. I'm not sure how the tiebreakers work, but I am sure that H2H will come into play and Houston would get the nod over us. That would put us likely into an overall 4th to 5th place finish in C-USA and likely earn us an invite to the St. Petersburg 'Beef O Brady's' Bowl vs. the no.6 Big East team, or the R + L Carriers New Orleans bowl vs the Sun Belt's no. 1 which more than likely will be Troy.
Now, if UTEP goes to Fayetteville and falls to the Razorbacks, then goes Tulsa and falls to the Hurricane our fate would then be out of our control. This is where the situation gets a little messy. Two losses would leave the Miners at 6-6, but worse than that 3-5 in conference. At this point right now we are sitting in 7th in the conference standings. A 6-6 finish would likely solidify that 7th place finish. Not a very favorable position to be in when C-USA only has 6 tie ins. Now if this happens and we still make a bowl we can probably thank our good friends over in the WAC. It's looking as though the WAC will only qualify 4 schools for bowls, and that would leave their 5th tie in the opportunity to fill a slot with a C-USA team. That bowl is one that we are all familiar with. The blue turfed Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Id. where the Miners played in their 2000 season after winning a share of the WAC conference title. Our foe could also be a familiar one in Toledo. The Miners fell to Toledo in the 2005 Houston Bowl.
Now here's the sticky part. Remember the three teams we just lost to. Well, they are all sitting at 3-6 overall. I know its a longshot, but if any of those teams were to win their remaining games they would bump UTEP from no. 7 in conference to no. 8 in all likelihood crushing any hopes of reaching a bowl game. UAB has ECU and Memphis at home before closing at Rice. Marshall, who has won two in a row, has Memphis and Tulane at home with a trip to SMU in the middle of those. Tulane has home games vs. Rice and UCF before closing at Marshall. Basically, all of those teams have one tough game and two winnable ones so its not as long of shot as it may seem.
As always in college athletics the possibilities are endless. We won't know where we'll land till almost two weeks after our season ends. The best thing to do, don't leave our fate in the hands of others. Obviously Arkansas is tough task for UTEP to handle. In fact, Arkansas is a tough task for anyone to handle as their games against two no. 1's have shown. No one is asking UTEP to beat Arkansas. But when we get home we need to get focused, go to work, and take care of business. The rest will take care of itself. We control our own destiny. It just depends how much we want it.
***I'm so lost with the conference tie ins. I've seen a handful of different sites that all contradict each other as to which conferences have which tie ins. I went with ESPN whose bowl schedule coincides with that of NCAAfootball.com. The problem is neither site shows the tie ins by seeds. It only shows which conference plays which. If anyone has a reliable source for bowl tie ins with seeds let me know.
***UTEP is mathematically still alive to win the C-USA West. Regardless of what happens in Arkansas, if UTEP beats Tulsa and finishes 7-5 (4-4), they would still have an outside shot of winning the conference. Here's what would have to happen: 1). Houston loses out. Doesn't sound likely but they have Tulsa at home, then So. Miss and Texas Tech on the road so it's definitely possible. 2). SMU loses their last two. They have Marshall at home and ECU on the road. Again, not very likely but they've lost 3 of 4 so who knows what they'll do. 3). Tulsa loses 2 out 3. One loss would be to UTEP, the other would have to be vs. So. Miss. They'd also have to beat Houston. Obviously, it'd take a lot for UTEP to have a chance but its just crazy to think after everything we're still alive. Just think if we would have picked up 2 of the 3 we just lost. We'd be in the driver seat to win the conference.