Conference USA Power Rankings: Bowling Edition

In Conference USA action this past weekend, Houston and Southern Miss continued their roll, Tulsa stayed perfect in conference play, SMU got back on track, Rice picked up a big win, and ECU, UCF, and UTEP all lost. Each and every game is starting to become more and more important, and its time for teams stake their claims for bowl eligibility. Let's see what the Conference USA Power Rankings look like this week.

BOWL BOUND TEAMS

1. #11 Houston Cougars (9-0, 5-0) Last Week: (W) @ UAB, This Week: @ Tulane

For just a second (or about a quarter and a half), it seemed like the Cougars might have run out of gas. Of course that wasn't the case, and Houston ran away from UAB 56-13 to take their record to a perfect 9-0. The Cougars are now up to 11th in the latest BCS standings, and could very well find themselves in their first ever BCS bowl if they can just keep taking care of business. Next up is a road game at Tulane, and then things get a little more serious as the Cougars face SMU at home, and Tulsa on the road to end the season. An undefeated season won't guarantee the Cougars a BCS berth, as they will still need some help from other teams. But, 4 more wins could put them in the top 8, at which point it would be almost impossible to hold them out.

2. #22 Southern Miss Golden Eagles (8-1, 4-1) Last Week: (W) @ ECU, This Week: vs. UCF

The Golden Eagles extended their win streak to 7 on Saturday, knocking off ECU on the road 48-28. The Golden Eagles now take on UCF at home, UAB on the road, and Memphis at home to end the season. Assuming there are no slip ups, they should find themselves in the C-USA championship game, playing for the right to go to the Autozone Liberty bowl. USM could have easily been in the same position as Houston, with a BCS bid on the line, but an early season slip up against Marshall took that opportunity away in week 2. Southern Miss has the opportunity to play in the Liberty Bowl as conference champs, or even as the runners up if Houston makes a BCS bowl. If UH winds up in the Liberty, USM will likely slide into the St. Petersburg Bowl. 

3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (6-3, 5-0) Last Week: (W) @ UCF, This Week: vs. Marshall

The Golden Hurricane have established themselves as one of the three elite teams in C-USA. They have pushed their conference record to 5-0 after a win at UCF, and as has been stated many times, their only losses are to top ranked opponents. They face a very dangerous Marshall team this week, then head to El Paso to take on UTEP, before ending the season at home vs. Houston, potentially for the C-USA West title. If Tulsa were to win the C-USA title, they'd find themselves in the Liberty Bowl. Outside of that, it looks like Tulsa may land in the Ticket City Bowl.

4. SMU Mustangs (6-3, 4-2) Last Week: (W) vs. Tulane, This Week: vs. Navy

The Mustangs got back on track on Saturday, dropping Tulane 45-24. It was a much needed win after the two losses to Southern Miss and Tulsa the weeks before. SMU has Navy at home this week, then heads to Houston to take on the Cougars, before returning home to end the season against Rice. A  2-1 finish seems likely, and will put the Mustangs into either the Armed Forces Bowl, the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, or possibly the Ticket City Bowl.

FIGHTING FOR THEIR BOWL LIVES

5. Marshall Thundering Herd (4-5, 3-2) Last Week: BYE, This Week: @ Tulsa

The Thundering Herd slide into 5th after sitting back and watching ECU, UCF, and UTEP lose on Saturday. They are still 4-5, and have a tough road to bowl eligibility, but they do have a shot. In their last three games, they take on Tulsa on the road, Memphis on the road, and ECU at home. They've got to have 2 out 3, and it won't be easy.

6. ECU Pirates (4-5, 3-2) Last Week: (L) vs. Southern Miss, This Week: @ UTEP

The Pirates lost to Southern Miss on Saturday 48-28. It wasn't a game that anyone really thought they'd win, but they, like others, are running out of opportunities to make it to a bowl. This week the Pirates take on UTEP on the road, in a game that features two teams still fighting for to make it to bowl eligibility. Really, its a must win for both. Next week the Pirates play UCF at home, then take on Marshall on the road to end the season.

7. UCF Knights (4-5, 3-2) Last Week: (L) vs. Tulsa, This Week: @ #22 Southern Miss

The Knights lost to Tulsa on Thursday 24-17. They now face the toughest road of all C-USA teams still fighting for bowl eligibility. This week UCF travels to Southern Miss, next week they travel to ECU, and then they finish up with a home game against UTEP. They, like Marshall, ECU, and UTEP will need to find a way to get two wins to make it to bowl eligibility.

8. UTEP Miners (4-5, 1-4) Last Week: (L) @ Rice, This Week: vs. ECU

Ok, this is probably the most biased I've been with my Miners all year in these power rankings. Rice beat them, and should probably be 8th. But, UTEP still has a shot at a bowl, and really Rice doesn't. More than that, I still know UTEP is the better team, regardless of their poor performance on Saturday. I, like many, was extremely disappointed in the loss to Rice. I know the Owls aren't terrible, but we made them look like a top 25 team. In a game that we really needed, we folded. The Miners now turn around to face ECU at home. The game is an absolute must win, as it will be nearly impossible to knock off Tulsa at home the week after, and UCF on the road to end the season. Again, I'll say that I was extremely, and I emphasize EXTREMELY, disappointed in the game on Saturday.  But, even after the terrible loss, two wins gets you to a bowl. Let's see what we've got.

DEAD TO A BOWL

9. Rice Owls (3-6, 2-4) Last Week: (W) vs. UTEP, This Week: @ Northwestern

Ok, so the Owls aren't completely dead to a bowl after their win over UTEP. But, with trips to Northwestern this week, and to SMU to end the season still on the slate, you can pretty much count them out. Rice also has a date with Tulane sandwiched between those two road trips, so a 4th win is likely.

10. UAB Blazers (1-8, 1-5) Last Week: (L) vs. Houston, This Week: @ Memphis

The Blazers dropped their 8th game of the season on Saturday, losing 56-13 to Houston. This week they get a chance to solidify themselves as no. 10 in the conference by knocking off Memphis. Should be a classic. After that, the Blazers take on Southern Miss at home, and Florida Atlantic on the road to end the season. They could still get to 3 wins.

11. Memphis Tigers (2-7, 1-4) Last Week: BYE, This Week: vs. UAB

The Tigers had the week off last week, and will now take on UAB in the battle for 10th. The Tigers will then face Marshall at home, and Southern Miss on the road to end the season. Not much else to say here.

12. Tulane Green Wave (2-8, 1-5) Last Week: (L) @ SMU, This Week: vs. #11 Houston, Thursday

The Green Wave just can't seem to stop the bleeding. They've lost 7 in a row, and I don't see anything changing from here on out. Thursday, the Wave get to take on Houston at home, they head to Rice next week, and then end the season at Hawaii. It's looking more and more like 11 losses.

Obviously, four teams in Conference USA are already bowl eligible. Four others, need two wins to become bowl eligible. Conference USA has six bowl tie ins. Thus, there are four teams fighting for the two remaining spots. Houston still has a shot to make a BCS bow, but would need help in getting there. So we'll assume they go to the Autozone Liberty Bowl. After that, nothing is really set. C-USA has spots to fill in the St. Petersburg Beef O Brady's Bowl, the Ticket City Bowl, the Armed Forces Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl, and the R+L Carrier's New Orleans Bowl. 

The three best bowl tie ins that C-USA has are the Liberty Bowl (payout of 1.7 million), the Ticket City Bowl (payout of 1.2 million), and the St. Petersburg Beef O Brady's Bowl (payout of 1 million). Again, assuming Houston goes to the Liberty Bowl, Southern Miss will make the most sense for St. Petersburg, and Tulsa for the Ticket City Bowl. That leaves the Armed Forces, Hawaii, and New Orleans Bowls still yet to be filled.

This is where things get tricky. One would think that SMU is probably the best fit for the Armed Forces Bowl against BYU. It makes sense regionally, and its just a better bowl than the other two. An 8 win team probably deserves to be there. But, depending on who else becomes bowl eligible, it might not make the most sense after all.

If UTEP becomes bowl eligible, the Miners could probably fill the spot in Hawaii, leaving SMU in Ft. Worth for the Armed Forces Bowl, and sending whichever C-USA East team that becomes bowl eligible to Louisiana for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

But, if UTEP doesn't become bowl eligible, and two East teams do, it may not be sensible to send UCF, ECU, or Marshall all the way to Hawaii. In that situation, SMU would probably fill the void in Hawaii, while the two East teams fill the spots on the mainland.

There's still a ton of football to be played, and really nothing is set. Houston may wind up in a BCS bowl, Southern Miss or Tulsa might end up winning the conference, and/or C-USA could potentially not have enough bowl eligible teams to fill all their tie ins. Who knows will happen, but in any case it should be fun to watch.

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