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.