C-USA notebook: League’s bowl slots filling up quickly
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year, Conference USA couldn't fill its bowl dance card, as only five teams were eligible.
This year, the league's cup could runneth over.
According to conference officials, C-USA is guaranteed six bowl positions: Liberty (Memphis), Beef 'O' Brady's (St. Petersburg), Heart of Dallas Bowl, Military Bowl (Annapolis, Md.), New Orleans and Hawaii. The Liberty would get the top pick, usually the league champ.
Four C-USA teams have qualified by virtue of winning six games: East Division leader East Carolina (6-2, 4-1) and West Division co-leaders North Texas, Rice and Tulane (all 6-3, 4-1). Two teams are heavy favorites to join the list today - Marshall (5-3, 3-1) and Middle Tennessee (5-4, 3-2). The Thundering Herd takes on Alabama-Birmingham (2-6, 1-3), while the Blue Raiders play fluffy Florida International (1-7, 1-3).
That's six teams, which seemed to be a maximum a few weeks ago. But more teams can hit the magic six wins.
Florida Atlantic (3-6, 2-4) is in amazingly good shape after shocking Tulane. The Owls may have the easiest schedule left in America - Southern Mississippi (0-8, 0-4), New Mexico State and FIU.
Louisiana Tech (3-5, 2-2) has a chance, but it's not easy. It plays Southern Miss and struggling Tulsa (2-6, 1-3) at home, but Rice and Texas-San Antonio (4-5, 3-2) on the road.
As a reclassifying member, UTSA is not eligible for a bowl this year, except for this loophole: If the FBS cannot produce 70 bowl-eligible teams, the reclassifying schools are granted a chance to fill a vacancy.
That is the first factor to track - if there are exactly 70 eligible teams, all of them are playing somewhere among the 35 bowls. There are 49 teams are eligible, with 14 teams at five wins.
C-USA officials have started lobbying other bowls that might have openings, but things likely will work themselves out - the last league team that missed a bowl despite being eligible was Southern Methodist in 2006.
Stay tuned, but this could be the last game between the Herd and UAB as East Division rivals. As the membership continues to evolve, the geography is changing and could send the Blazers to the West.
Here's the situation: Tulane and Tulsa, two West teams, and East member East Carolina are leaving after this academic year. Western Kentucky is entering and Old Dominion is beginning conference play - ODU is certainly an East team, WKU is most proximate to Middle Tennessee and Marshall.
That already provides an Eastern imbalance, and that's not accounting for North Carolina-Charlotte's rise to C-USA play in 2015.
The expected solution is to ship Southern Miss and UAB to the West. That carries one down side for UAB - it would be split off from MTSU, just 196 miles away.
The athletic directors have not yet voted on that or any other proposals.
FAU's recovery from the sudden resignation of coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis may be the most stunning story of the year in C-USA football. The situation broke in the middle of a game week.
Pelini and Rekstis resigned amid allegations of drug use. According to published reports, defensive line coach Matt Edwards and Allison Stewart, a local real estate agent described as a "personal friend" of the coaches, indicated in notarized affidavits that they saw Pelini smoking marijuana during a three-day coaches' trip to Key West on Oct. 18-20.
That was during the off week after FAU's 24-23 loss to Marshall, and during Key West's "Fantasy Week," an annual almost-anything-goes festival on that island. Edwards also stated he saw Pelini and Rekstis using cocaine within the past year, and Stewart said she received a text message from Pelini on admitting to drug use.
Pelini is now denying illegal drug use, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, and is alleging that Edwards and Stewart had an affair and that they had "strong motive' to remove Pelini. He retracted his resignation Thursday and is fighting his ouster.
But instead of falling apart amid the turmoil, the Owls beat West Division leader Tulane 34-17. They did it running away, outscoring the Green Wave 27-0 in the second half. Tulane was held to 167 total yards, 56 after halftime.
"I told them it was going to be a team win; it was going to take all of us," said interim head coach Brian Wright. "It was going to take coaches, their families, the players. It was going to take every one of us, all the support staff, everyone that touches the lives of our players.
"It took alumni; we had the alumni come speak to the team and show up. The support from them and people all over the country was amazing."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.