For the fourth consecutive season, Southern Miss clinched bowl eligibility with its 39-7 win over UTEP. Despite being eligible, a bowl game is not guaranteed for the Golden Eagles.
“What I’ve been doing since our game in El Paso is talking to all the people that I know, the relationships that I have, that are influential in the bowl selection process to make sure that I am conveying how important it is that Southern Miss participate in a bowl game,” Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said.
Currently, there are 81 teams that have clinched bowl eligibility and 78 bowl slots this season. Forty-three of those teams are in the Power Five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and PAC-12), 34 teams are in the Group of Five conferences (C-USA, MAC, AAC, Sun Belt, MWC) and three are independents.
The complicated breakdown:
The SEC has a total of 11 bowl-eligible teams, the most out of all conferences. Two of those teams are six-win teams, but the SEC fills all of its conference tie-ins with those teams included. For the sake of this article, we will say that the SEC will be in two New Year’s Six games, whether it be the playoffs or the other New Year’s Day bowls. The Big Ten has nine teams that are bowl-eligible, including two six-win teams. The Big Ten filled its quota of seven bids, including a likely New Year’s bid. The Big 12 has seven teams bowl eligible with three six-win teams in that group. This fills the conference’s bowl bid quota and includes a likely New Year’s Six game.
In the Group of Five, the AAC filled its quota of six bowl bids, with Tulane being the only 6-6 team in the conference that clinched a spot this past weekend. The MAC has seven bowl-eligible teams, filling its five bids and the Sun Belt has six, which fills its six bids. The Mountain West Conference has seven teams that are bowl eligible but has only five bowl tie-ins.
Conference USA’s situation:
In C-USA, Southern Miss is the only six-win team in the conference. C-USA has seven teams that are bowl eligible, including UAB, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Marshall and Florida International. C-USA is guaranteed at least six of the 78 bowl bids available, and the conference also shares a bid with the Mid-American Conference in the Boca Raton Bowl as well as an at-large bid that is available in the Frisco Bowl.
Notably, the lineup for the Bahamas Bowl, a C-USA tie-in bowl, has been announced. The game will feature C-USA member FIU and Toledo from the MAC.
Who Southern Miss is competing against for a bid:
There are 14 total six-win teams, five in the Group of Five conferences, eight in the Power Five conferences and independent BYU. In addition, Virginia Tech is a 5-6 team with one game left on the season that could determine its eligibility. Bowl games are typically decided by how well team fanbases travel, logistics and who can generate the most revenue.
With that said, any Power Five six-win teams will be guaranteed a spot, which leaves Southern Miss, Miami (Ohio), Wyoming, Tulane, Louisiana-Monroe and BYU. By this logic, out of the 81 teams that are bowl eligible, these six teams are fighting for bids.
Tulane should be guaranteed a spot since it was the last team of its conference to fill in its tie-in quota. Louisiana-Monroe also has a stronger chance since it beat Southern Miss earlier in the season and in theory helps define the discussion.
With the MAC and C-USA sharing a Boca Raton Bowl bid, C-USA may gain the favor in that game. Despite the MAC having bowl-eligible teams, they generally do not travel well, which is likely why Miami (Ohio) will not receive a bid.
Of course, Virginia Tech still has to play Marshall to close out the season. If the Thundering Herd defeat the Hokies, it would be a major boost for the six-win bowl-eligible teams, as a loss gives Virginia Tech a 5-7 record.
The Hopson logic:
During his postgame radio interview after the UTEP game, Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Hopson explained his reasoning as to why his team should get a bid. Essentially, if you break the conference down and rank the teams per conference record, then Southern Miss is the sixth-best team since it beat LA Tech and would guarantee them a bowl bid. While this is a strong and valid argument, it is just as logical of an argument for the teams with seven or more wins to take priority.
My take and conspiracy theory:
The best case scenario for Southern Miss is for Virginia Tech to lose, which ensures an additional bowl for a Group of Five team and then for Central Florida to make a New Year’s Six bowl, since the AAC would lose an extra bid and be short of its quota. For Southern Miss, a secondary bowl tie-in will be its best bet to receive a bid.
“There are multiple scenarios that could play out,” Gilbert said. “The CFP (College Football Playoff) rankings will be important tomorrow night since it will determine how many teams play up, thus vacating some of their bowl tie-ins which would then send them to secondary bowl agreements, so that’s important. Then I would tell you that next weekend’s games are important. We’re at the mercy of bowl representatives, ESPN, the conference office to determine to get a slot or not and what happens on the field.”
The biggest pain for Southern Miss is that all five FBS teams in Louisiana are bowl eligible and almost all, except for LSU, have some type of realistic tie-in to all the games that are viable options for Southern Miss.
In a favorable scenario, it would be fun to watch Southern Miss play Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl. Both teams have a history with the bowl, and each team would attract a strong crowd and rekindle an old rivalry.