Conferences USA football was so poorly received during the regular season, one computer ranking rated the Missouri Valley, an FCS level conference, as a better league.
But when it comes to bowl season, C-USA once again delivered the goods. For the second straight postseason, C-USA teams posted a combined 4-1 record.
In addition to Rice’s victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, Central Florida, SMU, and Tulsa’s bowl wins gave the C-USA an 80 percent postseason winning percentage, better than the SEC (67 percent), ACC (67 percent) and Big East (60 percent). The only Conference USA team to lose a bowl was East Carolina. They fell to Louisiana-Lafayette 43-34 in the New Orleans Bowl.
The Big 12 went 4-5 and the Big 10 was 2-5 in bowls. In its last year of existence, WAC teams Utah State and San Jose State both won bowl games.
Houston, Marshall, SMU and Southern Mississippi gave C-USA four wins in five 2011 post-season games. Over the past five bowls seasons, Conference USA schools have the third-best bowl mark at 16-12 (57 percent). The Big East has the best record at 18-10 followed by the SEC.
The 2012 bowl victories came over the Mountain West, MAC and Big 12. Tulsa defeated its first power conference school in a bowl game, knocking off Iowa State 31-17 in the Liberty Bowl.
“This is huge deal for us and that’s why we looked forward to playing Iowa State, because they represent the Big 12,” said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship after the game. “…this was an opportunity for us to take a step in the right direction and get a little more attention on the national stage.”
Conference USA wasn’t thought of highly during the regular season. In fact, Jeff Sagarin, who has provided ratings for USA TODAY Sports since 1985, rated the C-USA as the 13th best conference in the country. There are only 12 FBS level conferences.
Even with the bowl wins, C-USA couldn’t shed the bottom spot in the ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings.
“Conference USA finished at the bottom of the conference rankings despite going 4-1 in its bowl games for the second straight season,” the article stated. “The conference could not overcome the weakness of its non-bowl members who were ranked low by the computers.”
Interest in some of the C-USA games appeared to be higher than usual this bowl season. The
Armed Forces Bowl drew the largest TV audience in the game’s history with an average of 2.58 million households.
“We are thrilled with the success of our 10th anniversary game,” said Brant Ringler, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl executive director, “Not only did we have a great crowd at Amon G. Carter Stadium, but we saw success with our TV numbers as well.”
The New Orleans Bowl drew about 2.6 million viewers, up 12 percent from a Sun Belt versus Mountain West matchup a year ago.
At Rice, interest was high from the fan base, coaches and players.
“This is a memory this football team will treasure,” said Rice coach David Bailiff after his team downed Air Force 33-14. “The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl was an absolute great experience.”
Quarterback Taylor McHargue said before the game only three Rice players had been to a bowl before.
“By and large, this is a completely brand new experience for our team,” he said. “It helps everybody’s pride just to say they’ve been in a bowl. It verifies that we are good players.”