TAKEAWAYS | Let's hear it for UNT: Around the bowls in 26 teams
A FIRST FOR CONFERENCE USA
Conference USA, especially Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion, finds itself in bowl paradise after sending a record seven teams to the postseason.
ODU is going to a bowl game for the first time and it might feel more like spring break than the Christmas holidays. The Monarchs (9-3) will play Eastern Michigan (7-5) in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 23 in Nassau.
"We’re ready to hop on a plane and go to a great location," Monarchs head coach Bobby Wilder said Nov. 29, when the matchup was announced. He didn't waste any time, holding his first news conference in Nassau on Saturday.
ODU has won both its meetings against EMU, 17-3 in 2014 and 38-34 last year as Ray Lawry ran for 223 yards and four second-half touchdowns.
MTSU (6-6) is headed to the paradise of Honolulu for the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 against Hawaii (6-7).
• UTSA (6-6) also is going to its first bowl game, the New Mexico Bowl against New Mexico on Dec. 17. The Roadrunners made the postseason in only their sixth season, matching the NCAA record. UTSA joins South Alabama (2014) and Georgia State (2015) as the fastest programs to reach a bowl.
ODU and UTSA give C-USA two more opportunities to improve on last year's 3-2 bowl record. Their .600 winning percentage last year trailed only the SEC. C-USA is 18-8 over the past five years in bowl games.
• Meanwhile, Southern Miss (6-6) will make its 24th appearance, the most among C-USA schools. The Golden Eagles, led by quarterback Nick Mullens, will play Louisiana (6-6) in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17. It will be their 52nd meeting dating to 1923. USM leads the series, 39-11-1, which dates back to 1923.
SIXES IN TEXAS
Six bowl games will be played in Texas, which also will have six schools playing in bowl games. One of those is North Texas, which won only five games.
But the Mean Green can make it six with a victory against Army West Point (6-5) in the Heart of Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Dallas. It's their second meeting this season — North Texas won 35-18 on Oct. 22 at West Point.
North Texas became bowl eligible at 5-7 because of a lack of six-win teams and its No. 2 ranking in Academic Progress Rate scores. Mississippi State, also 5-7 and No. 1 in APR, will play Miami (Ohio) in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26.
Seth Littrell, who took over a team that went 1-11 last season, is the second head coach to take North Texas to a bowl game in his first year. UNT beat UNLV 36-14 in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl.
• Houston will be the first Texas team to play in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars (9-3) face Mountain West champion San Diego State (10-3) on Dec. 17. It will be Houston's second trip to Las Vegas — they beat UNLV 69-0 in 1989. The Cougars are 2-0 against the Aztecs, but the teams last played in 1973.
• The Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth features Louisiana Tech (8-5) and Navy (9-3) in an intriguing contrast of teams that lost conference championship games. Unfortunately, Navy's Will Worth, ASN's FBS Player of the Year, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a 34-10 loss to Temple in the American Athletic Conference Championship. He led the No. 3 rushing offense in FBS (327.5 yards per game), while Ryan Higgins triggers Louisiana Tech's No. 3 passing offense (359.8).
• The biggest game in Texas will feature MAC champion Western Michigan (13-0) against Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin (10-3) in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 in Arlington. P.J. Fleck's Broncos are the second MAC team selected for a New Year's Six bowl, and hope to fare better than Northern Illinois in the 2013 Orange Bowl. WMU has beaten two Big Ten teams this season (Illinois and bowl-bound Northwestern).
• Temple (10-3), meanwhile, won the AAC championship at Navy and will return to Annapolis on Dec. 27 to play Wake Forest in the Military Bowl.
SEVEN FOR FLORIDA (+1)
Spring training is just around the corner in Florida. But first, there are 10 bowl games and the CFP National Championship in the Sunshine State. Three involve six teams from the ASN family:
• Arkansas State (9-4) vs. UCF (6-6) in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 17 in Orlando.
• Tulsa (9-3) vs. Central Michigan (6-6) in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 19.
• Memphis (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (10-3) in the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 20.
Meanwhile, South Florida (10-2) gets a shot at an SEC opponent in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 29. The Bulls, seventh in FBS with 43.6 points per game, play South Carolina. They hope to extend their FBS-leading streak to 17 consecutive games with 30 points.
The Power 5 coaching carousel could impact USF and WKU as Willie Taggart and Jeff Brohm, respectively, have been mentioned as candidates for openings.
SUN BELT ECLIPSES RECORD
The Sun Belt has a record six teams going to bowl games, including South Alabama (6-6) in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl Dec. 30 on ASN. The Jaguars will play against Air Force (9-3).
Sun Belt co-champion Appalachian State (9-3) returns to the Camellia Bowl to play Toledo (9-3) on Dec. 17 in Montgomery, Ala. The Rockets, who were finished second to Western Michigan in the MAC's West Division, feature Logan Woodside, the No. 7 passer in FBS (3,882 yards)
In another Sun Belt-MAC matchup in Alabama, Troy (9-3), will play Ohio (8-5) in the Dollar General Bowl on Dec. 23 in Mobile. The Trojans were ranked this season for the first time in school history and the Bobcats reached the MAC Championship game. They gave Western Michigan all it could handle in a 29-23 loss.
Idaho (8-4), which is leaving the Sun Belt after next season to rejoin the FCS Big Sky Conference, will play in at least one more bowl game. The Vandals will play Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22 in Boise.
• Bowl schedule
Photo courtesy North Texas Athletics