BOWL-DACIOUS! Sun Belt clinches 'Bowl Belt' with G-5's best postseason record
The conference clinched the honorary Bowl Belt with the best postseason record among the Group of 5 conferences, including the American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC and Mountain West.
Troy's 28-23 victory against MAC runner-up Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl on Friday night gave the Sun Belt its fourth bowl victory in six games for the top winning percentage among the G-5 conferences.
The Sun Belt was ninth among the 10 FBS conferences in non-conference winning percentage (409) during the regular season, but South Alabama won at Mississippi State and Appalachian State and Troy nearly pulled off major upsets at Tennessee and Clemson, respectively. The conference's impressive performances carried into the postseason.
"We showed up and represented well," said Trojans second-year head coach Neal Brown, whose team also clinched the the school's first 10-win season in FBS. "Our league is 4-1 in bowl games right now, which speaks to the level of play in our conference."
The Sun Belt also savored bowl wins by Troy, Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Idaho. A conference-record six teams were bowl eligible. That includes South Alabama, which lost 45-21 to Air Force in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl Friday on ASN, and Louisiana, which lost 28-21 to Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17.
The Falcons (10-3) became the the third 10-win team from the Mountain West, along with San Diego State (11-3) and Boise State (10-3). Their win also gave the Mountain West a tie with Conference USA. Despite South Alabama's loss, the Sun Belt still finished with the G-5's best bowl mark.
The biggest surprise might be the combined 2-10 record of the American Athletic Conference and MAC. The American ranked fifth in non-conference winning percentage (.646), ahead of the Big 12 (.633). AAC teams also went 2-2 against the Big 12, including Houston's 33-23 upset victory against No. 3 Oklahoma on Sept. 3.
South Florida doubled the AAC's postseason win column Thursday with a 46-39 overtime victory against South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. But conference champion Temple lost 34-26 to Wake Forest in Tuesday's Military Bowl, runner-up Navy lost 48-45 to Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl last Friday and Houston lost to Mountain West champion San Diego State 34-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17.
The American's other bowl victory came against the MAC. Tulsa blasted Central Michigan 55-10 in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 19, giving the AAC three 10-win teams along with USF (11-2) and Temple (10-4).
Undefeated Western Michigan is the MAC's last chance for a bowl win. The No. 15 Broncos will try to finish 14-0 with a victory on Jan. 2 in the Cotton Bowl against No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3), the Big Ten runner-up.
Photo courtesy Troy Athletics