It is the most wonderful time of the year! It’s time for the College Football bowl season! There are 40 bowl games (plus the National Championship game) to look forward to. In this series, I will be looking at all 80 teams who qualified for the postseason and breaking down their matchups. Each installment will focus on teams from a respective conference. This year, two teams will be making their bowl debut, one bowl-eligible team was left home, and there are 14 instances where the teams are facing for the first time in history! Let’s take a look at the 2019 Conference USA Bowls.
2019 Conference USA Bowls Preview
The first bowl of 2019 features a CUSA team in the Bahamas Bowl when Charlotte faces off against Buffalo. First off, congrats to the 49ers for qualifying for their first-ever bowl game! After five years at the FBS level, Charlotte made a coaching change and it paid off.
True sophomore quarterback Chris Reynolds leads Charlotte on offense. Reynolds has passed for 2,366 yards and 21 touchdowns. He did throw 10 interceptions, though. Not great, but not the worst. With all of that, he is actually atop the CUSA in terms of efficiency rating with 155.1. Senior running back Ben LeMay has also been stout for this team. He has amassed 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns, which is a step back from his 2018 totals of 1,243 and 11, respectively. The 49ers do average more than 200 yards through the air and on the ground each game, so their offense is not an issue.
What hurt this team was their performances against the six bowl-eligible teams on their schedule. Given, Appalachian State and Clemson are great teams, but going 1-5 will spell doom for any team. They gave up at least 30 points six different times but held teams under 30 four times during their season-ending five-game winning streak. They are certainly ending the season on a high note, but I will be siding with Buffalo in this matchup. However, I am more than okay with being wrong. I’d love to see this Charlotte team win its bowl game in its first appearance.
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
Florida Atlantic vs SMU
The Boca Raton Bowl will be Florida Atlantic against a surprising AAC foe, SMU. After starting 0-2 against Ohio State and UCF, FAU finished the season 10-1 to win the Conference USA. This Owls team blew through their ten wins. Even including their loss, FAU scored more than 28 points in their final 11 games. There is a lot to like about this team.
Their quarterback is true sophomore, Chris Robinson. Robinson made a leap from his freshman year and finished with 3,392 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. His favorite wide receiver (in terms of targets) is his senior tight end, Harrison Bryant. When was the last time you heard of a college tight end going for 1,000 yards? Well, Bryant did it. Look for this guy to make a difference in his last game as an Owl and don’t be surprised when his name is called in April at the NFL Draft. The future is bright, however. Their top running back is redshirt freshman Malcolm Davidson. He went for 702 yards and nine touchdowns. He is a great compliment to Robinson and their offense.
The difference in this game will be the defense. While their 22 points per game allowed may not move the needle, it will be enough to win this game. SMU will roll into this game (which is a home game for FAU) with the 100th ranked scoring defense. Do you think that they will be able to stop this FAU attack? Even with the departure of Lane Kiffin to Ole Miss and their hiring of Willie Taggart, the Owls will win this game and be set for next year. If they can steal their matchup week one against Minnesota, look out.
Florida International vs Arkansas State
This iteration of the Camelia Bowl features Florida International and Arkansas State. 2019 was not kind to the FIU Panthers, considering they went 2-5 against bowl-eligible teams. Those two teams? Miami (FL) and Charlotte.
The largest issue was the inability to get the offense going. The redshirt senior Bowling Green transfer James Morgan was not able to replicate the success he had in 2018. Though his 11 games played, he threw for nearly 500 fewer yards and half as many touchdowns. Their leading rusher is senior Anthony Jones who amassed 802 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns.
On defense, the Panthers are not much better. On average, they give up more yards than they gain (384 vs 371). It doesn’t take an analytics genius to figure out that this is not a stable relationship. On five occasions, the defense gave up at least 30 points and at least 400 yards. They gave up 500 yards four times! Jones will have to muster up a miracle if the Panthers want to stop the connection between Layne Hatcher and Omar Bayless. All in all, I do expect the Red Wolves to take care of business in this matchup. The offensive firepower will overwhelm FIU and the game will probably be in hand early.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
UAB vs Appalachian State
The Blazers of UAB face off against the Mountaineers of Appalachian State. Just by glancing at the record and the fact that UAB made it to the CUSA championship, one could conclude that this team is solid. Well, have I got some news for you.
UAB played five bowl-eligible teams. Their record in those games? 1-4. Records like this do not bode well in postseason play, traditionally. Statistically, the Blazers dominated the lesser teams and got dominated by the better teams. They only average 24 points per game. Perhaps we can look at quarterback play. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Johnston III is the team’s starting quarterback. He was not able to pass for 2,000 yards and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 15:14. He is injured and they are not sure if he will play in this game, so the Blazers will turn to true freshman, Dylan Hopkins. Despite his five interceptions compared to three touchdowns, maybe he will be able to catalyze this offense to upset App State.
The defense of UAB is certainly a “bend but don’t break” defense. In their 13 contests, opponents scored more than 20 only three times. Ohio State, for comparison, allowed more than 20 points three times, once to Rutgers. I know it’s like comparing apples and oranges, but it’s still impressive. Despite this, I do fully expect Appalachian State to put UAB away in convincing fashion. App State is a very good, underrated team. They will be looking to prove to the Power 5 world that they are legit. Sorry Blazers, you might just want to look forward to 2020.
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
Marshall vs UCF
The Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida will feature the Marshall Thundering Herd and the 2017 National Champions* UCF. The Herd lost a hard-fought game against the group of five power Boise State. They then turned around to beat their old MAC foe Ohio 33-31. Marshall did have a chance to win their CUSA division but fell to Charlotte in the penultimate week.
Offensively, the Herd were not great. They scored less than 26 points per game which was “good” for 89th in the nation. It could be because they tried to run that ball more than 40 times a game, but averaged less than 200 yards. Their leader is sophomore running back Brenden Knox with 1,284 yards and 11 touchdowns. This scoring disparity is confusing considering Knox averages five yards per carry. Just feed the beast, sit back and relax! The other sophomore on the offense is quarterback Isaiah Green who tallied 2,265 passing yards and only 14 touchdowns. He went 9 for 20 with 90 yards at the end of the season against UAB. Not great.
Even with that inept offense, they still average more points score than they allow (23). The Herd defense allows 362 yards per game, so they are certainly a bend but don’t break group. They will certainly have their work cut out for them against UCF. Ultimately, I will have to side with the Knights in this matchup. I expect this game to be close early, but UCF will pull away later to secure the victory. Next year, the Herd face Boise State and Ohio yet again, as well as Pitt and ECU. Don’t be surprised if they can win three of those matchups and challenge for the CUSA title again.
Walk-On’s Independence Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs Miami (FL)
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will face off against “The U” in this year’s Independence Bowl. LA Tech started out the season 8-1 with wins over FIU, and Southern Mississippi while dropping to Texas in the season opener. They finished by losing two of their three final games.
On offense, the Bulldogs average 445 total yards and 34 points per game. That’s not too shabby. They are led by redshirt senior J’mar Smith who threw for more than 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns for the third year in a row. The established leader is having a career year in terms of quarterback rating (149.7) and yards per attempt (8.8). They are a bit one-dimensional, however. They average 110 more passing yards than they do on the ground. This is probably why they don’t have a 1,000-yard rusher on the team. Junior Justin Henderson is close, of course. He is sitting at 967 yards with 15 touchdowns. They use him to cap off drives and that is evident by the fact that he is the conference leader in rushing touchdowns.
On defense, they give up nearly 400 yards a game. Head coach Skip Holtz, son of the legendary coach Lou Holtz, has turned this team around. However, they do need a bit more help on defense. Even during their eight-game win streak, they allowed more than 20 points five times. Despite the fact that they are probably a bit better run than Miami (FL), the talent will be the difference. This game will be closer than the Hurricane faithful will like, but they will come out on top.
Servpro First Responder Bowl
Western Kentucky vs Western Michigan
Up next is the First Responder Bowl between Western Kentucky and Western Michigan. The Hilltoppers may just be happy to be bowl-eligible, considering they opened their season with a loss to FCS Central Arkansas. They did also lose to a decent Louisville team, but they beat FIU and SEC foe Arkansas. Defense may win championships, but it’s not winning the CUSA.
The Hilltoppers eclipsed 30 points a total of three times and the first wasn’t until week seven. That’s not going to win you too many games in today’s era of college football. The 90th ranked scoring offense is led by former Arkansas quarterback, redshirt senior Ty Storey. As a more of a game manager, Storey completes 70% of his passes for 2,209 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has two receivers he likes in Jahcour Peterson (772 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Lucky Jackson (985 yards, 3 touchdowns). With these guys, they do have a 1,000+ yard rusher in junior Gaej Walker and his eight touchdowns.
This defense held opponents under 20 points seven times which is good for 21st best in the nation. They do give up only 337 total yards per game, so they will have to lean on that defense to stop WMU. I do think that the Hilltoppers will beat their MAC foe in this matchup, but it’ll be a good one. It may seem like a random matchup of directional schools, but you will be glad that you tuned into the potentially most even of the 2019 Conference USA bowls.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Southern Miss vs Tulane
Finally, we have Southern Mississippi versus Tulane in the final 2019 Conference USA bowls slate. Overall, the Golden Eagles could have had a better season if they did not have to get steamrolled at Mississippi State and Alabama. However, they did lose three CUSA matchups pretty convincingly.
The Golden Eagles’ signal-caller is Jack Abraham, who leads the conference…in interceptions with 15. The Junior did pass for 3,329 yards and 18 touchdowns, so that’s a plus. If he could have thrown half as many interceptions, Southern Miss could have challenged for their division. Quez Watkins tallied 1,024 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Pair that with Tim Jones and his 840 yards and three touchdowns, you wonder why this team isn’t better. They do have a two-headed rushing attack but could be missing De’Michael Harris due to an injury. The load will fall to junior Kevin Perkins.
Where lies the problem will be the defense. Southern Miss gave up more than 30 points five times; they gave up more than 40 three times. In their other games, they recovered so that their season average given up fell to 26 a game. Tulane will likely have to fight for yards in this game, so I’m going with the Eagles. I think that they match up well with the Green Wave. Look for the Eagles to use this momentum to improve in 2020.
2019 Conference USA Bowls Results
Once the games are played, the 2019 Conference USA bowls record will be a meager 3-5. Conference USA teams are enigmatic because most fans don’t get to watch their games unless they are playing a bigger program.
As stated before, Charlotte is making their first bowl appearance and it’s their first matchups with Buffalo, while FAU is a perfect 3-0 in bowls. The Owls are defending Boca Raton Bowl champions after dismantling Akron in last year’s game. They have also never played SMU. FIU is making its third consecutive bowl appearance and will look to improve on their 2-2 record, despite a 2-4 record all-time against ASU. Marshall does own the best bowl record (minimum 10 games) with a 12-2 record and will be looking to win a second consecutive Gasparilla Bowl. LA Tech has won five bowls in a row and only Wisconsin can say the same. WKU is sitting at 3-2 overall in bowls, whereas Southern Miss is an average 11-12.
Next, we will enjoy some #MACtion.
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